When describing designer handbags, people automatically gravitate to the big names like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci. With their hefty price tags and lack of actual, usable pockets, they make great accessories. But, for women whose jobs require the use of laptops, legal briefs, phones and any other number of personal items, it’s neither a practical nor useful investment.
Corporate tax accountant by day and designer by night, Fathke Handbags president, Amanda Fathke, has taken designer handbags to a new level. Combining the elegance of refined leather and elegant hardware with the durability, size and shape necessary to hold everything from keys to laptops, Fathke’s “brief bags” eliminate the need for a separate purse. Each bag is flexible enough to hold up to a 15-inch laptop and legal-sized documents and contains no less than nine interior pockets, a back strap that fits over luggage handles and full top zipper when travel is required. Due to its collapsible interior, Fathke’s bags are versatile enough to transition into a traditional handbag. One style, the Erin, also offers a removable lining that can be washed as needed.
In the early 2000s, Fathke was a staple in the security line at Dallas Fort Worth Airport as she traveled around the nation as a tax director for PricewaterhouseCoopers. Spending nearly all of her time on the road, Fathke and several female colleagues would lament the availability of a handbag that could double as a work and personal bag.
“Travel enough and you realize that you do not ever want to check bags. Because you’re only allowed two carry-ons, we needed a combination of a briefcase and purse. All of my female colleagues and I would scour the Internet in search of a bag that addressed our need for a handbag to be large enough to carry our work items, but small enough to fit under the seat,” recalled Fathke. “No matter where we looked, though, we found flaws in the designs that did not conform to our wish list.”
During a business trip in 2010, Fathke and her colleague, Kim Birt, began to brainstorm on a stylish handbag that would not only be perfect in the work setting and suitable for travel, but also collapse and act as a personal bag when the work items were not needed. The concept of function meets fashion in the form of brief bags was born and the company of Fathke Handbags was soon to follow. After consulting with one of her closest friends, Erin Kelley, who was a sales executive at a handbag company herself, Fathke quickly realized the need for these types of bags in all professional settings.
“In 2012, while my kids were on Spring Break, I purchased a black, alligator-stamped cow hide for $200,” said Fathke. “I created several different prototypes from the hide and shared them with friends and colleagues to get their feedback.”
Gaining more insight, Fathke designed a line of matching wallets that can hold a mobile phone as well. It is no surprise that Fathke credits attorneys as her largest client base when she used one as a beta tester from day one.
“When I left PriceWaterhouseCoopers and opened my own CPA firm, my office was located next to an estate planning and probate attorney, Margaret O’Connor,” noted Fathke. “Margaret was instrumental in validating some of my early designs, suggesting a larger interior to fit legal documents and anything else she would need to take to court. Not only was Margaret one of my beta testers, but she was also my first buyer.”
When Fathke settled on two acceptable brief bag prototypes, she sourced manufacturers to bring her idea to life with products becoming available online in late 2014. True to her tagline, by women, for women, she is proud to say that over half of her bags are made by small women-owned businesses.
“Not only do I try to source my products through women owned businesses, I am also dedicated to supporting charities that provide care for women,” noted Fathke. “A portion of our proceeds is donated to the Poiema Foundation, a philanthropy that works to prevent sexual abuse, sex trafficking and other methods of sexual exploitation of women.”
As Fathke Handbags is still in its infancy, Fathke has remained firmly ensconced as a corporate tax director at Experis Finance during the day while she devotes evening hours to her company.
Transitioning into a true family- run business, Fathke’s husband, Dwayne, has become the full-time chief operating officer for Fathke Handbags.
“I created this company because of the need I recognized in the marketplace,” said Fathke. “I love the creative outlet that designing new bags has given me, but I have relinquished the day-to-day operations to another experienced professional, my husband, Dwayne. His support has been unwavering since the beginning and I know that under his expert guidance, we will gain a stronger foothold in the marketplace. He has more than 20 years of retail management expertise.”
Since its inception, Fathke Handbags were designed with the working woman in mind. All of their durable, leather bags are designed to be used as a both purse and satchel, eliminating the need for multiple bags. Looking to the future, though, Fathke intends to increase the variety of colors available, add a male line of satchels, and create a stylish bag that allows for handgun concealment.