Bag Ladies

Neely & Chloe bags
Neely & Chloe bags

You’re likely familiar with fashion designer Tory Burch, but her nieces, Neely and Chloe Burch, are making major waves in the fashion world as well with their classic, feminine handbag line Neely & Chloe. Following Chloe’s stint as a merchant for J. Crew and Neely’s travels in an airstream trailer-made-boutique, the family business bug finally hit the Burch sisters. The New York-based line sells pieces in more than 130 stores across the country. We talked with Chloe about fashion, business and what it’s like to work alongside her sister.

Neely & Chloe Burch
Neely & Chloe Burch in their apartment, photographed by Bridget Badore for Ampersand in partnership with Connect(ed)itorial

You both majored in subjects unrelated to fashion. What made you get into the industry?

Our family has always been in the fashion industry. My dad had a clothing company in the ’80s and ’90s called Eagles Eye and my mom worked there. My aunt is in the industry, as well as my cousin. We grew up talking about it and I always knew I wanted to be in the fashion world, I just didn’t know I wanted to do my own thing. 

What inspired the brand and how did you and Neely approach the concept? 

Neely’s year of traveling basically turned into a year of market research, seeing what age group wanted something new, what they were looking for. We realized it was a girl who just graduated, or in their 30s or early 40s, looking for something unique, high-quality and attainable. We worked on the concept for a year doing fundraising, creative designs and product sourcing, then launched in 2016.

Your line boasts high-quality products at a reasonable price. What kinds of materials and manufacturing do you use to achieve that?

We source leathers from Spain and Portugal. When we first launched, we went through countless leather samples until we found ones we felt could attain our price point as well as quality level. We chose a pebbled leather, a saffiano leather and a smooth leather, and since then, we’ve introduced canvas, suede, nylon, patent leather, horse hair and raffia leather.

What attracted you to the idea of the high-quality yet affordable concept specifically?

We were making something we wanted. We are the customer. We were sick of either having a bag that everyone had, or it constantly broke or we were spending $800 to $2,000 on. We wanted to make something we didn’t think was out there, and make it clean, with classic silhouettes in classic colors that integrated trends but wouldn’t go out of style, at a price point we thought a range of people could digest.

What’s your customer base like?

At first, we did target the 23- to 25-year-old girl living in a city and just looking for something new and different that will last. But over the past three and a half years, we’ve seen a ton of age ranges. Everyone from high school students asking their moms to buy it for them to women in their 60s and 70s. The best example is our Mini Lady Bag, it’s our best-selling item. You get a cool girl in New York City wearing it with jeans and a T-shirt to brunch and then you get the grandmother taking it to a country club.

What’s it like running a business with your sister? Do you ever disagree?

I feel very fortunate. We’re different and have different skill sets, which is helpful. She handles the business, operational side of things, and the creative photoshoots, while I handle the detail-oriented aspects, like wholesale and our website. We go over everything together and make decisions together. We definitely disagree, but we’re so close that it’s not like a friend where you’re worried about giving them your opinion; we figure out a solution. We come up with design concepts together. We have a part-time designer who’s basically our hand, because we weren’t trained to be designers. She sketches things out and we go over different rounds of sketches and drawing and sampling.

What’s the most satisfying aspect at this stage in your career?

Seeing people with the product. I was on an airplane and I saw someone I didn’t know with one of our cosmetic cases and I literally shrieked. It’s exciting. When you see a random person carrying it, it’s great because it’s like ‘Wow, out of everything, she purchased something from us.’

What advice would you give someone who wants to go into fashion?

Don’t be discouraged easily. Neely and I always say there’s a lot of small victories; there’s some really big ones but there’s also some small ones and you should celebrate those. You’re going to have difficult times and failures but exciting moments as well. Celebrate those and don’t get discouraged if something challenging comes along.

Find Neely and Chloe bags in Raleigh at Main and Taylor. Q and A edited for space.