Designer Alesya Opelt describes her ideal client as a powerful woman who works in a boardroom. Though often surrounded by men, she’s confident in her femininity. “She’s not trying to be a man in a man’s world — she’s being a woman in a man’s world,” Opelt says.
For nearly a decade, Opelt did marketing for a technology entrepreneur. “My entire life I’ve been thinking I need to work my way up the company,” she says, “but working with him made me realize that what’s fun and interesting is starting a business, not working your way up in a corporation.” Even with a great mentor, being a businesswoman has its challenges, and for Opelt the task of schlepping her laptop around town became a source of daily frustration. “I take a lot of pride in what I look like and what I put on. The laptop bag was always ruining it,” she explains. Frustrated at being unable to find an attractive laptop bag anywhere, the Detroit native decided to make one herself. The initial design concept was simply to create the opposite of a nylon square bag. “It had to be circular, come in different colors, and it had to be leather,” she says.
Three years later, the handbag design has been painstakingly refined, with each pocket meticulously thought out to accommodate the needs of working women and students. There is a shallow top pocket for easy access to keys and lip gloss (the items that inevitably disappear into the cavernous black hole of most purses) and an extra padded and footed bottom to absorb the brunt of daily use. Individual zipper pulls reveal homes for a computer, power cords, and files and notebooks.
As Opelt has refused to sacrifice femininity in the business world, so have Alesya Bags held steadfast to style while becoming practical. “They’re not just laptop bags. They’re the same quality as a handbag that you love to carry,” she says.
The collection includes shades like Exquisite Eggplant, Equestrian Tan, and vivid Kelly Green in rich grain leather lined with contrasting grosgrain fabric. “Right now I feel like I’m sacrificing profit for [quality], but I felt like that was too important. Right out of the gate it had to be a quality product,” she says.
Entrepreneurship has come with its challenges. Opelt candidly chronicles the good, the bad, and the less than chic aspects of starting a business on her blog. Posts confront everything from customer critiques (the bag needs a cross-body strap) and sales (took longer to get going than she expected) to how to deal with the nanny canceling (an episode of Dora the Explorer should get you 30 minutes of work time). In addition to raising her daughter and running Alesya Handbags, Opelt still works on a part-time basis with her former boss and mentor. With so much to balance, life can get chaotic. “I see a lot of women who want to get into business but aren’t sure what that means or don’t understand that you can start your own business,” Opelt says. “I hope that by putting it all out there, people are helped by that or inspired by that in some way.”