How a woman turned side hustle painting luxury handbags into a career

Think about spending 1000’s on a Louis Vuitton satchel solely to color throughout it. 

To some, it could be sacrilege. However to others, it’s the customization that makes the bag that rather more particular. At the very least, that’s what one New Jersey bespoke artist, Michele Sobel, goals to ship—hand-painted designs that personalize on a regular basis gadgets for her shoppers. 

A former information producer, Sobel now spends her days within the studio designing and portray equipment, from luxurious purses and designer sneakers to gloves and even smaller items like wallets and keychains. Her creations vary from easy monogram additions to elaborate floral and geometric designs that may embody the complete good. She estimates she’s hand-painted not less than 1,000 completely different commissioned items for shoppers over time.

When she’s not within the studio hard-at-work on her newest fee, Sobel additionally works with luxurious manufacturers to do in-person reside occasions the place she paints merchandise on-site. Sobel put down her paints for a morning to fill Fortune in on how she juggles her time as a small enterprise proprietor.

This dialog has been edited and condensed for readability.

How did you get into this?

Artwork has been a lifelong ardour of mine. I began creating and promoting my art work as a facet hustle years in the past, whereas juggling a demanding job as a information producer.

I started experimenting with portray on jackets, scarves, and furnishings. I left the information world in 2017 as my facet hustle acquired busier. This area of interest of portray on luxurious purses actually began in early 2020 when certainly one of my present shoppers commissioned me to color her classic Louis Vuitton bag, which she by no means used as a result of she stated it wanted some TLC.

I studied the method of portray on designer baggage after which I practiced and practiced till I felt comfy delivering a product she can be actually enthusiastic about—however one that will even be very sturdy to final for on a regular basis use. She completely cherished it. She shared it on her Instagram, all her mates reached out to me, and inside a matter of weeks, I had a rising listing of people that have been very joyful to have their very own piece of wearable artwork. The transition was so natural and sudden. 

How do you provide you with the designs? 

Many artists will work in a single type—whether or not it’s pop artwork or summary or realism. However I like to consider myself like an artwork chameleon. I really like the problem of working in many various kinds. I’ve by no means painted two of the identical issues. 

Generally shoppers may have an thought of what they need. Generally they ask me to choose one thing enjoyable. I attempt to create a novel design that’s particularly consultant, whether or not it’s their favourite flowers or completely different sorts of realistic-looking heirloom jewellery that symbolize youngsters or misplaced family members.

A part of the method is simply studying about my shoppers and serving to them to determine what art work will make them really feel joyful, assured, and empowered. For me, that’s what it’s all about. My shoppers are investing in art work as a result of it brings them pleasure and confidence to actually put on authentic art work on their shoulder.

So how does it work? 

I’m completely a hand-painting service. My shoppers already personal items. I don’t supply them, and I’m not affiliated with any manufacturers aside from the businesses who rent me to color for them throughout on-site occasions.

Individuals often attain out to me both by way of certainly one of my social media platforms, primarily Instagram, or my web site. I ask them to ship me a photograph of the piece they’re excited about having personalized, if there’s any specific concepts they’ve, and what their funds is. From there, I make a basic idea suggestion and provides a quote. In the event that they agree, we’ll transfer ahead.

All of the items are so particular to my shoppers, in that they’re both costly or are household heirlooms handed down from technology to technology. That’s a duty that I don’t take flippantly. So earlier than my paintbrush truly touches their piece, I both sketch out the idea or create a digital mock up on the pc for them to approve. As soon as they’ve accepted it, I get to work. 

Usually costs for one thing extra easy like a monogram, stripes, or star sorts of designs begin round $300. A few of the crazier items that I’ve accomplished are upwards of $1,000. That’s largely simply based mostly on the period of time that I predict I’ll spend on a chunk.

What’s it like portray on such distinctive canvases? Are there any particular steps it’s essential to take? 

I begin by making ready the canvas—cleansing the leather-based or coated canvas or regardless of the materials could also be. This prepares it for higher paint adhesion.

