When Maria Zdrojeski, 64, designs and produces a handbag, tote, makeup kit or backpack at her fledgling business, Pink Sew Studio in Port Washington, she naturally is thinking about form and function. But beyond that, she says, “They have to be fun. They need to be unique and have a sense of whimsy. I’m hoping that when someone walks into a room wearing one of my bags, people will notice.”
She’s on target when it comes to what’s trending in the handbag arena, says Adam Glassman, the creative director of Oprah Daily. “Right now, it’s a moment of individual style," Glassman explains. "Bags today are conversation pieces and fall somewhere between fashion and art … People are individual thinkers and there’s room for all sorts of bags.”
Zdrojeski happens to be one of several creative Long Islanders who is turning out handmade bags that are turning heads.
Sew Pink Studio by Maria Zdrojeski
Although it was only a few months ago that Zdrojeski formally set up her professional business, her bags have already caught the eye of people as far away as England and Australia. This, perhaps because the brightly hued bags are a combination of playfulness and practicality. With varying shapes, one bag might feature graphics of an old-fashioned typewriter; another, the outline of the Chrysler Building; and there’s even one boasting an embroidered figure of Marilyn Monroe.
Her studio is a happy place, bursting at the seams with stacks of vibrant fabrics and leathers, spools of thread mounted on the wall and bins of embellishments along with racks of bags she has already produced. Though she’s always been a crafty type, creating everything from patchwork quilts to peg dolls, it was a book on how to make handbags that stopped her in her tracks. And that, along with the fact that her three kids were grown up (she’s now a grandmother), gave her space to pursue her bag business. “When I finally wasn’t needed 24 hours a day, I could focus, and I always felt like if I wasn’t making something my day was wasted,” says the ever-busy Zdrojeski.
She believes her handiwork will have added value beyond the physical because, “I think it’s special for someone to know that they bought something that is not mass produced, that’s one of a kind.” All her bags have a label that reads, “handmade by Sew Pink Studio with love.” Prices range from $25 for a simple makeup kit to $150 for a large, structured bag, and she takes custom orders. Her work can viewed on Instagram @sew_pink_mz and purchased at sewpinkstudio.com.
Byhandart by Joanna Gil
When Gil, 39, was a young girl living in Venezuela, she watched with envy as her grandmother and mother worked tirelessly on their sewing machines. “When I was 13, I became so persistent about having one for myself that they gave me a toy one,” she says. But that wasn’t enough for Gil, who now lives in and works from Glen Cove. So, finally, they taught her how to use the real thing, ultimately gifting her one of her own. “I was always curious about how a person could make backpacks and handbags. I looked for information on social media and YouTube and thought about how to make them better, and I started to love it.” In her country, Gil was a civil engineer, and handbag design was a hobby. She came to this country in 2017, worked for a well-known handbag manufacturer, and in 2018, started her own company.
Her bags have plenty of personality and are turned out in lots of bold shades. “In my country, we try to use as many colors as we can to make interesting, but not carnivallike combinations,” she says. Many bags have large flower- or heart-shaped vegan leather removable charms attached, but she is particularly proud of her elegant hand-crocheted purses, which take two days to make. “The message I’m trying to give people is that no matter what season it is there are no rules, and a bag can put some joy into your outfit even if you prefer to wear dark colors.”
She says her products are lightweight and versatile (she sometimes offers two straps per bag) and are made with “patience and precision.” That’s why, she explains, every bag comes with a card that reads, “made with love Byhandart.” Her line, which includes handbags and accessories, ranges from passport cover and wallet sets ($24) to crochet bags ($370) and she does custom work as well. You can check out her work @byhandartdesigns on Instagram or byhandart.com.
Salvage Sacs by Stacy Assael Skordas
Vintage towels (yes, towels) propelled Skordas, 60, into the bag business in 2015; once more of a side gig from her home in Hewlett, today a mainstay operating out of a small factory in the Garment District in Manhattan. She got the idea to stitch together and repurpose graphic advertising and high-end designer towels as a kid when she summered in the Hamptons, noting that people used to discard their beach towels at the end of the summer. Her bags, each one-of-a-kind, are made of worn, recycled denim, leathers, complicated patchwork and, yes, cushy soft beach towels that feature logos, along with iconic imagery from retro American pop-culture (think “The Jetsons” “I Love Lucy,” the Grateful Dead and the Coppertone girl.) All the bags are sensibly lined in plastic.
Skordas does the patchwork herself, but has staff who sew the bags together. “I love what I do so much,” she says. “It’s like therapy for me.” She touts a very loyal customer base that includes some Bravo "Housewives," and people who are repeat buyers. She’s shipped them all over the world including to England, Greece, Italy and Canada.
Skordas expanded from tote bags (her original foray into the business) into crossbody bags, hobos and more. Prices range from $125 to $995. Find her at @salvagesacs_ on Instagram or salvagesacs.com.