Jonathan Justin posed with Janice Dickinson. Bags L- R: Aaron Clutch, Ricardo Duffel, Elinna Togo Satchel
Here at A Life In The Day of Andrea, I have made it a constant mission of mine to showcase and uplift people, entrepreneurs, and businesses that I care deeply about, or believe are doing innovative work. As a lover of all things beautiful and handmade, I am drawn to great design of all sorts and types. Having worked in the handbag industry for many years, I realized that what excited me the most about the process was not only the end product, but the story behind the designer and what bright idea led to the beautiful bag you carry each day.
For this feature, I interview an emerging handbag designer out of Los Angeles named Jonathan Justin Smith of Jonathan Justin Handbags. A fellow Belizean-American and lost cousin (truly, not for fake), I believed it was imperative for him to tell his story in his own words via my platform. Read on below!
What inspired you to design handbags, and when did you know that you wanted to pursue it full-time?
Well to start off, I was about 18 or 19 years old, I always looked up to two people, Princess Diana and Audrey Hepburn. There is a certain class about both ladies that’s timeless. I used to work in the handbag industry as a sales representative, my first job was at TUMI Designer Luggage. I was going to Santa Monica College studying Business Administration, and I knew that I wanted to start my own business, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. Working for TUMI Designer Luggage I never cared to have a bag. I’m a luxury guy, I like nice things, but I would never look to handbags for anything. While there I grew an interest for handbags, and what TUMI taught me is functionality, and that’s what I loved about them. Every piece of theirs is so dynamic in functionality; women have a place just for their watch in their handbags, and I really enjoyed that idea and the quality was out of this world.
After that I worked for Coach Leatherwear. Coach taught me about leather and the quality of it too; I think Coach is known for their leathers. So it was like, let me just take what I learned from these companies I worked for and make a sample. I had my first sample made, the JJ Blue, and it was pretty high-end; Saffiano blue leather outside with this red interior, it was really nice, and I didn’t think it would go anywhere. I thought I was in over my head a little bit because of the concept the there is a Hermes, and there is a Prada, you’re not the first to come out, and it is obviously daunting, but I guess God puts things in the right place at the right time. I had a friend that was a fashionista in the Pasadena area that is known for her style. I told her about the bag and she was like, ok let me see it. So I showed it to her and she was like, “Get the out of here, this (bag) is pretty dope!” She decided to take it and wear it for a week, and now I’m here. With Princess Diana and Audrey Hepburn in mind, it definitely inspired my go-getter attitude at the time and my fearlessness, and also in my design, that luminous aspect I was talking about recently.
Elinna Togo Satchel & Elinna Togo Wallet
What is the inspiration behind your bags, and why they have the names that they do?
I never just look at Louis Vuitton like “Oh that nice bag, let me copy that and make it Jonathan Justin”, that’s never the case. I always seem to have somebody in my life at that time that’s like, “Omg I love your handbags! What do you think of doing an orange (lining) in a handbag?” I am usually that person that says ‘let’s do it!’ if I am feeling it. So Aaron, for example, he is one of my good friends and was my artistic director for some of my shoots, he was like, “what do you think of some orange in a bag?” and I’m like, ok, cool, and made it. It’s a blue clutch with orange (lining) on the inside and it’s named the Aaron Clutch. It’s awesome when it has a name or meaning like that because I can go back and think, “yea that’s the guy that told me to put orange in there.” He helped make that and I feel good about it.