fashion magazine
Recycled Leather at Its Best
by ANNIE JU
It's hard to pinpoint what is best about Ashley Watson's collection of handbags and acessories. They are beautiful to look at and showcase a wide range of beautiful colours. Each item is unique. Even when in the same style as another item, details and embellishment vary. But perhaps the most exciting quality of her designs is that they are environmentally friendly. Watson hand-makes all of her items with recycled leather.

Born and raised on Bowen Island, Ashley Watson has always been an artist. It was while studying Studio Art in Nova Scotia that she developed an interest in fashion design. While exploring her options for a career, she kept in mind that she "wanted to mold these two interests together." With that in mind, Watson worked an internship at Libertine in New York. There, she familiarized herself with used garments and screen-printing products. A short practicum with Hajnalka Mandula, a Vancouver-based designer, exposed her to the use of old materials for product design. It also allowed her to bring together her fine arts skills and passion for fashion design.

"My first bag was actually made by accident," Watson laughs. One day, while living on Bowen Island, she wanted a new bag. Too impatient to wait for a shopping trip, she decided to cut up her dad's old jacket and piece it together. The result was a recycled leather bag and the beginning of her fashion career. In early 2005, she launched the Ashley Watson brand - designs exclusively produced with recycled material found in small thrift stores. Since then, six strong collections have followed and her client list has soared.

Although maintaining a fashion brand can be challenging, Watson likes to have fun. Each season she creates two to three new silhouettes that define the outer shape of the handbag, then uses the details of the leather garment she is working with - pockets, pleats, etc. - to give it a distinct personality all it's own. That's why every handbag in the Ashley Watson collection is an absolute one-of-a-kind. "The customers really enjoy the fact that nobody else has the exact same bag that they're carrying," she shares. It's very time-consuming as she hand-makes all of her products, but Watson faces the challenge with ease . Calling herself a "stereotypically creative person," she likes a hands-on approach to fashion. Her diligence, dedication and online website have helped broaden the line internationally.

Inspired by vintage luggage and Yves Saint Laurent, her current Spring 2011 collection features colourful and practical carry-all bags and purses that will appeal to her very diverse clientele. Each piece is made by Watson from start to finish. She started by drawing items that she would personally use, and finished by testing each of them. Her products are sold in Vancouver's One of a Few, across Canada and the United States and internationally.

You can browse through her designs on her web boutique at www.ashleywatson.ca.