Some people geek out at the idea of meeting a celebrity. For me, there’s no one more awe-inspiring than an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs put their blood, sweat, tears and often, their savings into their dreams. It takes nerves of steel to take the plunge — especially in fashion, where consumer tastes are famously fickle.
I had the fortune of meeting two determined, fierce entrepreneurs tackling the accessories market with a new line of tech-savvy tote bags called Be Brilliant.
Longtime pals Andrea Billups (a People magazine reporter) and Marsa Truscott (a serial entrepreneur) hatched the idea for a handbag line while on vacation in sunny Mexico. Tired of seeing women reduced to packing mules during their vacations, they designed the bag they wanted to wear. The result? A tote that blends seamlessly into the gym, airport, beach and office.
After returning from their beachside vacation Andrea and Marsa spent the next year evaluating zippers and hardware in the Fashion District and studying design details in the handbag salons of Bergdorf’s and Bloomies.
They cherry-picked the best, and the result is an uber-durable bag that’s been juiced with primo bells and whistles, with space for a laptop, Kindle, lunch, coconut water, gym clothes and a change of shoes. (I’ve taken mine to Los Angeles, Vegas and work every day — and because it’s a vegan bag, I’ll be using it as a beach bag in Isla Holbox later this summer.)
Andrea and Marsa are charging full-steam ahead with the debut, including making the media rounds and joining the Accessories Council.
I got a sneak preview of the line of the recently launched Brilliant Body totes (now available for purchase here). The bags are life-changing — instead of carrying a combination of plastic grocery bags and freebie promotional totes, I fit all my essentials in one streamlined bag that’s perfectly stylish.
I sat down with Andrea and Marsa to get the behind-the-scenes look at Be Brilliant’s design process and philosophy. Edited excerpts follow.
TSP: This bag has a lot of unique features — every detail, from the pockets to the inner pouches has a specific purpose. What was the though process behind these little details?
MT: The anatomy of a handbag is fascinating. Most important are the details. Each aspect is just as important as the other.
AB: The lining is neoprene, the fabric of wetsuits, to protect your technology [ed note: MacBooks and iPhones all fit snugly] when you travel. It also wicks moisture should you put your workout wear inside after a trip to the gym. An inner plastic case can snap out, allowing you to place it on the TSA belt for inspection of liquids at the airport. We added a strap to it for women who wanted to take a bag inside an NFL game. It’s no fun making a crosstown commute in heels, so I put mine in the bottom compartment and walk in boots and flats — saving my feet. A hidden zippered pocket on the outside allows you to slip your iPad out to read on the train. It’s a weekend bag tote to the shore, a business tote to a conference, your daily tote from home to office to gym and back.
TSP: How challenging was it to create an accessories line without backgrounds in fashion? How did you develop the right relationships and fight to be heard?
MT: My background in fashion has not been as a designer, but rather as a consumer. I have always been interested in the dovetailing of fashion with the functionalities required by my work and lifestyle. Not having been able to find a tote where the true intersection of fashion and function occurred, my partner and I designed a bag that we would use, and one that our experiences taught us, would satisfy today’s woman’s need for functionality and eye for design.
AB: I think if you looked at us at the start and had doubts that two women, from backgrounds outside the fashion industry, could launch a handbag line, we’ve erased any fears. We knew deep down we can rise to any challenge. We want others to feel that strength and do the same — in whatever venture they might pursue. We made it happen.
TSP: Design is already an incredibly difficult discipline, and finding the right vendors and suppliers is another beast to tackle.How did you approach determining the right production partners to bring the vision to life?
AB: Learning about the handbag industry was enlightening. From the fashion aspect to the technical development to working with manufacturers abroad. There are many variables that are surprising, from shipping times and methods, like how factories source material. We just spent 3 days in our warehouse hand-inspecting some of our first shipment — to assure quality control. We want our customers to have the highest quality and value as a new company. It’s very much a part of our brand philosophy. Great care and love is in our bags. This is a gorgeous and very practical product, our first tote. People stop us all the time and ask about it, which is simply thrilling.
TSP: Any advice for fashion newbies who have big dreams but don’t know where to go first?
MT: Explore your network, and find that one person who can give you a helping hand.