What’s in the bag? Plenty, thanks to KZ_K Studio and 1 Atelier. The two women-owned fashion companies have debuted their new Garment District Capsule of handbags that are customizable, multi-functional, and made in NYC. Designer Karolina Zmarlak of KZ_K Studio and CEO of 1 Atelier Stephanie Sarka are both based in New York City’s Garment District and are both committed to sustainability and creating functional products, so that partnership was seamless.
This collaboration was a year in the making, and as Zmarlak puts it, “Nothing good comes without a lot of details coming to life over time.” KZ_K Studio is primarily a women’s ready-to-wear line focused on sleek, modernist women’s design. Zmarlak has long been interested in dabbling in accessories, but was waiting for the right partner with expertise in handbags to collaborate with. She was hoping to partner with someone in NYC’s Garment District, but nowadays that can be challenging given that craftspeople in NYC are hard to come by. Luckily, she found 1 Atelier, and it was a match made in heaven.
“It was the perfect partnership and a dream come true to work on something like this with a professional atelier,” Zmarlak said.
Sarka started 1 Atelier seven years ago with the goal of “turning the fashion industry on its head and bringing the joy back to luxury.” Sarka wanted to create a better business model for the fashion industry that didn’t involve conventional wholesale and embraced sustainability. The two women entrepreneurs were introduced by a consulting colleague of Sarka and Zmarlak’s whom Sarka described as “an incredible matchmaker.”
“1 Atelier is always looking for two things,” Sarka said. “Number one is a fresh approach, by bringing in collaborators, like Karolina, we bring in something different and something I honestly don’t think we could’ve designed ourselves. That’s huge because you need to speak to multiple audiences. Secondly, we look for the ability to speak to meet new clients by cross marketing. We love supporting Karolina as another female-founded fashion company in the Garment District and vice versa.”
Zmarlak was inspired to create this line of handbags by hearing customers discuss a hole in the handbag market for the “perfect handbag.” Customers wanted multi-functional handbags and weren’t interested in a brand name or logo. They wanted something understated made from soft leather.
For the collaboration, the brand focused on Nappa leather, which is much softer, and ultra-soft suede. They also created three compartments for the handbags, as that was a request they heard from customers the most. Customers can select their leather or suede type, as well as the color. The bag comes in two silhouettes. A sling-style, which is a single strap, and a shopper tote style, which is a double strap. There are a total of four items in the collection, including a zip, clutch, and a flap clutch in addition to the handbags.
The bags are locally designed and crafted by artisans in New York City's Garment District, as with all KZ_K and 1 Atelier production. From leathers to trims to stitching to hardware, the full production of the bag was conceived and executed under fair pay practices. Each piece is made-to-order, limiting excess inventory and waste.
1 Atelier is one of the few luxury leather goods factories both built-in Manhattan and left in the Garment District. One of the big things that both 1 Atelier and KZ_K Studio are driving home is the customization aspect of the bag. 1 Atelier’s website currently offers a 3D model where customers can see how the bag is designed digitally.
Both Zmarlak and Sarka truly believed in what they are doing and consider it a labor of love. “Collaborations are really hard,” Sarka said. “So many things can go wrong, and a lot of things have to go right on so many levels. We’ve worked hard at this relationship, and I’m so proud of what we accomplished to get here. There were moments when either of us could have just thrown up our hands and called it quits, but because we are so committed to what we are doing on all fronts that have carried us so far.”
With everything being customizable, this reduces excess waste and inventory. Sarka says one of the biggest issues with fashion concerning the sustainability movement is overproduction, but by reducing inventory, they aren’t a part of one of fashion’s biggest problems. 1 Atelier only produces to order, they do not stock or for a projected forecast. Even raw materials are called in on a just-in-time basis, so as materials are needed, they are brought in from vendors. They are also happy to refurbish customers’ old merchandise to ensure a lifelong product.
The handbags are targeted at a customer who wants a luxury brand, but isn’t obsessed with a household designer name or logos. According to Zmarlak, the ultimate luxury is, “The need for functionality. Without functionality, things don’t feel good. Something isn’t luxurious if it makes your life more difficult.”
KZ_K Studio and 1 Atelier together have functioned fashion. It’s a handbag that can meet a variety of your needs, is sustainable, and customizable to your desires. Cheers to that.