What do you do when you have the soul of an artist and the training of an engineer? You design and construct handbags! That is, if you’re Jenny Nemlekar, you do. Even while in college, studying for an Engineering Physiology exam, Jenny was procrastinating by making tote bags in her dorm room. Actually, Jenny’s been making bags almost her entire life (since she was six!). Her very first bag was a simple fuchsia rectangle and strap that her grandmother taught her to knit. But even as a young girl, the engineering part of Jenny’s brain was furiously at work trying to figure out how to make the bag stronger. Mom helped by teaching her how to sew a lining from an old pair of her dad’s pants. “After that, I sewed a lot of little totes from the rest of his pants,” says Jenny. “Then I got a BeDazzler for Christmas and it opened up so many opportunities for making sparkly totes from boring fabric!”
These days, the materials Jenny works with are premium full-grain cow leather and water-resistant canvas. She only uses strong nylon thread and metal rivets to assemble her bags — no glue, adhesives, or rubber. As for her style, well, it’s become simpler and more sophisticated. Her Ruche collection is the perfect example — inspired by the bubble skirt and a Chinese dumpling! (I have my eye on the Ruche Hobo.) After earning a degree in Biomedical Engineering, Jenny decided what she really wanted to do was be her own boss, doing what she loved. So she started Jenny N. Design and ever since then, she’s been making bags (over 4,000 and counting!). That was 10 years go. Today, just as it was when she started, Jenny designs and hand-makes every single bag that comes out of her home studio in Dallas, Texas. Her husband, Shay Nemlekar, handles the operations and strategy part of the business. (He also occasionally models when she nags him enough.)
When Jenny started her business, one of her goals was to build lasting relationships with her customers. And that’s exactly what she’s done. Many of her clients have come back over the years to buy more bags from her. “It’s what keeps me excited about my job,” says Jenny. “I get to befriend my customers and hear about how they use their bags and how I can improve and make products that meet their new needs.” In fact, that’s how she got the idea to make her popular Gray/Chestnut Backpack transform into a messenger bag. And because she got requests to make her Briefcase wearable as a backpack, she added that feature as well. Thus, the Backpack-Convertible Briefcase was born! (If you’ve got a graduate in your life, I’m thinking these would make great gifts for the up-and-coming professional!)
Because Jenny hand-makes all her bags, most styles can be customized. (Among other features, you can choose from different color leather, canvas, and hardware.) When a bag is ready to ship, Jenny says she feels like a proud mom sending her child off into the world. If you read her blog, you’ll also know that she is the proud mom of an 11-month-old. So these days, when she’s not sketching silhouettes or on the floor cutting leather, she’s chasing after her daughter, who likes to butt-scoot all over the house. But Jenny will be the first to tell you that when you love what you do, juggling your passions — be it motherhood or practicing your craft — is truly a labor of love.
Do you know an artisan in your community who is making something special? I’d love to know about him or her — and share the story behind the product!