Interview with the Founders of Ralphie Bags

Lime-colored Kathi Bag from Ralphie Bags

What do a couple of women who love handbags do when they get inspired? Create a handbag line, of course!

Ralphie Bags, which debuted in 2006, is teamed by two women whose enthusiasm for handbags and love of design prompted them to start their own company selling handbags. Their line offers originality and affordability, complete with exciting designs in tote-like styles that are just in time for spring and summer fun!

LoveToKnow turned to the Ralphie Bags designers for an exclusive look at these fresh designers and their bags.

Meet the Ralphie Bags Founders and Designers

Crislyn Lumia and Maureen Shove Brown are the founders and design team behind Ralphie Bags. Throw a dash of design and hint of handbag into the mix of friendship these vibrant young women share, and Ralphie Bags is born.

The Story

Crislyn Lumia and Maureen Shove Brown
Crislyn Lumia, left, and Maureen Shove Brown

LoveToKnow (LTK): Crislyn and Maureen share that their handbag spending habits prompted each of their husbands to request finding a different "hobby." Crislyn's mother came up with an early prototype which she sent to her daughter. Utilizing this as an opportunity to continue their interest in handbags, Maureen and Crislyn altered and improved the Kathi Bag.

Both women felt that handbag design offered the perfect outlet for their creative energy. Their enthusiasm, coupled with the making of their designs, allowed them to expand the line. Compliments and feedback from friends paved the road that brought the business into existence.

Crislyn Lumia and Maureen Shove Brown (CL and MSB): Like most women in America, we both had a purse addiction. Think about it - a bag really is an item of clothing that always fits - no alterations needed. There is an instant gratification when you buy a bag, as it requires no "trying on".

Behind the Name

Although many handbag companies are named after the designer or designers themselves, Cryslin and Maureen decided to go another route when naming their handbags line. They relate how the name was inspired by family and fate:

CL and MSB: How the company got its name is a great story, too! When we first met, we were tickled to hear that we both had fathers named Ralph. We named our company Ralphie, as a tribute to the love and respect we have for our incredible Dads! (As you can imagine, our dads find it pretty amusing that we named a women's handbag company after them.)

About the Bags

Design: When Work Becomes Play

LTK: What are your inspirations for the bags? What prompted your interest in fashion and handbag design?

CL and MSB: We both have 9-5 (well, really 8-8) Monday through Friday jobs, but something is missing when it comes to utilizing our creative sides during that time of day. We love bold colors and enjoy the design challenges - colors and fabrics - that come with creating one-of-a-kind bags. It is our play time. It is fun to experiment with different styles and shapes. It is also very motivating to hear comments from customers like "Just looking at these bags makes me happy" or "I love all of them - I don't know how to choose."

"Bags for the Rest of Us"

LTK: Your bags are designed to be both fashionable and functional. Although each style is different, several of your bags (the Annie, the Gracie, and the Kathi) seem to be inspired by one of the most popular women's handbag essentials -- the classic tote. What prompted you to choose this type of design?

CL and MSB: Our tag line is "Bags for the rest of us." Meaning, there are many expensive bags on the market today that are beautiful, but really can be an investment. Our bags are simple and affordable, such that someone can have Ralphie Bags in many colors, patterns, and shapes - to go with any outfit at any time. We love a classic bag.

Our bags do take the shape of a traditional tote. It is the simple, clean lines that allow the fabrics and handle choices to really make the statement. The bags each have their own personality, which always matches the personality of the customer.

Spring and Summer Handbag Picks

Annie bags in black and pink/white fabrics
Annie Bags in Black and Pink/White Fabric

LTK: With Spring and Summer right around the corner, many women are looking for cute bags to take to on picnics, outdoor activities, and to the beach. What Ralphie bags would you recommend for these types of activities? Would you say Ralphie's bags are designed for women with active lifestyles?

CL and MSB: Ralphie Bags are definitely designed for women with active lifestyles. Almost every fabric that we use is spot treatable, so for the women out there that are like us and get marks on the bag the first time you use it, it is so easy to clean up!

Popular Ralphie Bags

Embroidered Kathi bags with bamboo handles
Embroidered Kathi Bags with Bamboo Handles

LTK: Is there any specific Ralphie design (in terms of design, fabric, and hardware) that is most popular?

CL and MSB: Ralphie has a large variety of unique fabrics used in crafting our bags - from classic to fun to trendy. There are many different types of handles, as well - from ribbon to bamboo to Lucite to beads.

The penchant for a particular style of bags is based on the preference of the customer. We identify the Kathi as the flagship bag, and it is the biggest seller. It is a basic bag with all of the character that one could ask for. Most of our customers prefer a beaded handle. Whether it is big & chunky or small & sleek is dependent on the personality of the person who will be carrying it. Each bag makes a statement.

We are finding that a lot of the 20-30 somethings are really attracted to the newest edition to the Ralphie line, the Loolie (our clutch bag). It can also function as a make-up bag or a lingerie bag (for those ladies who travel and are tired of looking for that last pair of *unmentionables* at the bottom of one's suitcase.)

Where to Buy

LTK: You sell the bags at Capitol Hill's popular Eastern Market. Can customers order by phone or via Internet as well?

CL and MSB: We are exploring the possibility of setting up a retail link on the website, but Ralphie bags are currently only available in a few locations. One is the Eastern Market in Washington, DC. They can also be purchased at a few boutiques across the US, and at times we can be seen at other market locations. Please consult the Ralphie website for where we will be! However, if there is a bag that someone saw and didn't purchase when they saw us, or there was one posted on the website, we can be reached through the website!

Ralphie also offers house parties as an option! What a great way to bring a group of women together on a weekday night, or a Saturday afternoon for a gathering in the comforts of your own home. We will bring a selection of pre-made bags for guest to purchase, and there is always a little something extra special for the hostess. If your group is up for being creative, we will bring some assembled bases (the main portion of our bag) and allow the guests to bead handles and choose ribbon - ultimately designing and making their own creation.

Custom Orders

LTK: In addition to your selection, you offer custom-made bags as well. How much additional cost does a custom bag incur?

CL and MSB: While working one-on-one with customers at Eastern Market, we were finding that some customers loved a base that we had, but preferred a different handle than the one we put with it, whether it was too flashy or too traditional. So, the old saying "the customer is always right" prompted us to start offering the option of a "custom" bag. What better way to ensure that your customer is getting exactly what they wanted.

By offering custom bags options, we found ourselves making custom creations for the bride-to-be and her bridal party. Many of our brides have requested a unique bag to fit the personality of each of her bridesmaids. Some have requested the same design and fabric (note: this is the only way that we will create the same bag twice) for each of the girls to match the colors of the wedding. Either way, it is a unique, affordable gift that every girl will appreciate. We also offer monogramming to make any bag extra special!

Custom work isn't without its charges, but the prices range based on style and quantity ordered.

LTK would like to thank Crislyn Lumia and Maureen Shove Brown for taking their time for this interview. .

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Interview with the Founders of Ralphie Bags