Scarlet recently spoke with Angelina Marie, Founder and Owner of Portland-based leather goods line Tah about how she started her company, how quality has been an over-arching theme in her life, and what she’s doing now to help during this time of shutdown and need. Their conversation is below. PS: If you fall in love with a Tah bag by the end of this interview, be sure to use the code SCARLETAPPROVED on her site when you check out to receive 15% off!
Scarlet: I’ve always admired you. I love your bags. I love your whole vibe, and right now I’m just so inspired by all that you’re doing with your line, with your factory, with giving back. I would love it if you would introduce what Tah is all about and also what it is you’re doing right now to help our world.
Angelina: We support the many strong, smart, bold women out there. Those are the women that we serve. We’re all about multi-functionality, timeless pieces, innovation, and really it boils down to saving us time, right? Instead of fussing for something in our bag, you know exactly where it’s at. I know where my keys are. I know where my cards are. It’s that confidence. That’s really what Tah is about. It’s about quality, not only in the products that we deliver, but quality of lives, quality of people, just quality all the way around.
I’ve been [designing] for about four years. Prior to that, I was in retail for 17 years and I’ve always been fascinated with people, products and innovation. So I’m really thankful that I’m able to do what I do for a living.
Most recently, in this situation where everything shut down, I just kept going. When I officially got the phone call: “Hey, we’re going to need to push out our orders.” I thought, “Whoa, this is really happening.” I took a moment to ask, “Okay, what are we going to do next? And how am I going to keep my factory?” My biggest concern was how I was going to keep those guys going.
There was a big need for masks. And there was a client of mine, a doctor, who I reached out to and said, “Hey, what can I do?” She asked, “Can you make masks?” She donated the materials. A bunch of local doctors donated surgical wraps. I gathered all the materials and sent them to my production manager. We were able to make 1,500 masks and donate them to local hospitals. From there, we found out there was a need for masks for civilians, so I started to make those to keep my guys busy and to be able to keep them paid. Most recently, we’ve added kids masks to the list.
Scarlet: Can you tell me where your guys are?
Angelina: They are based in Leon, Mexico. It’s one of the leather capitals of the world next to Italy. These craftsmen have been making bags for over 30 years. It’s a family-run operation, they’re very talented and they’re all about quality. I visit them often. In fact, I was just on the phone with my production manager, Luis, about an hour ago!
Scarlet: When we were working on Arianne’s Oscars red carpet bag together, you FaceTimed me from the factory and I got to meet everyone. It was so cool!
Angelina: Yes. You and I worked to pick the right colors for the bag based on the dress Marcela was designing for Arianne. All of our leather is purchased here in Portland, and you and I narrowed down the samples. From there, I took the leather with me to Mexico.
Luis made Arianne’s bag. He was really excited. With a new design, it always takes three samples and usually the third sample is perfect. On the first sample, we test for functionality and quality. Then we make a second one, and we finalize everything on the third round. That’s what we did with Arianne’s bag and it turned out beautifully. And because of you, we now have it in our line!
Scarlet: If people haven’t figured it out yet, you make handbags.
Angelina: Tah is all about handbags.
Scarlet: As a stylist, I love and appreciate your line so much because the people that I work with are not just interested in what looks good. They’re not going to waste their money on something that is trendy. Instead, they tend to spend money wisely on pieces that not only look good but function for their life and will be heirloom quality; things that they will have for a very long time. I know you talked about those values in the beginning, and I just want to say that for me and for my clients, your pieces make so much sense.
You are a great example of a company that is perfectly aligned as far as quality, style, and price. How did you get to that point of deciding that you wanted to make a line that is in that ‘sweet spot’ between stylish and on trend, quality and price point? I am always looking for that. That’s really important.
Angelina: Aw, well, thank you. It started when I was a store manager at Nordstrom and I would walk to work with three different bags. One was my designer bag, one was my work bag, and the other bag I carried all my shoes and stuff in. And I remember going to Starbucks and fumbling; I couldn’t find my keys, my shoes fell out of one of the bags, I was like, “Oh, where’s my wallet?” And I felt like a complete mess.
I got to work and one of my employees asked, “Angelina, what’s with all these bags?” And I was like, “Well, this bag does that and that bag does this.” And she said, “Isn’t there one bag that will do all of that?” I thought, “You know, I’ve been searching and searching, I can’t find it.” Then I thought, “I’m going to design it myself.” And she said, “You know, you should.”
I went home and I designed this functional little bag for my shoes that inserted into a tote. I designed my tote. I took it to a seamstress, she made it, I used it, and it made my commute more simple. I fell in love with it. The thing that sealed the deal for me was when I got into the car with my girlfriend and she was like, “Ooh, what bag is that?” I was like, “Who do you think it is?” And she started naming off designers. And I said, “Check out the inside of this bag.” It had a shoe compartment, it had a compartment for your keys, your wallet. And she was like, “Oh, my God, I want one of those.”
