"Ami" is French for "friend," and there's a Beatles-born aphorism that one can get by with a little help from their friends. Local bag maker Rachel Reyes and her company Ami Bags prove it.
During our brief interview in her home studio on the Southside, Reyes mentions many of her friends by name, and tells me how they've helped her make Ami Bags her full-time gig over the past three years. Her friend Jenny, for example, donated paints after Jenny's mother passed away, and her interior design buddies give her scrap textiles. Reyes is emphatic that many Ami Bags are inspired by these gifts.
Friends were also some of Reyes' first customers. "That's how this whole thing started, really, just my friends buying my bags," she says. "Without them, I wouldn't be here."
Reyes founded Ami Bags in 2014 after leaving her first career working for her family's jewelry business in Los Angeles, California. "I left there not knowing what to do, and having some time to figure it out," she says, "but really in a painful place." Another aphorism says creativity is fed by struggle but, after taking a class at LA retail store Sew Modern, Reyes went to work creating bags. "I just loved it," she says, "the creative process."
Recently—like, in the past few weeks—Reyes left what I like to refer to as her "survival job" as marketing manager at Body Santa Fe to make bags full-time. She acknowledges that anxiety comes with betting everything on your passion, but says she can't imagine doing anything else. "Every morning I wake up and I can't stop thinking about the next bag I'm going to make, and every time I see someone, I study their bag," she says.
Small Ami designs are made by Reyes in her Santa Fe home studio, and she partners with Los Angeles-based bag maker Albert Ghazarian to create her larger pieces. Ghazarian has been making bags since he was 12 years old, and his 50 years of experience make the bags perfection. "It's been a great partnership for me," says Reyes.
Some Ami Bags are made with recycled or vintage textiles, so, they are limited-run because there is only so much reclaimed material. "These remnants would otherwise be in landfills," Reyes says, "and I've started making these cute little clutches from them. It feels very responsible."
Fashion, of course, is a pollutive industry and, Reyes says, "because of the awareness I have of what's happening in the world, I can't not have a responsible business." Recycling materials is definitely environmentally minded, and comes with the added bonus that there won't be be ten thousand identical clones of your handbag out there.
A purse is a functional accessory, so it needs to be easy to use. Nobody wants to fumble through a cavernous tote in the coffee line or search through too many tiny pockets at the movie theater. We want to reach into our bags and know where things are. Reyes says her designs are "clean, colorful and unexpected," and she's right. But, they're also sensible; the straps are a convenient length so the bag doesn't sit too low, or right in your arm pit; there are pockets, but Reyes doesn't go overboard. "I make bags I want to carry," the designer says.
Personally, I am lusting after the Santa Fe Bucket Bag ($345), which can hold anything from daily essentials to your farmers market haul. The black-on-black version is right up my alley, but if you're looking for a different color combo, Reyes is happy to work to customize certain aspects of your bag.
Small Ami Bags start around $40 and the largest ones go up to $345. The one-woman company features a slew of prices, sizes and shapes between, and you can see many of them locally. Check Array (322 S Guadalupe St., 699-2760), Body Santa Fe (333 W Cordova Road, 986-0362), Daniella (500 Market St., 988-2399) or, in Albuquerque, Spur Line Supply Co. (800 20th St., 242-6858). You can also pursue and shop her inventory online at amibags.com. The holidays are fast approaching and Reyes has few trunk shows lined up for gift giving season as well. Keep tabs on her via Instagram, also: @ami.style.usa.