– BUSINESS – Local artisan creates one-of-a-kind handbags Erin Kaleel, owner and de-

signer of FEEL Handmade, creates some beautiful leather pocketbooks in many sizes and shapes in her studio in Weaver-

BY Dasha Morgan

ville. Next weekend she is exhib- iting at the Home Garden Green Living Show in the U.S. Cellular Center, a

on eco-friendly businesses.

show which focuses In

May she is exhibiting in the Hot Works Asheville Fine Arts Show downtown with up to 150 juried fine art and fine crafts. Erin markets her handbags all

around the United States (As- pen, Los Angeles, Boca Grande), at shows, as well as online. In addition, friends and clients of- ten host private FEEL Hand- made trunk shows at their homes (some wine, cheese and hand- bags…how does it get any bet- ter than that?).

In fact she just

returned from a trip to the Ara- bian Horse Show in Scottsdale, Arizona, where her bags were on display. Many, of course, featured a beautiful small horse rearing or jumping as an embel- lishment. Erin cares about the environ-

ment. Each design she creates uses eco-certified materials that are produced in harmony and respect to the Earth, leaving the smallest carbon footprint possi- ble and using the finest materials available. That is her goal. She loves subtle, elegant styles

that will be unique and person- alized. Her bags are crafted by herself and other artisans in her studio in Weaverville. They are not produced in South Amer- ica or China, but made here in America. The leather is full grain, hand-dyed, and hand-fin- ished, with no toxic chemicals or formaldehyde used. This buttery soft leather is sent

from a small family-owned tan- nery in Italy. One can notice the high quality of the leather by no- ticing that the dye color has pen- etrated all the way through to the backside of the leather. Her bronze designs of small earthly animals and motifs (a dragonfly, an owl, an elephant) are individ- ually ground, cut and polished of solid bronze using a special process. These are attached and personalize each bag. The end result is a beautiful high-quality bag to be treasured by the owner for many years to come. So how did all this begin?

Having grown up on a farm in Maine, Erin always knew she was an artist and loved to create. She loved nature, the earth and animals. She loved working with her hands. Later, she moved to New York City, where she dis- covered Mood Fabrics on 37th Street and its enormous leather department. Perhaps you remember the ac-

claimed television show Project Runway and how the striving de- signers flocked to Mood Fabrics? Once, while Erin was working



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with a collection, she realized the runway models needed a bag to coordinate their outfit. That was the beginning of a new busi- ness. She began making fashion bags with embroidery touches and selling them at extravagant prices, up to $3,000 apiece. Later Erin realized that New

York City was not the place to raise her son, so she moved to Weaverville, with its beautiful landscape and family-friendly environment. Currently this tal- ented artist is producing a wide variety of bags in stunning col- ors and styles—clutch bags, shoulder bags, cosmetic bags at a lower price point, more afford- able for the average person (un- der $300). She has, and does, oc- casionally produce felted items, such as yoga totes, currently sell- ing at One Center Yoga in down- town Asheville. This year’s leather collection

is based on her fascination with a rainbow. She has chosen their colors—colors that pop and ex- cite, such as fuchsia, persimmon, sunflower, lime, lagoon, fawn and cream. All Erin’s items re- flect her love of the touch, the feel and the magic of the earth. To find them, you can go to her

website, www.feelhandmade. com, her Facebook page or Ins- tagram for further information. You can be sure the bags are all made of fine Italian leather with small fanciful bronze ornaments. She is only too happy to person- alize or customize an item for you.

Erin Kaleel, owner and designer of FEEL Handmade, relaxes amidst her many styles of leather and felted handbags that are all crafted in her studio in Weaverville. Photo courtesy of Katherine Brooks at katherinebrooksphotography.

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This year’s striking bags are in a rainbow of colors in this fashionable Crossbody style. The soft Italian leather has no formaldehyde or other toxic chemicals, making it eco-friendly. Photo Courtesy of Erin Kaleel.

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