A handbag isn’t just a cute accessory. It should be more than that. It acts as a tool belt, it carries all the things that we need, and it needs to be able to function. It needs to look good, it needs to be able to last a long time, and I felt like there was a huge void out there for that. And another thing: I didn’t like logos all over everything. I wanted the quality to speak for itself. That’s how I got started. I decided to leave my corporate job and start designing Tah, and I absolutely love it.
Angelina: Thank you. It’s funny, when I started, the manufacturers would laugh at me because of the price point that I wanted my products to be at. They were like, “No. You’re in no man’s land, nobody’s there. You can’t have quality and be at that price point. It’s just not going to happen. You’re never going to stay in business.” They said, “This quality’s great but because your prices are so low, you’ll never stand up to a designer. And because your price is where it’s at, you’ll never be able to compete with folks at that price point. You’re really kind of in the middle where nobody else is.” And I was like, “Well, that’s why I’m doing it.”
Scarlet: You were forward thinking in that way because direct to consumer is now where it’s at. You knew the type of woman you wanted to target, and that woman is needing her money to go far these days, right?
Angelina: Yeah, she’s smart. I always say our customer is a very smart shopper. And I’ll give you an example. I had a customer who was looking for a circle bag. She said, “I want a circle bag, but I looked all through these big department stores and even some of these luxury department stores and I wasn’t finding what I needed, it didn’t function right, they were too big, the strap was wrong,” and then she said, “It was either Chloe or it was Tah, and yours was the best.” She went with Tah. That made me feel really good.
Scarlet: Yeah, and from my point of view, I’ve tried on a lot of circle bags too because my clients have loved that look, and there are some out there that just … They don’t zip well. You can’t be a busy person, a busy modern woman fumbling with your zipper when you’re trying to get into your bag to get your wallet out.
Angelina: Exactly. And that zipper needs to hit exactly at a certain spot. If it’s too low the bag will turn around and flip, if it’s too high you won’t be able to get your wallet in. It also can’t be a cheap zipper. It has to be smooth. All the zippers we use on every single one of our bags are the very best, they’re very smooth, and they last a very, very long time.
Scarlet: Let’s move from your bags to you as a person because your target market is exactly who you are. You are someone who is very smart, very stylish, and you have a lot of balls in the air. You’re managing this company, you have a factory, and you’re also a mom and a wife and a friend to so many people, you’re active in your community, and you’re participating in so many great causes. As a woman who is as busy as you are, traveling and showing up to special events and being there for your family and friends, how would you describe your personal style?
Angelina: I love functionality, so I like pockets. And I’m into fit. I want it to fit first. Then I like timeless pieces that feel good on my skin, and I like a little bit of edge, so there’s always that one piece that kind of takes it over the top a little bit. I want to feel pulled together, I want to feel sexy. When I go edgy it’s usually my shoes or my accessories, or it’s my blouse, but I like to keep my dresses fairly simple, my pants very simple.
I’ll spend money on my shoes, and a coat or jacket. I have more jackets and coats than I have shirts! I own so many t-shirts too. I like silks, I like cottons, I like wools…
Scarlet: Natural fibers. We have a couple of great sources we refer to often for eco-friendly and natural fiber apparel.
Angelina: For a while there I got caught up in some of the fast fashion. I don’t do it anymore because I want to support local brands and good quality. Also, some of the synthetics [of fast fashion] go against my skin. The way something feels on my skin is more important to me.
Scarlet: What brands are your favorite?
I like Vince. Vince is one of my favorite brands, and I’ve been a fan of them for a really long time. I love their silk blouses, I love the fabrics that they use, I love the quality. As far as basics, I think AYR is a fabulous company, their T-shirts are awesome, they have all-year-round pieces, and their price point is really good.
Scarlet: We love AYR too! We’ve shopped them for quite some time for our clients, especially because we love that the line is season-less. What else?
Angelina: I still like DVF, I think she’s classic and I admire her as an entreprenuer. I met her in New York and she’s fabulous. I love how she took one item, one thing, and she made it very diverse. So many different women can wear her dress. It’s not one body type, it’s not one age group.
Scarlet: Did she get to touch and feel your bags?
Angelina: Yeah, she liked them.
Scarlet: She liked them?
Angelina: Yeah, she snapped a photo. I had a black and white combo that I took into her store, and she was impressed, or at least she told me she was! I follow her, I feel like I know her. I feel like she’s like my aunt or something.
Scarlet: I didn’t think about this, but she hosted an Oscar luncheon for women in film that Arianne attended. I know Arianne didn’t bring the red carpet bag with her that day because she was saving it for the Oscars, but I love the way circles cross, you know?
Angelina: Yeah. It’s a small world, as large as it is.
Scarlet: It’s so true! You have striking features, long black hair, and often I see you with like a bold red lip.
