My name is Alexandra Ritchie, and I design and make my collection of boho chic handbags called Byloom and Hyde in rural Southwest France. I use a combination of my bespoke handweaves and leather.
Many of my bags are one of a kind or limited edition, depending on the leather resources available. The process – from the design, to the weave, to the construction – is entirely handmade by me. I keep the process loose to allow for the unpredictable, haphazard element of surprise. I enjoy allowing the materials to speak for themselves. Once I come up with a successful design, I may repeat it in several slightly different ways.
Creating is a passion I have had all my life; if my hands are not making something, I get fidgety. I find self-expression through my work, and particularly love working with texture and fiber. I studied constructed textiles at art school and discovered just how much I love creating and literally constructing cloth. I love mixing textures and techniques, and often it is in the mix that I find the most interesting and unusual results.
My weaving loom is a huge complicated contraption which I learned to use during my studies. There were moments when I could have burned it through various frustrations, but I have come to appreciate the therapy of repeatedly passing the yarn (or weft) through the warp. Sometimes I experiment with new patterns and textures, and other times I just switch off to the rhythmic beat of the repeat pattern. I am glad I can bring a much overlooked craft into a contemporary and competitive marketplace.
Combining the beautiful leathers I have access to with handweave has resulted handbags that I myself love to carry. I love a rugged, distressed look. Handbags are full of endless possibilities, and what I do allows me to make a finished product that is both beautiful and practical.
My home – where I live and work – has a massive influence on what I do. Here in the rustic and rural French countryside, my ideas are born from the influences around me; the worn down stonework, the shabby shutters, the dusty ancient limestone walls and French vintage finds. All the natural earthy textures, hues and tones find their way into my work. I think the more I capture the simplicity and essence of the elements around me, the better my work becomes.
The fact that I am literally “set apart” in the countryside away from outside influences has had a huge impact on my creativity. Discovering that I am a unique individual was a key step in finding my creative niche. Though trained in design, I am not led by trends and media influences anymore. I have become increasingly in tune with who I am and what makes me, as an individual, tick. I make what I love regardless of what anyone else thinks. This has given my work a strength and identity.
I think it’s important to the respect the maker of any handmade product – we spend hours of our lives working towards the point where a product is actually of value to someone else. The process is a personal one, and often success comes after many tears and many failures. I believe the integrity of the artist or designer should be guarded at all times.
I still remember the day I read a newspaper article that said, “If you haven’t heard of Etsy you must be living on another planet.” I was definitely on that other planet! When I finally stumbled upon Etsy’s homepage, I felt I had found a community of like-minded creative people who all cared and upheld handmade as valuable and worthwhile, just as I do.
To have a community that really cares enough to want creative types to make a living from their own hands is truly wonderful. The passion behind it is immense, and I love it! I have also converted from my cellphone-free life so I can make use of the fantastic Etsy for iPhone app. It facilitates my communication with customers to no end. Merci, Etsy!
All photographs by Byloom and Hyde.