Designer, Shaffer LA
After spending more than a decade as a branding and communications expert at some of the top companies in both the hospitality and retail worlds, Erin Shaffer made a stylish dive into luxury fashion goods. And for good measure… Designed and made in the heart of downtown LA, Erin Shaffer's eponymous accessories line is fashion-forward yet classically designed, with an approachable price point for quality leather that's hard to come by. The idea that ethically sourced, handcrafted accessories don't need to be paired with sky-high price tags lays at the core of SHAFFER LA’s brand DNA. In an exclusive interview, Erin tells us how she went from launching W Hotels to a Neiman Marcus exec, the nitty gritty details it takes to make your own collection, and where her traveling bug is taking her next!
VacationStyle: Can you tell us a little bit about your story and how you got to where you are today?
Erin Shaffer: Born and raised in the Midwest, I was raised with a grounded reality but the ability to dream. As a child, I was interested in fashion and how one’s style can be a non-verbal way to communicate. Even young, I knew that fashion was something I wanted to be a part of. After enrolling in college at The Fashion Institute of Technology, I was able to explore the business side of the fashion and beauty industry. Branding was soon my passion and after college I was fortunate to start my career with Starwood Hotels where I supported partnerships and marketing for their new brand, W Hotels. This position not only taught me how to be a part of a team that developed a global brand, it also exposed me various industries such as fashion, art, automotive, sport, etc.
After several years in the hospitality industry working for Starwood and its competitor Hilton Hotels, I soon realized that fashion was my calling and I took a position in Public Relations and Events at Neiman Marcus Hotels. At Neiman Marcus I was exposed to the retail side of the business which inspired me to look at what wasn’t available to customers today online and offline. Soon, I realized there lacked a handbag brand that combined quality of American craftsmanship with classic design all at an approachable price point. Thus, the idea for SHAFFER LA was born.
VS: What was the process like for sourcing your materials?
ES: To prepare for the collection, I spent almost a year interning with an Italian leather maker working out of his small shop in his garage to learn the intricacies of handbag making and leathers. Knowing the details of leathers and their natural strengths and weaknesses has allowed me to commit authentically brand promise of quality for products made with the SHAFFER LA logo. Not only do I design the brands collection, I also oversee its manufacturing from start to finish.
It has been incredibly tedious but rewarding experience learning the handbag industry and world of manufacturing in downtown LA. I think at this point, I know every random source for fabric, hardware, zippers and everything in between throughout downtown LA. I could start my own tour bus of downtown LA sourcing soon :)
VS: What did you think was different about what you were doing? Have you always had a knack for bags?
ES: I felt SHAFFER LA handbags were different as they are designed to be a brand that didn’t “define” it’s user and be worn every day without concern of judgment by others. When carrying a SHAFFER LA handbag, the owner isn’t defined as rich, poor or trendy because their handbag. Whether a conscious unconscious decision, those who purchase SHAFFER LA products are directly supporting job growth in the USA as well as the tradition of leather manufacturing in Downtown Los Angeles.
Anyone who wears the brand, is making a simple statement that they appreciate intuitive design with iconic style yet also support the production of handmade quality products stateside.
I didn’t always have a knack for bags, I loved handbags but never foresaw myself designing and manufacturing them!
VS: Where do you find your inspiration?
ES: I am inspired by those around me. From fashion savvy friends to friends who are mothers and uninterested in fashion and more function for their lifestyle, each woman in my life teaches me about what they need from what they wear; emotional connectivity, price to function.
VS: We’re obsessed with the collab bag you did with DTLAcustom. Can you tell us what went on behind-the-scenes and how you came up with the idea for the double-sided design (Bev Hills Hotel/Hamptons)?
ES: The DTLAcustom partnership was exciting for SHAFFER LA. The company is women owned and managed and based in the heart of downtown LA – it was a natural fit for us. The talent in the company to create and execute design on almost anything is astounding. We met with them in order to start a partnership to allow our customers the ability to customize their SHAFFER LA. The partnership is in development but we recently did an event in Dallas and offered exclusive designs by DTLAcustom on SHAFFER LA bags. The bags turned out adorable and were a hit with customers.
