Stephany Childers turned her sewing skills and interest in vintage clothing into a booming handbag business.
Story by Natalie Ulum Photos by Thomas Boyd
Stephany Childers always knew she wanted to be self-employed. From there, it was simply a matter of picking what she wanted to do.
Childers was working as a waitress in the middle of the recession when she decided exactly what that was going to be. Her mother had taught her how to sew at a young age, and she had long had an avid interest in vintage clothing.
So, she came up with a business idea that would allow her to give new life to the old textiles she had been collecting. The result is Rebyc Handbags, which during the last 11 years has turned into Childers’ fulltime job and an enterprise that has provided her with both a creative outlet and the chance to do as much — or as little — work as she wishes.
Arebycdesign, Childers’ page on Etsy — the e-commerce website specializing in handmade and vintage items — has more than 10,000 followers and 2,000 five-star reviews. She has sold more than 4,000 handcrafted, individually designed handbags to customers as far away as France, Australia and Singapore.
But for Childers, the success of the business isn’t her greatest achievement. That, she says, is something more personal.
“I’d say freedom.” she says. “Freedom to do what I want to do and create what I want to create.”
That’s a big part of Rebyc Handbags’ success and its growing fanbase, too. Childers does not use patterns. Instead, she uses unique vintage fabrics on every bag, ensuring that no two of her creations are identical.
Vintage fabric was Childers’ first love, long before bags and business. Her tiny backyard studio in Roseburg is a trove of old military canvas, discarded upholstery and even Pendleton blankets found in thrift stores and sporting long-discarded patterns.
The volume and variety of fabrics embodies Childers’ artistic philosophy. In the time before mass production, each fabric bolt was crafted with a focus on quality. Thus, each piece in Childers’ possession has its own history, but also brims with the possibility of what it can become with just a little imagination.
In her Etsy shop description, Childers writes, “...I realized I could redeem these old pieces and give them some sort of new life. To each generation they offer something different, something unique and special.”
Childers finds herself inspired by the pioneer spirit of the American West. She has traveled the world, but found nowhere that celebrated entrepreneurship and innovation to such a degree as pioneer figures, who learned to create quality goods from what materials were available. She dismisses the status quo of fast fashion and instead pursues her vision of quality pieces made with intention.
Her focus on freedom extends to Childers’ business practices. She doesn’t set sales goals, nor does she believe in cost-cutting measures that could compromise the individuality and quality of her work. Her pursuit is not toward material possessions, but instead a profound authenticity in her materials, her manufacturing techniques and her products.
Childers grew up in Roseburg before going to college and traveling. She briefly worked in the high-powered fashion world of New York City, but gave it up.
“It was so loud, I never felt like myself.” she says. “I like quiet.”
Childers returned to Roseburg to be with her family and discovered creative power in the quiet and uncomplicated life of a small town. She started a support group for self-employed women that came together regularly for moral support, prayer and a little wine.
“It was really good, because you need to be with people who see the world the way you do,” she says.
She also enjoys being part of Roseburg’s small-business community, part of which is an official barter system among members. Childers has traded her wares for, say, a hair appointment or coffee.
Once a year, Childers hosts a one-day show at her home in which she displays her bags and offers discount pricing. It began with just a few friends and family members who came to support her, but soon word-of-mouth brought bigger turnouts. At her most recent event, community members arrived early to have their pick of purses and by the end of the show, Childers’ inventory was nearly sold out.
Doing as much business as she wants, keeping things simple and practicing gratitude for the life she is able to lead, Childers sees no particular need to boost her profits or expand distribution of her products. Instead, she plans to stick to her original vision and enjoy what she has achieved. She can explain it in one sentence.
“I’m not going to chase more to give up my freedom.”