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VIProfile: Patricia Nash

By Gay Lyons

I’ve always been involved in doing something creative,” said Patricia Nash, perched at a work table in her brand’s flagship location. She developed her creative talents by doing everything from wedding cake decoration to selling licensed products. Her creativity and her manufacturing background have informed the establishment of her company, Patricia Nash Design, but Patricia traces its genesis to travels with her husband Jeffrey Nash whom she met in England 20 years ago. “We spent a lot of time traveling,” she said, “and I became attracted to old buildings and vintage shops. I started collecting vintage bags, not really putting together that this is what I would make. I just liked really cool old bags, always thinking, ‘if these bags could talk, what stories they would tell.’”

One particular bag led to what she describes as “that defining moment.”

“I found an old bag of my mother’s. I started thinking about how you could do old craftmanship but make it functional for today’s woman. I thought, ’this could be really cool.’”

“I started working with tanneries and factories in Italy,” she said,” figuring out how to make things look hand-tooled and make it affordable. It’s taken off like crazy. People have memories of mom’s bag, grandmother’s bag. The authenticity of the brand creates a connection with the customer.”

“[Our bags] really are inspired by real vintage bags,” she continued. “There are people who collect the prints and love the stories. They love being part of that. You want to be part of something real. Embrace the craftmanship that’s been lost for so long.”

In differentiating her bags from others, Patricia said, “Almost all the brands out there with leather emboss it. They call it leather. They want everything to look the same. We don’t do that. We don’t hide the imperfections. We embrace the natural article. We make it look like it would have if you’d bought it 100 years ago.” It’s all about the process.

“Vegetable-tanned leathers are tanned with the bark of an Italian mimosa tree,” she explained. “It goes in an old wooden drum. It’s the same process that’s been used forever. It develops a patina. It gets softer over time. That’s the essence of the brand.”

“I didn’t have a vision,” she said. “I just wanted to get the product right and expose people to what we are doing, get them to understand it. I started showing it in buyers’ offices. They were like, ‘Wow.’ After a couple of years, it really took off, and it continues to grow.”

According to Patricia, the company is the fifth largest designer bag in medium tier department stores, behind brands such as Michael Kors and Kate Spade with $125 million in retail sales.

The flagship store in Knoxville, which includes showroom, offices, design spaces and photography studio, reflects the brand’s aesthetic.

Jeffrey Nash, a developer who owns the Courtland Group, purchased the old manufacturing warehouse at 1132 N. 6th Avenue with plans to lease space to four businesses.

Patricia Nash Design ended up taking the entire building. “It’s important to me to have a headquarters,” she said. “We have people visiting; we have people from buying offices across the country, people from New York City. We want them to have a place where they can see and understand what we’re doing. They leave wanting to be part of the brand. They love downtown. This place has been magical for us.”

“Jeffrey does a fabulous job finishing things,” Patricia continued. “We have that common thread between us, which is nice to share. I love the exposed brick and the large windows, the original beams and wood floors. Trains come by, which adds to the charm of the place.”

Having expanded into footwear and launched some belts, Patricia said, “We’re looking at jewelry. We want to create more of a lifestyle brand, to start doing things for your home, place mats, pillows. People are asking for it.”

Despite the growth, Patricia remains the primary creative force behind the brand.

“Every market I design between 150-200 bags,” she said. “We do four markets a year. I develop probably twelve prints a year. As a designer, I think you’re most successful when you never turn it off. Every waking moment is like that. I am old school. I develop a palette and create a loose sketch. I have a team of designers who put it into CADD, but all the inspiration starts here and ends here.”

Travel remains Patricia’s biggest source of inspiration. “Every year we do a different family holiday,” she said. “We want something stimulating, a place everyone [five children, their spouses and nine grandchildren] would want to explore, would want to get to know the local culture. We went to Cuba two or three years ago and met artists, painters, saddle makers, carvers and potters.

“When you start caring about how someone does something, you ask questions, and there’s a connection. People are so passionate to share it.”

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