My name is Ellen Ruben, and I design leather handbags and shoes in Tel Aviv, Israel. I live in a colorful neighborhood filled with veteran craftsmen, designers, artists, actors and musicians.
My story as a designer began at a crossroads in my life: I had been living in Jaffa and working as a video editor, but I was hungry for something different. I quit my job and set out on the road, not knowing where I would end up. After three weeks staying with friends in Chicago, I flew to New York for a visit. New York struck me from the first second I got there; my “visit” became a stay of six years. One summer, a friend came to visit me. During his stay, he noticed my obsessive urge to feel almost any material that I passed. One morning, he took me to Parsons The New School of Design and said,”This is what you have to do: study design and meet interesting people!” Within a few days, I applied for a course in shoe design.
I studied at Parsons for a year. After graduation, I was frustrated by the fact that the instruments and machines required for making shoes were no longer available to me. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop creating, so I bought materials from leather and supplies shops and went home to play with them. Suddenly, bags were the answer: they were much easier to make at home, and they didn’t require any special machinery. Over time, I refined my practice. Then one day, a friend introduced me to someone who worked as a stylist for TV shows in LA. She saw my designs and took some samples; thanks to her, one of my purses was featured on the last episode of the TV sitcom Frasier.
A short while later, I fell in love with an Israeli guy who was visiting New York, and I decided to follow him back to Israel to start over. I took my designs to several boutiques in Tel Aviv and worked to establish my brand. I also opened a concept store, which helped me gather the momentum and courage to finally begin my first shoe collection. I opened my Etsy shop in 2014. Etsy taught me that the world is bigger than I thought; alongside industry giants and chain stores, there is still a place for us independent designers. Most of all, Etsy allows me to be original and strengthens my belief that there isn’t just one method — and that you should always bring yourself and your way to the table.
In the future, I hope to experiment with design for films and theater. I’m inspired by the psychological aspect of studying and researching a character’s personality and starting to design from there. Another goal of mine is to have a small studio where I can teach students about being an independent designer. My slogan would be, “If you’re looking for a pair of shoes and you can’t find them, that’s the perfect motivation to make them yourself.”
Maker and studio photographs by Ilya Melnikov.