The SHAFFER LA brand of handbags and accessories focuses on offering responsibly-made products at affordable prices, and it has roots here in Northeast Ohio.
Erin Shaffer, the founder behind the brand, grew up in North Ridgeville and graduated from North Ridgeville High School. She attended Lorain County Community College for a few semesters and then continued her education at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Despite graduating from FIT, her career didn't immediately follow a fashion-related path. Instead, she worked for years in the hospitality field, doing branding work for companies such as W Hotels, St. Regis and Hilton.
Due to the rigorous 24/7 schedule of the hotel world, Shaffer began to feel the effects of burnout. She found herself taking a job at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills, a position that allowed her more work-life balance and the opportunity to work more closely to the fashion industry, which was one of her passions.
It was during her time at Neiman Marcus that Shaffer found herself in a conundrum: she wanted to purchase a new handbag - something simple that was nice, well-made, and didn't cost a fortune - but she couldn't find one that fit her criteria. "I really had the most difficult time finding something simple," she said.
That's when it hit her - if she couldn't buy the handbag she wanted because it didn't exist, she would create one herself. She set off to learn all she could about making handbags, although getting started presented some challenges - she had no idea where to begin.
She began calling around Los Angeles, looking for some direction. "I had no idea where to call," she said. "I was just looking for someone to teach me something." Her determiniation paid off in the form of a tip about an "old-school leather maker," who, once she connected with him, taught her the ropes of working with leather. After learning his techniques, Shaffer had built the confidence to make her own product samples.
After spending some time researching manufacturing options, she found a company based in LA that trains and employs women who are new to the country, looking for a new start, or facing other obstacles. She decided to use them for all of her manufacturing.
Shaffer is proud of the fact that her products use only quality leather and are handmade in the U.S. "The [handmade] quality can't be matched by a machine," she said.
The brand also touts simplicity in style and affordability. "[The pieces are] something you are proud to carry...and won't be paying off years later," Shaffer said.
SHAFFER LA is still a relatively young brand, but Shaffer has already begun thinking about the future, working on plans for clothing. She's also thinking about designing home items, while keeping a focus on "items that are clever, well-made and made in the U.S.," she said.