Brahmin, a privately owned handbag and accessories company, survived the recession and changes in consumer behavior unscathed by not compromising the production of its products and growing at its own deliberate pace.
The company on Thursday will unveil its fifth freestanding store, a 2,400-square-foot unit in Charlotte, N.C., and is poised to launch an international business.
The brand, which was founded in 1982 by Joan and Bill Martin, is based in Massachusetts. The Martins aren’t actively involved with Brahmin on a day-to-day basis, but their son, Scott, is the company’s chief operating officer.
Brahmin is focusing its growth on the south and south central U.S., which it has determined to be its sweet spot. Existing stores are located in Atlanta, Dallas, Newport, R.I., and Birmingham, Ala., and the brand is also sold at Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Belk and Lord & Taylor.
Known for handbags made from embossed leather and for its expertise in creating mixed-media products, Brahmin handbags have the distinctive textures of exotic skins and deep colors such as wine, pecan and toasted almond. There are two-tone handbags with chain straps, satchels in structured shapes, suede hobos with leather stripes, bucket bags, messenger bags, cross-bodies shaped like camera bags and totes in various shapes. Prices range from $95 for a wallet to $445 for the Arden satchel.
“We own the exotics category,” said Susan Thacker, chief executive officer of Brahmin. “What we’re really successful with now is mixing the materials and creating a different experience in exotics. We create intricate works of art out of different skins. We’ve been building a high-quality American company that won’t comprise on the quality of materials and construction. We’ve been able to hold on to that over all these years. It’s part of our legacy. Our product is very distinct and the textures resonate with the customer. Our customer appreciates the exclusivity, craftsmanship and investment we make in design.”
According to Thacker, Brahmin’s customer is career woman and mom, or as Brahmin refers to her in its fall advertising campaign, “a leading lady in her life. She’s refined and sophisticated. Many of our customers do carry higher-end designer bags, but we’re not over-saturated.”
Another reason for Brahmin’s popularity is the functionality of the handbags. “Joan felt strongly about the interior functionality of the bags,” Thacker said. “The front of the handbags have a slide-in pocket and we customize the interior pockets so they’re on trend with technology.” Some styles have interior zip pockets, zip jewelry pockets, two organizer pockets, and key clips and pen loops. Most designs are lined in chamois.
“We have shops-in-shop in most of our wholesale locations,” Thacker said. “We’re working in 2015 and 2016 to update our [in-store shops] with our wholesale partners. Our wholesale business is bucking the trend occurring in traditional designer handbags, which is very challenging. We continue to exceed our wholesale forecast. Our retail partners are looking to us for growth and to offset the general malaise.”
Brahmin is looking for new partners, but it’s being strategic and selective about its door growth. “Location by location, we battle with well-known brands designer brands,” Thacker said. “Typically, we’re number two.”
“We’re doing our legwork to go after international business, dot.com or retail partners,” Thacker said. “We’re looking into Canada, select countries in Europe, and obviously Asia. In any foreign market, we’d have to build up our profile.”
Brahmin has been working to improve brand recognition with a robust print and digital campaign. The tag line is, “Accomplishment is your currency” and highlights women who are activists or philanthropists in their communities. “Joan Martin is our number-one leading lady,” Thacker said, noting that she’s featured in the campaign. Others include Heide Lindgren, cofounder of Models 4 Water and a supporter of City Harvest and New York Cares. Another is Ubah Hassan, a model who works with children in Cambodia.
“We’ve gone through a lot of changes in the past two years,” Thacker said. “We’re seeing the results of our hard work, system upgrades and expansion. Were reaping the success of those initiatives.”