New York — Brett Heyman's obsession with vintage clothing and handbags began when she was a teenager in Los Angeles. On weekends she frequented thrift shops on Melrose Avenue, looking for ripped jeans and old evening bags. Over time Heyman amassed a collection of more than 100 acrylic bags from the 1950s and 1960s.
"There's something very romantic about them," she said. "They were popular with everyone from showgirls to socialites."
Acrylic bags, first introduced after World War II, are made from the same plastic that was used in auto and airplane parts. "While the 1950s wasn't the most liberated decade for women, it was a period of innovation in areas as disparate as our space program and fashion," she said. "We were setting trends globally."
After college, Heyman worked as a public relations assistant at Gucci, where over eight years she rose to become director. After the birth of her first child, in 2009, she resigned. "I wanted to work full time but to do something more creative," she said. "I had the confidence to start a business and had made some money to do it."
She founded Edie Parker, named after her daughter, making and selling bright, statement-making acrylic box clutches and other accessories.
The learning curve was steep. "I felt strongly about keeping production in the United States and looked online at every plastic manufacturer in the country," she said. "Nobody would touch it because the process is still much like it was in the midcentury." Heyman finally found a factory in New Jersey to pour the acrylic sheets and another in Illinois to make the bags.
Today Edie Parker is a multimillion-dollar company. It beat sales projections by 60 percent in its debut year and doubled sales in each of its first five years. To supplement department store and online sales, Heyman opened a flagship location, on New York's Madison Avenue, a year ago.
"We realized it was impossible to grow our business without our own distribution channels," she said.
The handbags sell for $900 or more on the company's website.
Currently Heyman is focused on expanding Edie Parker's jewelry and home categories.
Heyman borrows her design ideas from art and fashion. The colorful spring line pays homage to painters David Hockney and Wayne Thiebaud. As the business matures, the whimsical designs are becoming more sophisticated. The autumn collection will marry English tweeds and tapestries with red plastic. "There's an irreverence that will always be there," she said. "It's my personality."