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Alumni Engagement

It’s in the bag: Continuing Education grad launches luxury handbag line

August 28, 2014

Some might shy away from sewing their own wedding dress, especially if they’ve never made one before. Not Monica Jones.

“It was very stressful. I had actually never made a dress before – maybe that’s why I didn’t realize how hard it would be – so I just dove right in,” she says with a laugh. “It actually turned out pretty good but I needed a little help from my aunt who knows how to sew.”

It’s not that Jones had never sewn before – she’d been making purses for some time. It’s just that she’d never taken on such a large – and important – project.

Despite some initial hiccups, Jones – a saxophonist with a degree in jazz performance – quickly found she was hooked on sewing.

“I’ve always had an interest in the eye of design as well as auditory art, so I think it’s just that I’ve always been a bit of a multi-disciplinary artist,” she says.

Today, the Red River College Apparel Design grad has come a long way, recently launching a line of high-end leather handbags.

Called Barbara & Cecile (after Jones’ grandmothers), the line features high quality leather and hardware, and Jones even designs the printed textiles that line the purses.

Getting to this place took some time. After designing her wedding dress in 2008, Jones started selling clutches on Etsy through her store BabbsBoutique. Featuring bright, luscious colours, the dupioni silk clutches quickly gained notoriety.

“People started responding and asking for certain clutches made in their wedding colours. And it just kind of grew out of there.”

She did that for a few years before deciding she wanted to learn more.

“I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge of sewing and design and I wanted to learn from professionals in the field. Also, I didn’t want to go back to school full time so the Apparel Design program at Red River College was a perfect fit.”

When she enrolled, Jones initially thought she would design wedding dresses, but she was lured back by handbags.

“I learned so much in my first couple months there that I realized I could take the handbag designs to a whole new level. I chose leather because it’s a really great material to work with and it holds its shape so much better than the silk ever could. The possibilities are almost endless.”

Jones found her time at RRC to be incredibly beneficial, giving her the skills she needed in pattern drafting, sewing, design and illustration.

“Although the program is mostly in apparel design, I took the skills that I was learning and put them toward handbag design and construction. The teachers were always willing to answer any questions that I had, even if they didn’t pertain to what we were learning in class. I was always thinking about how to use the skills I was acquiring in the business that I am now building.”

She also appreciated being with so many creative people.

“My favourite part was just going to class and talking to all the other students and learning from each other and learning from the teacher. It was just a really collaborative environment and a really open and trusting place.”

Jones graduated from RRC in May 2014, and launched Barbara & Cecile that very same week.

The first Barbara & Cecile collection features relatively few designs, but each handbag is immaculately designed and constructed. Jones strives to create “classic styles for the modern woman.”

“Inspiration basically comes from everywhere, but mostly from nature, and I’m always observing things around me. For example I find watching water move on a lake really inspiring.”

Her training as a jazz musician also influences her work.

“I listen to a lot of music when I’m designing and I find it gives me inspiration, especially with the abstractness of jazz and the freedom of it, it really lets me be free with my own design work as well.”

Jones’s bags are currently for sale at the Exchange Uporium, a pop-up store located at 264 McDermot Ave.

She says the shop is a great opportunity for her to meet like-minded artists, and to have her work seen.

“I think getting out there as a designer and showing your work is really important and [the store is] a great environment to do it. If it weren’t for this pop-up store I might only be selling online and not able to meet and collaborate with other artists as well.”

While she still holds down a couple of other jobs, Jones loves every minute of being her own boss.

“It’s really fun to have my own business and be able to create things all day.

I definitely knew I would do something (arts-related) and creative but I never thought an entrepreneur would be part of it.”

For more information about Barbara & Cecile, click here.

For more information about RRC’s Apparel Design program, available through the School of Continuing Education, click here.

Profile by Stacy Cardigan Smith (Creative Communications, 2006)