by Liisa Andreassen
It was while studying business abroad in London that Anya Pratt, a Bahamas native, first developed her love for luxury handbags. While wandering the streets of this cosmopolitan city, she’d explore the high-end shops and admire the craftmanship and attention to detail that went into creating such beautiful sights. She had friends who worked in the fashion industry as influencers and they served to further nurture her passion. When one friend gave her the book, “Fifty Bags that Changed the World,” her wheels were truly set into motion.
Motivated by Icons
“This book was my ‘go-to’ for studying the industry,” Anya says.
Filled with iconic handbag designers, Anya poured over the pages and identified some of her favorites who included John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. They were avant-garde and she loved the ways they merged art with function.
“I was inspired by them to think outside the bag,” she says.
She was also energized by heritage brands such as Hermes, Gucci and Prada, finding them synonymous with longevity and quality.
“And, when I think about the past, I’m reminded of the Birkin Bag Design – a timeless staple. In the present, I turn to Telfar Global and admire their culture, community and freshness, and when I think of the future, I think of Willique, merging Caribbean lifestyle and luxury,” she says.
You see, Anya is the founder of Willique, a designer handbag company based in Turks and Caicos. She first opened the business’s doors in 2016 while in London.
“I was just walking down the street and a woman stopped me to compliment me on my handbag. I told her it was my design and she invited me to do a show for private members at the London Library Club. That was pretty much how it all started,” she says.
Anya then took a little hiatus to make the move to the islands and that’s when the business really started to take off.
“I spent my first year in business really getting to know handbags quite literally from the inside out,” she says. “My dad said if I really wanted to know how a bag was made that I needed to take it apart and put it back together and that’s exactly what I did. For the first three months, I focused on ‘research and development’ while sitting on my bedroom floor constructing the first collection.”
After that, it was time to start learning patterns. And, without any formal training, she managed to pick things up as she went along – from doing an apprenticeship to trial and error. It took about six to eight months before the Willique brand launched.
While she works with traditional leather, she uses all veg tan leather, minimal dyes and is dedicated to working with alternative leathers made from apples and pineapples.
“When my vegan friends weren’t showing up at my shows, I knew I had to create an alternative line,” she said. “That’s where the ‘Conscious Collection’ comes in.”
Other lines include The AW Collection, it’s autumn winter collection; the Wanderlust Collection, inspired by and made for travel; and an assortment of wallets, purses and card holders.
A Growing Venture
No longer a one-woman show, Anya now has two others in her employ – an intern and a seamstress. She operates her design studio out of her home and hopes to have a brick-and-mortar space in the next one to two years.
“It’s an intimate studio and I meet with customers mostly on an appointment basis,” she explains.
She and her staff work primarily with three sewing machines and she says that one of the machines is about 40-years old.
“It’s pretty cool because it actually belonged to the first seamstress on the island,” she says.
The whole process is very hands-on. For example, from start to finish for the “Bambarra Backpack,” it’s about five days for a bespoke order. First, there’s the consulting and sketching. Then the customer approves and, together, they make a leather selection and decide on a color. She cuts the pattern and leather and sews the lining. The final touches include gluing any personalized details and adding relevant hardware. The order is then packaged and sent.
Anya says that the e-commerce business has been doing well, but admits that the world has changed. From the ups and downs of the pandemic to figuring out how to stay afloat in a new business, the start-up has not been without challenge. She used to do more pop-ups and have face to face meetings and events, but that’s all on hold for now. In addition to e-commerce, there are some shops in Turks and Caicos as well as London that carry some of her products. And, longevity, she’s confident will carry her through.
“Longevity is very important to me and I ensure that happens through quality testing, stretch testing and sourcing the right materials. We recently started sourcing from the U.S. but before that materials came from Europe,” she says.
Like so many others, she’s looking forward to what the future has in store post-pandemic. She’ll continue to grow her business and perhaps one day think about starting a family.
“Kids are on the list,” she says.
Learn more about Willique: https://willique.com/
Photographs Courtesy of Willique