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Handbago All Things Handbags Designer Profile: Judith Nelson September, 2009

Designer Profile: Judith Nelson, Chouette Handbags

Submitted by Elysa on Wed 09/02/2009 - 03:46

If you are one of the many women searching for the perfect bag that does everything but wash the dishes, look no further than Chouette®, the reversible, interchangeable bag that turns into any style of purse that you would need. This tote bag can seamlessly become a messenger, hobo, A-shape, evening, or cuffed bag, as well as a backpack and a clutch! At $800 a pop, it’s quite a hefty investment, but since it converts into 20 different styles, that’s only $40 a bag! The removable pouch can be used as a small wristlet, cocktail shoulder bag, and waist bag.

I had a chance to catch up with founder and designer Judith Nelson and find out about how she started her fantastic company.

HANDBAGO: How did you come up with the idea to create this 20-bags-in-one design?

JUDITH NELSON: I spend several months a year in Paris and have come to love blending in and observing how the world’s stylish women live. Looking into windows of couture shops, I noticed that the women require functional and chic handbags. I would always bring home the “trophy bag” that were usually the it-bags of the moment. I even own the holy grail of handbags, the Hermes Birken Bag. Each time I justified the outrageous expense by being assuring myself that it was the bag to end all bags, but it never was. In spite of the incredible workmanship and detail, they were always too large, too small, too difficult to manage, too heavy, couldn’t be worn over the shoulder, etc. So, being a pretty good seamstress, I tracked down some luxurious, unusual leathers and tapestry fabrics, brought them home with me, and set about figuring out what it would take to include all the aspects of a great bag. After many trials, I hit upon a design that was leather on one side, tapestry on the other, reversible, with removable handles and strategically placed grommets so that the bag could be reversed and converted into 20 different styles, with the inclusion of a detachable interior pouch. The classic bag styles were timeless, and will never go out of style.

H: Tell us a bit about your academic background. Did you major in fashion design?

JN: My academic background is about as far as you can be from fashion design. I grew up sewing and designing every type of clothing imaginable, but did it mostly out of necessity—it was not particularly fulfilling. I’m an Ivy League grad with a major in liberal arts who went into advertising and creative marketing. I have a passion for photography, and I also painted and did runway modeling while in school. But aside from creative writing, I still had the urge to create, and having a weakness for handbags that some women have for shoes, it seemed a good fit.

H: Do you have experience in marketing? Looks like Chouette® is getting lots of attention, congrats!

JN: My marketing experience was never in the fashion industry, although I was, personally, a student of everything fashion. I worked for large advertising agencies doing creative writing and ad campaign design. I then specialized in medical marketing, which took me to many meetings, necessitating that elusive bag that would do it all.

H: I see that you're going to be at the Denver Accessory & Apparel Market in September. Can you tell us a bit about what's going to happen there?

JN: We are represented in a showroom in Denver, and have a line of bags that has been enthusiastically embraced by the equestrian and Western media. These are not the generic western” bags, and usually do quite well in those shows. Our Denver representative makes appointments with stores which attend the show, and they come to her showroom to see the bags.

H: What advice can you give aspiring handbag designers?

JN: Truly, the best advice I wish I had followed is to get investors, and not fund your venture personally. However, I stubbornly insisted on micromanagement of every detail and personally supervised the manufacture. I also insisted on the highest quality leathers and fabrics, all of which were very costly. It is better to be more realistic than idealistic when beginning, so that when the economy hiccups, it is better if you have not invested your life savings in your vision.

H: What was the most challenging aspect of starting your own business? The most rewarding?

JN: The biggest initial challenge was the design. It was really like playing multi-dimensional chess. I had to think of all details and how they would look when everything always showed since there is no “outside or inside” of a reversible bag. The next challenge for a newbie was sourcing. You can Google your brains out, but the reality is that most companies who provide the basic hardware, parts, and materials aren’t necessarily accessible via the internet. They are often old-school, and difficult to discover. If you order from Asia, the lag time is several months, and the required quantities of each part are in the thousands. The most rewarding aspect is selling the bags retail and feeling the gratitude from the women who understand. I have been hugged, kissed, and one lady even asked me to sign her bag. They thank me for producing a high-quality bag for real women that is really useful.

H: Where do you want to see your company go/grow?

JN: I would like mainstream American women to know that a bag for everyone exists; this bag isn’t a gimmick, and won’t be passé next season. I would like it to be an enduring and alluring alternative to the “bag du jour”-- the little black dress of handbags, one you can take anywhere, anytime.

H: Is there anything else about Chouette that you want our bagistas to know about?

JN: Just because it converts into different styles doesn’t mean it is the gimmick of the moment. It is what so many women have been waiting for: the trusty tote bag we all reach for, which has the capability of transforming into the style that you need. This bag is definitely keeper, as it is such a smart and stylish investment.

Thanks so much for your insight Judith!

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LA Parent Magazine September, 2008
LA Parent requests a sample bag for a special article and says: "We all love the bag over here..."

Better Homes and Gardens September, 2008
Better Homes and Gardens requests a sample bag for an upcoming shoot, and handwrites a special note: "Thank you so much for sending us a sample of your beautiful bag-it's gorgeous."

Helaine Williams Thursday, July 31, 2008
"Chouette Sac Designer Judith Nelson came up with the idea for the bag after getting tired of buying “perfect” bag after “perfect” bag — and dealing with “The Handbag Problem” whenever she had to travel. Nelson’s idea was inspired by Parisian women who carried bags that combined utility with high style; the name Chouette is French for “fantastic.” Chouette Sac purses start at $ 385 and includes additional accessories. You’ll find them at chouettesac. com."

17 bags in one by Kristi Gustafson July 10, 2008
When in search of the perfect handbag, women think “functional and style.” Chouette Sac may have captured both with their bag that performs 17 transformations for ultimate utility. Whether looking for a tote, mid-sized, hobo, backpack, messenger, belted, evening, clutch, wristlet or dancing pouch, one bag can be converted to serve the function while maintaining a fashionable appearance. The pattern and fabric combinations are diverse with subtle metallics, plaid, tropical, velvet, etc.

USA Made.   PATENTED: US Patent Nos. D596851,D596852,D596853,D596854,D596844,D596845,D596846,D596847,D596848,D599545,Utility 589,535.   CHOUETTE® is a Registered Trademark.   Copyright © 2008 Chouette Handbags
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