You might know Susan Alexandra’s beaded bags—the kitschy, colorful, often fruit-adorned designs that flood your Instagram feed. In fact, you definitely do: Her eponymous line has been seen on the arms of anyone and everyone—super-influencer to the girl next door. It’s a testament to the power of fashion optimism, and how one undeniably cute piece can be an equalizer among the masses.
When I hopped on the phone with the designer, who is currently in Los Angeles launching an exclusive collaboration with Spring Place, it was more than just her bright, saccharin designs that had brought us together. It turns out we had met four years prior when Alexandra’s brand was just a small collection of handmade personal jewelry. The handmade aspect hasn’t changed—the line is still produced piece by piece by a team of 50 women in New York’s Chinatown neighborhood—but the once little label has catapulted into viral status.
Ahead of her first fashion week presentation, we spoke to the designer about running a female-focused brand, the importance of spirituality, and what it’s like to take over the Insta-sphere.
Chloe Bruhat / Maison ClÃ©o for Susan Alexandra
Are you venturing into ready-to-wear for Spring?
Susan Alexandra: “Not yet, but I definitely have plans to move towards that—that’s my dream. Working towards it is something that is really important to me; I want it to be perfect and it’s taken a bit longer than expected. But that’s definitely where the brand is going.”
It’s kind of crazy to see the evolution of your brand.
SA: “It’s a different life, it’s a different brand. But still, the elements of color, shape, and playfulness are always there. There is so much that’s the same and so much that’s different.”
Each piece of your jewelry is one-of-a-kind vs. your bags, which have had a copy/paste virality. Do you feel one piece has more personality than the other?
SA: “The bags have so much personality They’re made by hand, so sometimes it turns out that you get different colors or [variations in the patterns]. It’s the same as the jewelry—no two are exactly alike. That’s the nature of any handmade good. Nothing will ever be precise and from the machine. I love the fact that you’re gonna be getting something a little bit different every time. There’s a personality [in every piece] that you don’t find in other things.”
Has there been anybody who has worn your pieces whose style really speaks to the brand?
SA: “There are so many cool people who have worn the bags, but Jeanne Damas. I always show her picture to my hairstylist [laughs]. It’s really cool to see major influencers and celebrities with the bag. The coolest, most gratifying thing has been to see all these random people across the globe—from different backgrounds, countries, everything—wearing the bag. [They’re] real people loving and connecting with my work.”
How has your personal style evolved with the brand?
SA: “It’s hard to say it’s evolved because I would very much wear the same thing now that I wore in elementary or middle school. My personal style and way of dressing just solidifies who I am and what I love. I love color and pattern—I always have. For a long time, I wish I could pull off these minimal looks; I didn’t fully embrace the fact that what I love makes me me. I guess [the brand] helped me lean into the things that I am passionate about wearing more. [Now] I wear them fearlessly. I am always wearing insane colors, and sometimes I feel a little bit like a circus act. But [my brand] helped me fully embrace my personal style. I don’t believe that you should validate yourself or your fashion choices from the external world. But it’s nice. Who doesn’t want a compliment?”
What was it like? That moment that everything changed and the brand took off?
SA: “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with in my entire life. People kept saying to me, ‘this is a good problem to have.’ But I was so so overwhelmed and I had no idea what I was doing. There’s a lot of fear. I had no roadmap for [running a business].
“I kept on telling myself, ‘you need to enjoy this because this is what you’ve always dreamed of.’ But it’s hard to be in the moment when you have furious emails that an order is three months late. It was really hard, and I came to this realization that you sort of have to surrender. It was very very difficult and it still is. Anyone you know that has a small business can tell you that every day is a heartbreak.”
Has your spirituality helped with that?
SA: “I think when you’re going through anything, any kind of distressing time in your life, any message that you will be okay can help. I got a few [astrological] readings during that time that said ‘your work is your passion and you are meant to help people through it.’ I also got an acoustic reading and she [told me], ‘you need to know that everything is happening exactly as it’s supposed to.’ Even though it’s so incredibly distressing and hard, it’s all aligned. So spiritual practices like that are actually quite helpful.”
Did you ever think that this would be your path?
SA: “In my wildest dreams, I didn’t. I wished for it, but I didn’t know how it would happen. I had no vision for what I would do. I was very lost. It’s kind of crazy to reflect on; it puts things in perspective.”
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“What’s the point of it all” I ask myself in moments of sorrow (or perhaps moments where the weight of capitalism feels daunting and exhausting). There are so many pretty things to buy and wear and SO much out there… it’s overwhelming. But the point of creating, for me at least, is divine connection. When i make things, it comes from such a deeply rooted soul place and in turn, it attracts deep connection. How marvelous is that. Here is the most beautiful shoot with my internet sister and kindred spirit (and future collaborator, stay tuned!!) @maisoncleo 💖💖💖 shot in paris by @chloebruhat modeled by @zahrassd with assistance from @sorayahdn
How has New York City played a role in your journey?
SA: “There’s this palpable magic here—things happen in such an interesting way. You can walk down the street and your life can change. I don’t know where else in the world I could be doing what I’m doing. Also, everything is made here.”
Right! You employ local women from the community.
SA: “There are two [main] women—one from Bangladesh and one from China—who I work with, and within their community, they manage a network of [artisans]. I’m able to work with women who really know their craft. It’s rewarding to work with people who are so talented and might be looked over and not given priority in other jobs.”
It’s mostly women?
SA: “Yes! All women. Most of them have young children, so they can work from home. It’s not intentional, but we happen to be the best people.”
Are there any underlying messages to your work?
SA: “It goes without saying that what I do is always in the spirit of feminism. The company in itself is completely self-made. Every penny I make goes back into the company. Being a woman and doing it on my own without any funding, any advisors… The bags themselves are anti-fast fashion, and I am helping and employing women in my community. These are things I feel really strongly about. They are not made by hurting people or hurting the environment. It’s a gift for me to be able to do this for work.”