SPOTLIGHT ON SMALL BUSINESS: Cheyenne Entrepreneur Crafts Luxury Leather Handbags
Lexie Garrett designs and sews bespoke customer creations with her team at Alexis Drake
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: May 01, 2023
By Amber Gibson
Special to the Wyoming Truth
Lexie Garrett peddles happiness in the form of one-of-a-kind, Wyoming-made handbags. At Alexis Drake, clients can customize every detail of their bags, from the leather and piping to zipper tabs, linings, patches, monograms and hardware.
“I get to help customers figure out how to carry their world in a handbag and feel confident and stylish all the time,” Garrett, 42, said.
Garrett believes today’s consumers value artisan production and the connection to a small business that keeps production local in a world where so many fashion brands are manufactured overseas. She employs 12 seamstresses, sales associates and leather makers in her Cheyenne showroom and production studio.
In 2020, Garrett was named “Woman Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Wyoming Council for Women.
“Our community supports one another so much,” she said. “But there aren’t as many resources as you might have in larger cities,” such as industry events, networking opportunities or business grants.
Alexis Drake began as a jewelry company in 2003 while Garrett was an art student at the University of Arizona. She learned how to carve and cast jewelry while interning for a metalsmith and began selling jewelry to friends and hosting trunk shows at home. When she moved to Chicago while her husband, Tyler Garrett, attended John Marshall Law School, she had success selling at art fairs, boutiques and even Macy’s on State Street. But after the couple moved back to Wyoming in 2007 to raise their daughter and son, Garrett put her creativity on hold to focus on parenting and then took a job teaching art at Hobbs Elementary School in Cheyenne.
In 2013, the creative itch struck again and Garrett revived the Alexis Drake brand. She expanded beyond jewelry to create a product she had trouble finding: a fashion-forward, high-quality and functional handbag that was reasonably priced. She taught herself how to construct them on an industrial sewing machine in her garage and launched the business with the $600 she’d earned by selling jewelry and leather accessories at a craft fair.
Garrett’s first sale was a prototype she brought to an art educators conference. “This gal from Colorado walked up to me and fell in love with my bag,” she recalled. “I told her I could make her a new one, but she wanted to buy the bag off my shoulder and talked me out of it that weekend. I ended up carrying my stuff around in the conference tote bag.”
Very quickly, Garrett realized handbags, especially customized handbags, would distinguish her brand from others in a similar price range, such as Coach and Dooney & Bourke. Handbags can be customized online, but a more interactive experience is available at the showroom.
“I didn’t realize how interested customers would be in the customization process,” said Garrett, noting that 90% of sales come from handbags. “So many things in this world, you don’t have a say in.”
Garrett even runs scrap and bracelet-making parties that are popular for birthdays, bachelorette celebrations and team building events. Guests sort through bins to find their perfect combination of leather, lining, stitching and hardware; then, they turn their choices over to production, and their belt, bag or wallet will be ready for pick up a week later.
“The coolest part about scrap parties is you get access to limited edition leathers,” Garrett said.
Her bestselling bag is an everyday tote that comes in a variety of soft suede and leather fabrics, but she also offers crossbody bags, clutches, satchels, backpacks and messenger bags—something for every lifestyle.
Most of the leather is sourced from Italian tanneries, although Garrett recently began offering an American bison leather from Wyoming and Montana for her men’s collection that features wallets, messenger bags and dopp kits. “We don’t use it a lot because it’s really thick, and sometimes we can’t get it for several months,” she said. “But it’s cool to be able to offer leather that’s from Wyoming, too.”
‘Pursuing our passions’
For several years, Garrett promoted Alexis Drake at pop-up shops in vacant historic buildings in Cheyenne and in a mobile vintage Airstream that she drove across Wyoming. She also sold her bags at wine festivals in Colorado.
“I dabbled a little with paid digital marketing,” Garrett said, “but most of our business is from word of mouth and social media. Women love to talk about their handbags.”
In 2019, Garrett opened a brick and mortar showroom and working studio in downtown Cheyenne with a retail space in front and production in the back. First-time customers receive a tour of the space so they can meet the seamstresses and leather maker. “We want to create that connection for the customer so they understand the process and steps involved to bring their handbag to life,” she said.
Last summer, Garrett opened a second 500-square-foot showroom in Fort Collins, although production remains in Wyoming. This year, Garrett plans to expand Alexis Drake’s presence across the state with pop-ups in other retail locations.
“With the struggle for employees, we’re finding that it’s a lot easier to create a display kiosk within other spaces and utilize them as our liaison between customers and our brand,” said Garrett, who has self-funded her business. “We don’t do wholesale, because we like to keep our prices low. If we did wholesale in bigger retail stores, our price point would have to go up significantly.” (Clutches start at $198 and tote bags at $218.)
Garrett started an “everyday” collection, offering an entry-level handbag to introduce customers to the brand’s quality. “We call that collection the gateway drug,” she said, “because a lot of times people don’t customize in the beginning. They don’t know necessarily what colors to put together. But after a couple of purchases, they feel ready to do it.”
Over 70% of Garrett’s business comes from repeat customers like Lindsey Stutheit.
“Her ability to constantly create new styles, while maintaining a timeless and everyday appeal, keeps me coming back,” said Stutheit, who owns nine Alexis Drake handbags and has been a strategy consultant to Garrett. “Having a creative, entrepreneurial, female-led business in our downtown is inspiring and refreshing.”
Ten years after relaunching Alexis Drake, Garrett, like most small business owners, still faces challenges.
“My biggest challenge now is growing and growing with our customer,” she said. “I ask myself: ‘What can we offer this month that we didn’t offer last month?’”
As for Garrett’s advice to aspiring creatives looking to follow in her footsteps?
“Fear stops so many of us from pursuing our passions,” she said. “The only way to learn is to do it. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and there’s never a good time to start out. But you have to go for it. You can always quit, or stop or change. But if you don’t try, you’re never going to know.”