Looking for the perfect gift this holiday to give to that special someone? Look no further than Arden & James!
A&J was founded by Industrial Designer/Maker Bri Brant. She handcrafts beautiful leather handbags and accessories, as well as beautiful beeswax candles. I had the opportunity to interview Bri and find out where the inspiration for her hand made goods came about…
I’ve lived in the Chadds Ford area for most of my life. I attended college in Philadelphia, and lived in Colorado for a couple of years. But Chester County is my home – it’s so full of character, history, and beauty.
I am a trained Industrial Designer. I went to The Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University). It was a new program at the school that I jumped into because I wanted to design furniture. My roommate was a fashion designer, and we spent a lot of time in the shops on Fabric Row in Philly – still one of my favorite places.
When my great grandparents came to this country from Russia, they had a custom tailoring shop on Fabric Row. I like to think that my current work with Arden + James is a continuation of the work that they did as newcomers to this country.
Tell us about the about the journey that got you to Arden and James.
I always wanted to be an artist/designer, but I feel that my work experience outside the art world is what makes me a better designer. I worked for Wawa for ten years, starting with my first job at the Chadds Ford “wooden” Wawa. It was such a great experience serving people in the community and getting to know my customers over the years. I continued to work for Wawa in their Marketing department, where I learned about merchandising, advertising, and product consistency. Wawa was a big part of my life, and all of those skills are a big part of my current business.
My husband, James, and I moved to Colorado to start a new life together. I worked for a small honey company and a friend there taught me to make local beeswax candles. Starting with something simple like candle making, I got back into designing and making again. I taught candle-making classes at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, and did a local farmers market. It was a new lifestyle for me…and I learned that I could make things and make money at the same time.
When we moved back to PA, I worked for Kimberton Whole Foods, another great local company. I did marketing and events for them, and was part of a Chester County local farm and art scene that I hadn’t tapped into before. I left Kimberton when Baby James was born. My life was so different than before…kind of a culture shock. I spent a lot of time sitting still in a quiet room while feeding him and while he slept in my lap. I had never been so still or quiet before, and my mind started thinking about making bags…so I went with it.
I started Arden + James when Baby James could sit on his own, about 6 months later. I brought my sewing machine into his playroom and worked in short spurts to create my first linen bag samples. It started out very simply, and it all grew from there – as our family has grown. I have met so many wonderful people by making and selling things. That alone is worth it. I feel like my products are part of my true self that I’m putting out there for people to see, and it opens me up to people. I think that making things - whether it’s bags, music, gardens, or food, is something that’s in your heart and you have to follow your heart to feel like your true self. At least that’s how it has always been for me.
What is the significance of the name Arden and James?
Arden, Delaware is one of my favorite places – an original Arts and Crafts Community designed by architect, William Price at the turn of the century. It is still home to many local artists, musicians, and actors. This utopian community was designed for the artists to live and work together. It’s a magical place. Rose Valley, in Media, is another of Price’s communities. And of course James is the name of my husband and son. Our second son, Ethan, was going to be Arden, but I felt like Ethan was a more fitting name for him, because it means strong and optimistic.
How do you juggle your work with kids? Do your kids ever inspire any of your designs? What else inspires you?
It’s definitely hard…days go by when I don’t get any “work” done, and I’m just taking care of the boys. But I’m ok with that, and, as the boys grow, I will have more time to focus on Arden + James. I try to live in the moment and appreciate them being little as much as I can. I only work with shops and customers that understand my unstructured schedule, and everyone has been so supportive!
James – who is now 3 years old – “helps” me with hand painting fabric, choosing new colors, sorting candles, and sewing (he sits on my lap). Ethan, who is 1, likes to ride in the cart and shop for supplies. I take the boys with me to make deliveries in Philly, to mail packages at the post office, and to do little shows/sales. They get to do have a new experience, and I get to teach them about making things, selling things, and being a part of a friendly community. I want them to work with their hands, dig in the dirt, and not worry too much about what they want to “be” when they grow up. I feel like I’m showing them that they can do their own thing and have a happy life.
Being a mom makes me a non-stop multitasker, and I design my bags to hold up to that lifestyle. My bags are washable and made to last a lifetime. They also have big pockets. I can’t live without those!
Where do you want to take Arden and James? Do you want to keep it on a small scale or would you want it to go worldwide?
Being able to design and make each piece from start to finish is definitely the most meaningful way for me to do it. It’s hard for me to have anyone work with me because I don’t use patterns or really have a set process for anything. I like it that way because it never gets boring, and I can “accidentally” stumble upon a new design. My organic materials: woven linen, vegetable tanned leather, and plant dyes, are always giving me different results. So each piece is one of a kind.
When the boys are older, I will probably have a pop-up shop in a local storefront where I can have my workshop, feature some Arden+James goods, take custom orders, and showcase the work of some friends. I would love to have small classes, dinner parties, and music in a space that is accessible to the community. So yes, I want to keep it local. It’s a business of making one of a kind items that are meaningful to people, and I would lose that if it wasn’t small scale.
A + J goods are available at lots of local shops, and we really like to promote them! Check out our website for our list of stockists! We love keeping in touch via social media…there are links to all of those on our website as well!
For more information on A&J you can visit their site here.