I was so lucky to have DTLAcustom ask to do a bag for me. They asked what are my favorite things and of course I immediately thought of places; The Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hamptons; My heart resides partially on the west coast and east coast. A short time later – the most extraordinary SHAFFER LA bag came to life.
The opportunities with our partnership is only limited by our imagination. We recently created Julian clutches that feature the Republican and Democrat symbols hand painted for our patriotic customers getting ready for the exciting Presidential election ahead.
VS: As a Hamptons-frequenter, what are some hidden gems you have found or some of your favorite places?
ES: In the Hamptons, I do have a few favorite spots. For breakfast, I love the tiny “Mom and Pop” owned Bagel Bouy. Grabbing a bagel and coffee in the morning and sitting outside looking at the marina across the street is my favorite summer morning tradition. Afternoons are spent poolside or at the beach, but of course when possible I go watch polo in Watermill at the fields on Two Trees Farm. If the afternoon calls for some adult fun, I suggest going to Gurney's and grabbing a cabana and bottle of Rose and dance the afternoon away.
Head to Pierres for dinner in Bridgehampton for a romantic and idyllic setting and if possible, I try to stay at the Topping Rose House. The hotel feels as if you’re staying at a cool relative’s home on the countryside.
VS: What’s next for your brand?
ES: SHAFFER LA will soon be developing into a lifestyle brand extending into clothing, home and other lifestyle accessory lines. Always keeping the commitment to quality and craftsmanship in mind, there are a lot of areas that are left to be explored with the SHAFFER eye. Stay tuned!
VS: Favorite hotel or hotel brand?
ES: I recently had the pleasure of staying at the Rosewood Mayakoba in Mexico. It changed my life and any future hotel stays will have quite a hard experience of service to live up to. As previously mentioned, in Los Angeles the Beverly Hills Hotel is my go-to place to dine and suggestion for out of town guests to stay. In NYC, The St. Regis is my favorite as the history and elegance of the space makes any stay a treat.
VS: How would you describe your style? Does it differ when you’re on vacation?
ES: My style is generally quite classic and preppy in style but if I love something that is different and out of my “usual” I am not afraid to wear it. My #VacationStyle tends to go bohemian for function of packing when traveling and surviving the weather. We’re so spoiled in Southern California we turn into wimps when it gets above 80 degrees or sense humidity!
VS: You're go-to brands on vacation (aside for your own)?
ES: For hats, I adore Janessa Leone, coverups PITUSA, daytime to evening dresses MDS Stripes and swimwear Marysia and J.Crew. I have several cover-ups/tunics from travels in Mexico and India that have no brand but are coveted when traveling. I love to seek out local artisans and wear my souvenirs over and over
VS: Beauty essentials you cannot travel without?
ES: Cetaphil Lotion, La Mer Eye Concentrate, Jergens Natural Glow Moisturizer with self-tanner, Tizo Sunscreen, Oribe Texturizing Spray, Evian Face Spray
VS: If you could waive a magic wand and travel anywhere where would that be?
ES: This is such a hard question as I’d happily be in many places! I tend to want to go where I’ve been and love like Capri or Thailand but I think I should go to somewhere on my bucket list....So I’d say Maldives. I choose that location as I have had 2 previous trips planned that sadly got cancelled and never rescheduled. The images of the islands and the overwater hotels just seems surreal and I want to see it for myself!
VS: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
ES: Just be nice. And if you can’t be nice at least be respectful and smile.
One-piece or two? Both
Kaftan or sarong? Kaftan
Hair-up or down? Up
Makeup or no makeup? None (except mascara)
Flats or heels? Flats
Jewelry or no jewelry? Simple jewelry
Underpack or overpack? Overpack (you never who you’ll meet and the invitation you’ll receive!)
Detox or retox? Detox (I live in LA where it’s toxic daily)
Stick with what you know or try something new? Try something new… You only live once so you have to live out of your comfort zone to truly know who you are and what you’re made of!
Dominican Demi-God to Vacation Fashion tells us whos suitcase she wants to raid and what hotelier shes just plain addictedread more
The Swimwear Designer takes us to her insider spots in Maui and explains how shes stays bikini fitread more