Female Founder Uses Tech to Revolutionize Handbag Industry

Women 2.0 interviews Stephanie Sarka, founder of 1 Atelier. #HolidayGiftIdea

W2: What inspired you to start this company?

1 Atelier was born out of a need to create a bag that was emblematic of me. In a marketplace flush with logos and high markups, no one was truly exploring a platform that would not only allow for complete customization, but in essence, empower the consumer to become the tastemaker. 1 Atelier represents the intersection of aspiration and inspiration; these are not just custom handbags - they reflect the individuality of the women who create them. “Luxury inspired by my life.”

My prior experience also influenced me in starting the company. Having been an early part of Coach’s incredible growth, and then co-founder of GoTo.com (we invented the Paid Search model that today powers Google), it became clear that there was an opportunity to bring my two experiences together to create a completely different kind of consumer brand by leveraging technology to support a rapidly changing marketplace in a way that no one else could.  

W2: How are you using technology to revolutionize the handbag industry?

We are using technology and data-driven intelligence to build a scalable, extensible and capital efficient business that is disrupting the luxury goods value chain at every step. From faster, more efficient product design and development to unique and targeted multi-point marketing and sales to our transformative online customization experience - we’ve just scratched the surface!  We are leveraging technology to completely redefine the luxury experience by rewriting the relationships people have with the brands and products they buy.  

W2: What’s your morning routine?

My 3-year old daughter and I wake up around 6 AM to play.  We then have our breakfast and both get dressed for the day.  I leave the house at around 8:15 to be at the office no later than 9 AM.  I generally work straight through lunch as I need to optimize my time as a working mother.   
W2: Tell us about a typical day at your company.

I love walking into our atelier each morning. It is a sun-drenched space in the Garment District where we run the business and manufacture our handbags. I have the incredible privilege of working with very special people who all bring very unique talents to our mission.  Everyday starts with a visit with Luis our head craftsman - usually over Cuban coffee. We chat briefly about all sorts of things including our families and then review what is on the production plan for the day to make sure he has a straight path with his team. After that, each day is different but a large portion of most days includes a quick touch base with the members of our team, refining and communicating our strategy and priorities, recruiting, and speaking to potential partners and investors.  I leave around 5 PM most night to spend time with my 3-year old daughter, and once she is asleep, I generally work again from around 8 pm until well past midnight.

W2: What’s next for you and your company and where do you need help or support?

2017 is all about scaling the business and building the brand. We have had a very successful beta where we demonstrated that we are definitely meeting an unmet need - we’ve had a very strong response to our product and the entire customization experience.

We are forging ahead with retail partnerships, are tapping into relevant influencer networks and will be raising additional funds to drive growth.  Needless to say, introductions to relevant investors are always good and purchasing your own unique one-of-a-kind handbag on 1Atelier.com is good as well!

Stephanie Sarka is founder of 1 Atelier, a custom handbag platform that empowers the consumer to become the tastemaker. Initially following a traditional path to Goldman Sachs, she soon realized she was a builder, not a banker. After getting her MBA at Harvard, she worked for Lew Frankfort at Coach for seven years, where she earned her stripes as a “merchant” and an “operator” and held numerous leadership positions where she led the successful re-launch of Mark Cross, the American luxury goods brand. Stephanie was a co-founder of Overture (formerly GoTo), one of the first hugely successful Internet companies that invented the paid search business model, growing it to almost $1 billion in revenue in 4 years. Since then, she has been actively engaged in the burgeoning NYC startup community as an entrepreneur, investor and advisor.

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