Wandler: It Bag designer Elza Wandler talks minibags, Instagram hacks, and digital influencers

Wandler: It Bag designer Elza Wandler talks minibags, Instagram hacks, and digital influencers

Arm candy

Text: Ryan Sng

Image: Instagram

With the sheer number of indie accessories labels rising to fame on social media, it can feel as though we're living in a golden age of handbags. Wandler, founded in 2017 and best known for its street style hit Hortensia, isn't getting complacent with its generous slice of the pie, though. Earlier this year, the fledgling brand introduced its debut footwear collection, boasting lustworthy square-toed sandals and zebra stripe booties that promise to keep Wandler's many competitors on their toes. We spoke to founder Elza Wandler about the challenges of starting a business within a month, Instagram fatigue, and standing out from the digital crowd in 2019.

What was your career like before founding Wandler? 
Elza Wandler (EW): I studied fashion and branding at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, where I learned that creativity and making product is only a small part of running a business. There’s so much that follows, like sales, branding, image-making, and social media. After graduation, I designed for Levi’s Made & Crafted. There, I was exposed to how merchandising, design, and sales teams work closely together. It was also great for discovering suppliers and manufacturers, which was useful when I decided to start Wandler.

How did Wandler start?
After a few years of experience in product design, I felt that I was ready to create my own world. I always knew I wanted to design under my own name, it was all about timing. I met Bart Ramakers, my sales agent, at a friend’s dinner party. I was discussing an idea I had for a handbag line, and he said: “Can you have a collection sketched in three days?”. We launched Wandler a month later, and invited heavyweight international buyers to preview the collection and, possibly, place orders. Every single one of them did.

Why bags? Why not shoes, or ready-to-wear, or jewellery? 
EW: I’ve always found bags super interesting. They’re like little sculptures, and there are fewer restrictions when it comes to form. The same is true to a lesser extent with shoes, which we’ve recently introduced.

What’s the most crucial aspect of your design process?
Toying with the balance of shapes, colour, and functionality to get it just right.

You guys are relatively new, and are starting to hit milestones like expansion into footwear. What are the benefits of being a young brand in 2019?
With social media, news travels fast and everything moves so quickly. To stay relevant, you have to start thinking of your next collection just as you’re getting started on the current one. It’s stimulating, almost like a high, but also challenging.

And as a young label, what's it been like working with Net-a-Porter?
Besides sharing a love for craftsmanship and beautiful design, I particularly cherish our relationship as they’ve been there with me from day one.

You mentioned the game-changing impact of social media, and your website has an Instagram tab. How important is the platform for you? 
EW: I think it’s crucial for businesses to have an active social media presence, and no marketing strategy is complete without Instagram.

How do you use Instagram to your advantage?
It’s a very visual platform, so it works really well with fashion imagery. And we also love spreading the word via influencers.

Without Instagram, do you think your brand would be where it is today?
No. I’m confident that we would’ve gotten there eventually, but Instagram made it possible for us grow our brand awareness at high speed.

Do you think that people are increasingly getting Instagram fatigue?
I don’t think so. Instagram’s popularity means that there’s now a lot of visual noise to sift through. Cutting through the clutter naturally is almost impossible, but I think that pressure keeps you sharp and on top of your game.

Speaking of noise, Instagram is rumoured to be phasing out likes on their platform. Do you think this is a good or bad thing?
I’m not sure yet how I feel about removing Instagram’s most conspicuous measure of popularity. But I’m pretty sure that any obsession with likes will just transfer to an obsession with the number of comments on a post.

What do you think of the term ‘It Bag’, which has been applied to your work? Do you embrace it?
If you manage to earn that label, it’s a great compliment. But I don't think pursuing that as a business strategy is sustainable. It’s not good to build your brand around just one or two styles.

Do you remember your first fashion bag?
Funnily enough, I never owned a fashion bag when I was younger; I made my own. Now, however, I have quite a collection going. [Laughs]

What’s your most prized possession? 
EW: My husband, and our dogs Luna and Billy. I’ve even named styles after both of them!

What’s on your wishlist right now?
A new home in Amsterdam, with some art and furniture from Sabine Marcelis to decorate it.

When you travel, would you rather overpack or underpack?
Overpack, for sure!

What’s in your handbag right now? 
EW: I’m carrying our Yara Box now, so not much! Chanel Rouge Allure 110, Prada sunnies, Le Labo hand cream, and my cardholder.

Since you seem to enjoy carrying less, how do you get rid of emotional baggage?
My father’s a mindfulness coach, and he always tells me,
 "All we have is now. The past has been, and the future is just thoughts.". That calms me down.

Oxfords or brogues?
Neither, heels. [Laughs]

Mini or oversized sunglasses?