By Kristy Kurjan
A luxury handbag designer in Petoskey- Yes, its true! B.may bags, by
Barbara May, are handcrafted in Northern Michigan and sought after by
women throughout the country. The chic bags and accessories are created
out of opulent materials including crocodile, python, and soft leathers,
which make these highly coveted handbags simply stunning.
Artist turned designer and entrepreneur, Barbara May, has a minimalist
design aesthetic when it comes to her high-end bags and accessories. May
describes her designs as honest and true to myself and our product. Her
design philosophy is to keep it basic by focusing on the beautiful skins,
lavish materials and simplistic structures.
The antithesis of fussy, the bags are lightweight, free of hardware and
lack oversized logos. Because of this, customers tend to seek out the
brand for the value and quality of the skins. The classic style allows the
bags to transcend seasons, lasting longer and surpassing trends. Fans of
the luxe line also appreciate that the product is not over-distributed,
unlike other popular handbag designers.
To me, they are more of a piece of art than a handbag, says Simone
Young, a loyal customer who has a collection of b.may bags including two
custom pieces. I always have one of her bags on me. The simplicity of the
lines is what I really like and her hand-painted skins are beautiful!
A single b.may bag runs from $75 for a small embossed pouch to over $1,000
for an oversized exotic skinned purse. In recent years the line has
expanded to include belts, key chains and iPod cases. For the woman who is
looking for a special item, the company creates one-of-a-kind custom
Although b.may is based out of Petoskey, the collection of luxury handbags
and accessories are the envy of women across the country. The line is sold
at over 44 specialty boutiques throughout the United States. In Michigan
the bags are distributed to stores in Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Grosse Pointe
Woods and Harbor Springs.
The core of the b.may team is lead by Barbara May and her business
partner, Chris Van Winkle, who moved to Petoskey from San Francisco to
help the business grow. The company employs a small staff who produce,
sew, and sell the products.
The baglab is where Barbara May and her incredible rockstar production
team dream up new products. One visit to the location will reveal that
she is no ordinary designer. The lab has a cottage feel from the exterior,
yet indoors you are transformed into a world of python textures and
handbag heaven. This is where the magic happens.
Self taught, May started designing after literally dreaming up her initial
handbag. She begins the process by fabricating a prototype. Once the bag
goes into production, everything is handcrafted in the lab. It is
important to note that the company does not use endangered or illegal
skins and most of these skins are by-product.
We sell lots of one of a kind and custom bags here and its where all the
bags that are sold all over the country are made, says May. I am very
grateful for all of their dedication and expertise.
THE BACK STORY
How does a luxury goods company end up in Northern Michigan? I grew up
spending summers on Grand Traverse Bay, explains May. My parents still
summer there and I love being close to them and living and working in such
a beautiful place.
Barbara May holds a background in film, originally training at Gulf
Islands Film & Television School in Vancouver. She got a degree in fine
arts and film production before setting up shop as an accessories
designer. Her film production past helped with transition to designing
handbags. Film production is like the military- it teaches focus and
discipline, explains May. It also taught me to frame my ideas and edit
what isnt absolutely necessary.
There is never an average day for Barbara May and her team. One week they
are sourcing leathers in Italy. The next day, stitching a one-of-a-kind
python purse in Petoskey. Then May could be off to a trunk show in Miami.
What is next for b.may bags? Our goal is to continue to grow our
wholesale business while keeping the personal aspect of our retail
business, says May. Our online business is still in its
infancy-wholesale and local retailers are both important.
Want to know more about the luxurious handbags? Visit their baglab in
Petoskey - its open to the public but an appointment is strongly
suggested as to better accommodate each client.
Visit their flag ship store in Harbor Springs: 253 East Main Street.
b.mays baglab in Petoskey: 7503 US Highway 31 South (by appointment only)