The precise course of is meticulous. Some items I’ll spend between three and 4 hours on. I’ve additionally spent 5 hours on some items which can be far more detailed. So it is a course of the place I want lots of endurance as a result of I’ll simply go straight by way of the day. Generally I neglect to take lunch breaks. I’m a perfectionist.

It’s arduous work. It’s simply layers and layers of paint and ready for paint to dry and simply having a really, very regular hand all day lengthy. 

Picture courtesy of Michele Sobel

Is it harder to color on objects versus a traditional canvas? 

Portray on leather-based is my joyful place. It’s a clean floor. It’s like a clean canvas, and it’s most likely my favourite distinctive floor to color on.

The tougher surfaces are ones which can be much less inflexible. For essentially the most half, baggage have form to them they usually maintain their form. However gloves you’ll be able to scrunch up. And that may be a little bit difficult, particularly once I’m attempting to color a hoop that goes 360-degrees round one finger. 

I’ve additionally painted fragrances and wonder gadgets. That was a problem as a result of it was a brand new sort of canvas. All of those various things that I paint on require completely different supplies, paints, drying and curing strategies. These are issues that I actually taught myself. I might by no means tackle one thing earlier than I felt very comfy working with it.

What’s the most costly factor that you just’ve painted on?

Undoubtedly one of many baggage. A lot of the items that individuals deliver me are items that they already personal, however some shoppers have particularly bought items for me to color. So I might say the costliest was most likely many 1000’s of {dollars}.

Individuals all the time ask me: Are you intimidated by portray on these costly gadgets? My reply is that it’s all the time 95% pleasure about touching down on a brand new clean canvas, however 5% is nerves. Not as a result of I’m afraid that I received’t have the ability to do justice to my consumer’s imaginative and prescient, however simply out of respect for the piece. 

Because you’re working with distinctive and typically classic gadgets, have there ever been occasions the place you’ve questioned whether or not a consumer actually needed this specific piece painted?

The one time I might warning a consumer is that if the piece itself isn’t in nice situation. It will have an effect on how the paint may adhere. I might by no means need somebody to spend money on art work that, in my coronary heart, I’m involved it received’t have the ability to final. 

Nobody has ever come to me and stated their art work was peeling or chipping and requested me to do a contact up. In the event that they did, after all I might. However I additionally experiment on all my very own issues first. I’ve been carrying round my very own painted bag for 2 years. It’s my on a regular basis bag and I’m tough on my stuff. I work with a couple of completely different water resistant, highly-durable seal coats, in order that makes it so you’ll be able to bend it and transfer it round—it received’t crack the paint, received’t peel. 

What occurs whenever you make a mistake?

I’m grateful I’ve by no means made any huge errors. I’ve by no means by accident dumped a bit of jar of paint, for instance, on certainly one of my shoppers’ particular items. I’m very cautious. Often after working many hours, my hand will likely be much less exact and perhaps I’ll get a bit of bit exterior the traces. However I work with skilled acrylic leather-based paint on the baggage and sneakers, so actually it’s water based mostly. So God forbid if I made a bit of mistake—I’m human and it does occur from time to time—it’s fixable. However you’d by no means understand it whenever you see the ultimate product.

Picture courtesy of Michele Sobel

The place do you see your enterprise going? 

The previous couple years, the occasions portion of my enterprise and the onsite customization has taken off. One of many earliest ones was Saks Fifth Avenue. They began hiring me to come back in and paint on their “distinctive” canvases and items. My first day at Saks, it was winter. I believed, how cool would it not be if I may paint individuals’s favourite gemstone or birthstone on their leather-based gloves after which they put on that each one winter lengthy? In order that’s what I did. I all the time wish to be inventive.

I’ve labored in Bloomingdale’s shops. David Yurman employed me and I used to be at Ralph Lauren in December. That they had me paint on all types of surprising issues like eyeglasses. I’ve painted on terracotta planters for Earth Day for Clarins. After which, after all, I painted on their baggage and their small leather-based items. Pay for live-event portray, on common, ranges from $1,500 to $5,000 per day, relying on location, journey, and so forth. 

So that is undoubtedly an space the place I plan to have vital development. The demand for personalisation generally has simply soared over time, however there are only some artisans world wide who do what I do.