Angelina: Oh, I’m glad you brought that up. Red is one of my favorite colors and it’s a color that I grew up with. It symbolizes strength to me. My grandmother, my mom and all my aunts always had red lips, red nails. The inside of my bags are all red, it doesn’t matter what color the bags are, their [linings are] all red. Not only do I love the color because it means something to me, but when you’re searching for your items in your bag, if it’s black you can have a hard time finding things. With red, they just stand out.
Scarlet: Do you wear lots of color?
Angelina: I will wear a pop of color, but my nice things are usually black, gray, white. I’ll add color with my jacket and my accessories, like a scarf. If I do wear color, it’s usually fuchsia or bright pink or red; a bold color.
Scarlet: You were talking earlier about your style and you used the word sexy, which I hear a lot of my clients mention. Sexy is so personal to each woman and I’m wondering what sexy means to you in terms of how you’re dressing.
Angelina: It means confident. I think confidence is the most sexy thing. When you’re dressed and you are feeling super confident, like ‘this is me’, I think that’s sexy and it shines through. It doesn’t necessarily mean I’m showing off my legs or whatever, it means you have this vibe like ‘you got this’.
Scarlet: Yes! I heard you say is that certain fabrics make you feel that way, and certain cuts and fit is very important. Then sticking within a color palette helps you feel more confident. Does it limit decision-making for you when you’re shopping or planning what you’re going to wear?
Angelina: 100%. With all the clothes that we have in our closets, we probably wear 30 pieces max, don’t you think?
Scarlet: Yes. I’ve noticed that most people are wearing 15-20% of their wardrobe regularly – until we get to work together – then they start to wear all of it!
Scarlet: Do you have any packing tricks for traveling across climates?
Angelina: Yeah, I stick with black, white, denim, and then whatever pop of color – like a scarf – that I’m going to go with. And then I keep the focus on my makeup and my hair and my accessories. That’s kind of how I change things up. But I learned to pack light, I learned to keep things simple. Feel good, keep it simple, make sure it’s quality. You can never go wrong with quality.
Scarlet: So true. Isn’t it liberating to live out of a suitcase for a week and to feel so chic where you’re at? You spend weeks sometimes in New York and other places that are very chic; isn’t it lovely to be like, “I’ve got this”?
Angelina: Yeah, you know what I used to do, and I don’t do anymore, is I would pack and think, “Oh, I’ll just find something to wear when I get there. I’ll go shopping.” That is the worst thing you can possibly do. Or you’ll buy something for your trip and you’ve never worn it before. No. It has to be tried and true. I pack what I know works and what feels good. And you’re right, when you can learn that trick, it’s all good. You can enjoy your trip, you don’t have to be worried about what you’re wearing, you’ve already got it covered.
Scarlet: Yes. And I think it’s a great thing to connect back to when you were last traveling and you felt like, “Oh, I love this. It’s so easy.” You can connect back to that feeling when you’re trying to let go of things.
Scarlet: Okay, so now it’s time for rapid fire questions! Tell me, what is the thing that you spend the most money on in your closet?
Angelina: Shoes and handbags.
Scarlet: Do you have a favorite item in your closet?
Angelina: I have a Vince jacket, it’s a really cute mid-length little jacket that I wear. It goes with everything.
Scarlet: What is your most sentimental piece?
Angelina: This is going to sound really silly, but my wedding dress. It’s just a very simple, beautiful lace dress that I could wear again.
Scarlet: Have you worn it a second time?
Angelina: No. It’s something that I could give to my daughter.
Scarlet: Scarlet: When I get asked, “How did you end up as a stylist?” I always think about how everything I’ve ever done has led to this place, but also, quality, hand-built, and style were just a part of my life. My mom was a buyer for May Company and had an incredible career in fashion, and my dad built boats and homes that were invincible and so elegant. The things he built will last for eternity. Even though we didn’t necessarily have a lot of money at times, my mom was always creating really soulful spaces and my dad was building them. I got to be around it. I remember staring at my mom thinking, “God, she’s so pretty.” And she had red lips and red nails. Does your heritage play into how you dress or how you shop?
Angelina: Yeah. I’m a mix of lots of things, I’m Mexican and Japanese and a little bit of Native American… my grandma was also French. It certainly influenced the way I mix texture and bold color with overall simplicity and clean lines. I definitely understand your sentiment of quality over quantity.
Scarlet: Do you ever borrow things from your daughter or does your daughter borrow things from you?
Angelina: She doesn’t borrow things from me, she’ll take them! She took one of my Burberry coats. She asked, “Can I wear this?” And that’s her, “Can I have it?” It’s this great gray double breasted wool Burberry jacket, and it looks so cute on her, so pretty, so I let her have it. That was a tough one, I was like, “I don’t know if you’re old enough for that yet.”
Scarlet: Heirloom quality. What an incredible gift. I hope she keeps it forever or passes it down to someone she loves.
Angelina: Yeah. She’s a little cutie pie…
Scarlet: Angelina, thank you.
Angelina: No, thank you. You are amazing. You are a true talent, Scarlet, I hope you know that. You’ve got a gift.