How to Start a Fashion Line without Any Design Background
Khirma Eliazov taught herself and now has Brie Larson and Sienna Miller as fans.
Khirma Eliazov’s namesake handbag line started on 38th Street. She visited every tannery on the street with an extended hand and a firm voice that said, “Hi! I’m here to meet the owner.”
Just days before, she was looking at her closet full of handbags when she decided, unplanned and unprovoked, that she wanted to be a designer. “I literally had my life savings from styling, and I was like, ‘OK, this is what I’m going to do now.’” When the employees at the tanneries asked if the owner knew her, Khirma was blunt: “No, but soon he will.”
Khirma had no design experience, but she knew what she liked and what she wanted. Sitting in her studio at the back of her storefront on Charles Street, she doesn’t recall these early years of uncertainty with unease. She talks about it with a confidence that’s contagious and as palpable as the large text painted on her wall (the words read: unexpected, inspired, and confident.) “I didn’t know how to draw, I had no production experience, and I had no selling experience, which are the three main things you need to do to be a designer. I was like, ‘It’s OK, I’ll figure it out.’”
Instead of worrying about what she couldn’t do, she always focused on what she could do. “I made my first samples with tracing paper. I had a friend who could draw. I would take tracing paper and redo it.” When a showroom asked her if she had line sheets, she said of course, even though she had no idea what a line sheet was. “I called my friend at McQueen and asked, ‘What is a line sheet?’ She came over, and we made it. Everything just went from there.” Khirma doesn’t say no, and it’s impossible to say no to her.
When her friend told her about a man in Brooklyn who worked on samples for Proenza and Diane von Furstenberg, Khirma knew she had to speak with him. “I called him 40 times, no response! I got on the train, went to Brooklyn, rang his doorbell, and was like, ‘Hi, it’s me, your personal nice stalker.’ I said, ‘Look at my sketches. Please help me.’ He did, and we made the first three bags.”
After creating her initial samples, she held her first trunk show and sold twenty bags in one night. “It was like, You can’t pronounce my name, you can’t have the bag for three months, and I need the full deposit today.” None of it mattered; all that mattered was that people wanted what Khirma designed. A couple months prior, she didn’t even know what being a designer entailed.
She made a list of stores she dreamed of being in and is now in over thirty worldwide. Her handbags have been worn by Sienna Miller, Brie Larson, and Alessandra Ambrosio. And even if that’s enough to get starry-eyed, Khirma is most excited about the women who’ve inspired and helped her along the way.
“My business was built on these trunk shows where these women—I would be inspired by them, and they would be inspired by me. They all have a different story, different visions, different passions. The bags are all named after women who helped me build my business. I think of bags as people in layers and textures. It’s like how all of the textures come together in a person makes them beautiful, is the same thing for me with bags.” Even if each bag is layered in textures and colors and patterns, they all have one thing in common—Khirma’s logo, the feather.
“I love collaborating. I think we are stronger together than we are on our own. Even our logo is the feather, because a feather finds strength in layers and takes flight when they’re all together.” Khirma is even using her bags to lift others up, with 15 percent of the sales from her Swarovski collaboration going to the YoungArts foundation, which works to encourage and nurture young creatives and artists across the country.
Nothing, though, compares to running into someone with a handbag of hers. Recently at Art Basel, she saw a woman at a bar with one draped over her shoulder. When Khirma told her, “Oh my god, that’s my bag!” the woman was quick to snap back, “No! That’s MY bag.” Khirma nodded. “Yeah, you’re right, it is your bag.” None of Khirma’s bags are truly only ever hers. There’s a little bit of passionate and inspirational women everywhere, who don’t take no for an answer, in every single thing she makes.