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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Bibi Bielat and Cathy Caracciolo, Iron + Copper + Bronze

Jan 02, 2015 01:20AM ● By Brandi Barnett

The Bag Designers

January 2015

Store Front


ENJOY: How did you arrive at making bags? BIBI: We were working toward making a business in aprons, but soon realized the only place to make money in the apron business is with restaurants and coffee shops, and I have no interest in being a salesperson and I have zero connections in the restaurant business. So I asked Cathy to make a bag, and she made a really bad one, and I thought the $2,000 we had spent so far was gone. Then we both designed a different style bag, one that we would both like to have. It was the Jack bag. We went through about 20 prototypes, making small tweaks in size and fabric and leather combos. After we were comfortable with the direction of the Jack bag, we moved on to tote bags. Now, we have several other bag styles in the prototype stage. Becoming bag makers was a fluke; we really just stumbled into it.

ENJOY: How did you decide to use leather and canvas? BIBI: We started using old U.S. Army tents (we still do occasionally), but they sometimes smell and are hard to work with. We were using repurposed leather, but that was not always easy to come by. We knew from the beginning we liked waxed canvas and leather together. We like the way it looks and it’s tough and durable. We started waxing our own canvas, but that is messy and the process is long and difficult, so we found a source for canvas that is already waxed.

ENJOY: How are the bags made? BIBI: All the fabric has to be cut, then it gets folded and pinned and ready for sewing. They get sewn on an industrial, vintage machine. Then the leather gets cut for all the straps, flaps and attachment pieces for the buckles. The finishing work is about one to two hours per bag, because each bag has 10-20 copper rivets that have to be punched, set, peened and hammered by hand. There is no machine that is capable of doing it.

ENJOY: Is it enjoyable to make these bags? BIBI: We love it. Our hands are cut and bruised, and at some point we will need to hire younger hands or hands that have decades of experience because our hands hurt badly at the end of a long run.

ENJOY: If you were to describe your totes in three words, what would they be?  BIBI: Rugged, urban, stylish.

ENJOY: Is making bags a natural extension from your art? BIBI: I’d say that making art and making bags are the same in the time, focus, wear and tear on my hands. It’s not dainty. They are different in that in my art, I never truly know the outcome of a painting ‒ I can set a composition, choose the paints, build up texture, but the final outcome is always a surprise, whereas making bags you work toward a specific goal and you know exactly how it’s going to look and there are very specific steps to take to achieve that end product.

ENJOY: What is your ultimate goal for this business? BIBI: To grow our business into a storefront, brick-and-mortar shop and to have our bags for sale all around the world. We want a workshop with a showroom and shop. 

ENJOY: Since you travel a lot, does travel become an inspiration to you in the design process? BIBI: We are always thinking about bags that we need when we travel ‒ what is the best type of bag to carry our stuff for different types of travel? In our design phase, we do think about what styles work in different parts of the world. What is in style in San Francisco is not necessarily the same for Stockholm. So we pull from the places that we’ve been, and think about whether they’ll be accepted there.

ENJOY: What do you love about your bags? BIBI: Each one of these bags is a part of us. They are a labor of love. Our skills and processes have grown with each bag made. We’ve added and subtracted different aspects because we found they did or didn't work. We knew that because we use these bags every day. That’s what we want our customers to do — use them every day. And with time, this bag will become more worn and beautiful. The waxed canvas and leather will grow in character.


Find their products at Misc. Trading Co. in Fresno and

Enjoy the Store inside Embellish & Restore in Visalia