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  • Blythe Leonard

The Woman Behind the Bag: Caroline Tote

(Caroline on Fashion Ave. in New York City with her Caroline Tote)

       One of the most important aspects of being an artist is to be inspired. Whether it is a person, place, thing, or concept, inspiration pours the foundation on any quality piece of art. When I was first establishing my brand, I looked to some of my most inspirational friends and family members for concepts. Whether they knew it or not, I was creating products from the beginning based off of these special women in my life. One of my favorite styles I first began with is the Caroline Tote, based off of a NC based professional violinist and pianist, who also happened to be my loving cousin.

      At the time, Caroline was studying at the New School in New York City working on her Masters of Music in Violin Performance. To my knowledge, I figured she had to have a bag in New York City to carry her music scores back and forth from classes, lessons, and private teachings. I communicated with Caroline during the initial design process asking her key questions without her knowledge of why I was asking her all these questions. So I asked her this past week a few questions to see if I hit the nail on the head with my design ideals in the initial Caroline Tote. She said that the bag needed to be lightweight to carry her music but sturdy enough to transport her music around the city. The bag, as you know if you are an avid BL enthusiast, is the first style that we manufactured and is still in production today. It is our staple tote bag in the BL shop lineup. The short East/West pocket on the exterior of the bag was placed to provide a quick access to her business cards and stitched so tightly across the grain of the hide that nothing would slip out of the pocket. Come to find out, Caroline informed me that she utilized the pocket also for her daily metro card to navigate the boroughs of the city.

Caroline then went on to Manhattan School of Music and earned her Doctorate of Musical Arts in Violin performance. She was also a private violin and piano teacher throughout the city, taught at a private music school and played in the Manhattan and Westchester Symphonys. Caroline juggled four different jobs along with her full time doctoral program. She has always loved bringing music into the rooms of silent ears awaiting her strike of the strings or touch of the piano. Caroline has also been so dedicated to her craft of music conservation and performance. Her drive to practice her craft always set an example for me when I was first learning my leather goods construction and designing practices at SCAD.

       Over the past two years, the style has not changed. The tote bag is 14 inches wide, 16 inches tall, and 3 inches deep. The handles are folded and stitched and attached to the bag with two rivets on each end of the handle. At the beginning, I constructed the tote bags with a thick leather and left them unlined. However, I did construct a second version out of thinner leather, which I just lined and placed a pocket on the interior. The third version has a pocket which is more of a square shape on the exterior of the bag instead of a rectangle. Alternate options of closure and pockets are available for this bag.

      Caroline also shares my love of supporting American made products. If it is between two different products that are relatively the same, 10 times out of 10 she will always purchase the Made in USA product even if it is more expensive (most of the time that isn’t the case…despite the theory). She said that if a hangtag on a garment states “MADE IN USA” clearly on the tag it instantly peaks her interest. However, if the “Made in USA” is a tiny little print in the side seam of the garment, usually it’s not really thought about. Now if you have ever been shopping with me, you will know what I am doing every time I buy clothing. If you are looking at a garment, lift up the bottom of the shirt, skirt, or dress and on the right side seam near the bottom of the garment the “Made in_____” is clearly printed. If it is not there, then it is in the neck seam. But that’s just a side note….

      The Caroline Totes always line the walls in my shop, and it is a style I always want to have in my shop.  Now you know the story behind your Caroline Tote, and the hard working woman who inspired your bag.  Stay tuned next week for another inspirational woman… behind the bag.

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