By Annie Rhoades
For some it can take a lifetime to decide on a career path, but for handbag designer Katie Kalsi (04) it started in the 3rd grade with her first art class.
“My parents always knew I was going to be in the arts,” said Kalsi. “I’ve been painting for a very long time.”
Some of Kalsi’s fondest memories are spending Fridays doing arts and crafts with her mom.
“We loved it,” said Kalsi. “We would go up to Michael’s and pick out fun things to do on the weekends with art. Mom would sit there and do it too. She’s a pretty good artist.”
A Memphis native, Kalsi began her college education at the University of Memphis in 1997 after graduating from Houston High School. However, with deep family ties to Ole Miss, Kalsi became a Rebel in the fall of 1998.
“I had gone and visited a lot of the art teachers and art programs Ole Miss had and I really liked it,” said Kalsi. “My mom went to school there as did my aunts, cousins, the whole family. It’s a home away from home for me. Everybody’s so tight it’s like your extra family.”
An oil painter at heart, Kalsi transitioned from painting to jewelry and eventually handbag design after leaving Ole Miss.
“I actually took an old pair of jeans and made them into a handbag,” said Kalsi on her foray into handbag design. “It sounds so strange but I never wore a handbag until I created that one. There just never was a bag out there that worked for me.”
While taking sewing classes on the side, Kalsi quickly developed an interest in somehow moving her artwork from the wall to people’s everyday lives.
A handbag line was soon in the works that featured interchangeable hand painted leather straps, painted by Kalsi herself. In fact, she manufactured and produced the first 24 Katie Kalsi handbags.
“I had a strap and a drill,” said Kalsi. “I hand painted each one of those straps, drilled holes and put the little snaps and rhinestones in. I literally put all of the bags together myself.”
Those first 24 bags were a hit with everyone from family and friends to celebrity Lisa Marie Presley and actress Marlo Thomas.
Soon orders began pouring in from boutiques across the country and, unable to handle the workload herself, Kalsi secured a manufacturer and officially launched her handbag line, Katie Kalsi, in 2007.
The line is carried by numerous boutiques and was picked up by Belk department store in March 2012.
Kalsi named her two most popular handbags after her two daughters, Sophie, nine, and Sadie, five.
“The Sophie bag is larger than the Sadie,” said Kalsi. “Each Monday when I received my sales reports Sophie would jump in the car with Sadie in the car seat and say, ‘Momma, who sold the most bags this week?’ It’s the cutest thing how they go back and forth over who sold the most bags.”
The company is headquartered in Memphis where Kalsi plans to stay.
While gaining entry into the competitive handbag industry can be difficult, Kalsi isn’t going anywhere and sees her company expanding into a lifestyle brand.
“I want to do bedding, shoes, jewelry…I want a whole line of Katie Kalsi,” said Kalsi. “It has to be something unique too; I want to offer something different from everyone else.”
Kalsi expects to have her line picked up in additional department stores, eventually becoming an international brand.
“I’m born to do what I’m doing,” said Kalsi. “I think totally outside of the box so that was the hard part, turning the outside of the box into a business. I have great teamwork, and my whole crew and I have turned it into a nice business.”
For more information on Katie Kalsi and her handbag line, visit www.katiekalsi.com.