INTERVIEW WITH RACHAEL RIEDINGER FROM NEVA OPET
April 16, 2017
So I figured that the best way to start this interview would be by asking you how you got started working with leather and how your idea to create Neva Opet came to fruition?
I’ve been sewing since the age of 14. I taught myself when I desperately needed to sew all my cool band patches on my denim jacket. From there, I was hooked. I learned to create clothing from taking apart thrift store finds and figuring out how to pattern a skirt or a pair of pants.
After college, I had a pretty unfulfilling job so I started creating things as a way to help clear my mind. After searching for years for a handbag that was just right-- the “Holy Grail” of bags: not too small, not too big, and sans logos--I thought why not try and make exactly what I want to carry. Like they say, the best ideas are born out of necessity.
I picked up some leather at a local craft store just to give it a go and fell in love with the art of leatherworking immediately. I liked the permanence of leather, and (for me) the ease of manipulation. Unlike fabric, once you pierce leather there is no going back. That hole cannot be repaired. It was scary but challenging, and I was hooked. I threw myself into all things leather: I read books, learned the parts of the hide, the process of tanning, everything. As I delved deeper into my new hobby, I knew I needed to upgrade to an industrial sewing machine. From there, everything changed. I could sew through any leather and I quickly started churning out bags. To my total surprise, my side hustle was quickly turning into a full-time business.
What is the meaning behind the name Neva Opet and how do you pronounce it? I get asked that all the time and I am pretty sure I am still yet to get it quite right myself!
I’ve definitely been asked that so many times! When the time came to name by brand, I wanted something that was completely unique to me AND available as a website URL haha. Neva is my great grandmother’s name. I never met her but her name always stuck with me—those old Southern names are just too cool. (Side note: my grandfather’s parent’s first names were Hedgepath and Flossie. Enough said).
“Opet” is a reference to my college days when I studied art history. The Opet Festival was an event of regeneration for the kings and gods. I liked how the combination of the two words had a completely unique sound. I’ve always loved that the name has been esoteric and mysterious! Oh, and it is pronounced: NEE-vuh OH-pet.
Where do you draw from for inspiration when you are designing items for your collection?
I am always guided by the work of contemporary female artists. I name each bag after a female artist that has made a particular impression on me (like Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeoise, and Carolee Schneemann).
Once I start creating a bag, I first consider what it will be used for to dictate size and shape. My main style inspirations are simple geometric shapes and bold lines. I believe handbags should last for years and that a great leather bag is a must-have staple. Stains and scratches that come with age and wear, only makes your bag uniquely yours.
This one may be a difficult question because all of your designs are so great, but which is your favorite purse style?
I never make a bag that I would not carry myself. I think that various occasions call for a different style and size. I have carried the Ana bucket bag almost everyday for two years. It has been the perfect mid-sized, day bag that goes with everything. I also carry the Nico backpack to the studio with me everyday. I typically will throw my laptop, ipad, lunch and water bottle in it. At night, I tend to exclusively wear the NEW Millie Fanny. I can go hands free, keep my belongings close to me and not have to search for those dreaded hooks that may (or may not be) underneath a bar.
Do you have any styling tips for your purses? As the brain behind the brand are there any unique leather combos that people don’t usually think to buy, but secretly look really good?
I always live by the mantra (and style words of wisdom) passed down from my Great Aunt Rena who was a fashion buyer back in the day, “Don’t spend a lot on clothes. Invest in your bags and shoes. These are the pieces you use everyday.” I want every bag that I design to easily mix in with the items a woman already has in her closet. A great leather bag should be worn for years and does not need to be overly trendy. And because I have always thought that personal style should not have rules or guidelines, I love mixing metals, colors and tones. Currently, I love the way the black bags mix with the cognac leather straps. The mix of black and the reddish brown tone seamlessly blends with all black or any tones of brown.
I love how you are always creating new items and unique styles. What can we expect to see from you in the future?
I tend to create new styles whenever I get that “aha” moment. In that respect, I’m aiming to position my business out of that traditional retail cycle of two collections a year. I want to bring new products and styles to customers and stores whenever I have the new idea come to mind. I think it keeps things interesting for both customers and small independently owned stores.
I am sure that you get asked this all the time but what items do you carry everyday in your purse?
My bag is a crazy mix of items depending on my day or time or month (ahem). Everyday you can always find in my black Ana bucket bag: my leather cardholder (with my local Aurora coffee stamp card right up front), lipstick, Dr. Haushchka lip balm, the Jenny pouch (for those lady products, because a girl can never be too safe), my phone of course, several packs of tissues since the pollen here is insane, vitamins, about 3 pens, and occasionally a screwdriver. A maker always need to be prepared!
Do you have any leather care tips you think customers should know about when they purchase one of your bags?
So glad you asked! I have a new leather cream care care for all of the bags and accessories coming to the site soon made specifically for us with all natural ingredients, safe for skin, waterproofing, and restoring. But if you need a care and cleaner ASAP, I would absolutely recommend all Lexol Brand products. I personally use the cleaner and conditioner on my bags, shoes, and furniture. All bags also receive a coat of cleaner and conditioner before shipment!
And last, what is the best part about running your own business?
The best part of running my own business is that I have complete creative control. Decisions (good or bad) fall on me and I love it! It means so much to be to be a part of the handmade movement to create sustainable pieces for women to wear for years. Buy less, buy better! I love seeing so many other talented makers, independent boutiques, and bloggers rally behind the message of getting others to support handmade and local businesses. It is important to me to create things that will not be tossed out season after season or contribute to dangerous working conditions overseas. Those fast fashion brands do a number on our environment. Although slow fashion takes an active practice in patience and budgeting, women can feel great about their purchase knowing exactly who they are supporting and that their products were made with care and excellent craftsmanship.
Credits: This article was written by Lauren Murray with the Lauren Alyssa Group. Lauren is an independent rep that works with American made and fair-trade brands. https://laurenalyssagroup.squarespace.com/about/
Photos: Courtesy Lauren Murray and Neva Opet