Hi! I’m Jenny Nemlekar, and I’m the one-woman show at Jenny N. Design, where I design, make, photograph, model and live and breathe handbags. I operate out of my in-laws’ basement in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, while my pug, Hubert, keeps me company. My husband, Shay, is my tough business decision-maker, source of sanity, data analytics guy, and male model (if I nag him enough).
I started making tote bags (something I learned from my mom when I was six) in my college dorm room, and it soon became an addiction. Ironically, earning a bachelors of science in biomedical engineering solidified what I really wanted to do: be my own boss. I figured owning a business would give me the opportunity to do what inspired me, while creating the flexibility to work my own hours and move anywhere around the world. I didn’t realize at the time was that owning a business is a 24/7 commitment and that industrial sewing machines and leather hides are really heavy to move, but that’s besides the point.
I am an artist by nature and an engineer by discipline, so my business is the fusion of my personal artistic aesthetic and the engineering principles I adopted throughout my education. My designs are inspired by food, fashion and life in general. For example, after following Shay’s favorite basketball team for a season, I couldn’t help but think how cute it would be to bolt snap the three-point line to the center court line. Thus, I designed the Clutch. Other examples include the Traveler, which is inspired by an envelope from a wedding invitation, or the Ruche, which is inspired by a combination of a bubble skirt and a Chinese dumpling.
I design my bags by sketching out the final silhouette, then reverse-engineering the design to create a template. I cut a whole leather hide into a stack of geometric shapes that culminate into a design when sewn, lined, and riveted. I try to standardize my templates so I use every inch of the beautiful materials I work with. Once a bag is ready, I take a brief moment to feel like a proud mom before giving it a final hug goodbye, and then packaging it to be shipped away to a loving new home.
I believe that a great shopping experience is very much like a great dining experience: you want a delicious product made from high-quality ingredients presented with high-quality service. I run my business so that my customers love my designs and come back because of my customer service.
After graduating in 2009, I jumped head-first into making and selling my handbags full-time on Etsy. Back then, I was an engineer who was crafty. Now I’m proud to say I am a craftswoman with a strong foundation in engineering. Etsy has allowed me to turn my hobby into my full-time job, and I feel fortunate that I can do what I love every single day (including weekends!).
All photographs by Jenny N. Design.