ALMA LA Bags Let You Shop for Style and Higher Values
Made by women, for women, the hand-woven tapestry bags of Alma LA offer colorful beauty to their wearers and a beautiful story of support to their Mayan weavers and LA producers.
What if it was possible to weave your passions, career aspirations and kindness all into one bright, bold, beautiful tapestry? Zoe Freedman, owner of Alma LA, has done just that by creating a company that is making beautiful things happen on both the front- and back-end.
With a passion for all things fashion, and after working in the industry for 12 years, Freedman gained an affinity for cultural designs and textures. While traveling through Guatemala, the birthplace of her husband, she fell in love with the intricate and colorful hand-weaves and ponchos, and envisioned a beautiful boho bag that would be visually striking and appeal to buyers in LA, while at the same time supporting the livelihood of Mayan weavers.
So she took a major leap of faith, ditched her 9-to-5, and drew up a business plan to dive head first into her own company. To take her idea from vision to market, she got down to brass tacks: creating designs, securing a small loan from an investor, researching competition, reaching out to connections in the leather industry, branding, making samples, all the while hoping it would become bigger than just a hobby.
“Through this whole process, I was already thinking of both my favorite things within fashion, and all the things I didn’t like within the industry. The truth is that many products are not ethically made. They’re produced far away, and people don’t have access to the whole story and process of how the product came to be,” she explains.
For Alma LA, a name that translates to the soul of Los Angeles, it would have to be different. As she structured her business, she set her sights on more lofty goals she envisioned for the company. She wanted operations to be based in LA and yield returns for the Mayan women who supplied the rich woven textiles for her bags.
Working with two cooperatives in Guatemala, her women weavers are being given financial independence for doing what they do best. Weaving traditional tapestries, they are able to support themselves and their families through creating and selling their eye-catching textiles.
The textiles make their way back to LA where Freedman works with small local manufacturers who focus on handmade small-batch production of Alma’s bags. With countless sweatshops in operation throughout the city, she had to thoroughly vet her manufacturers to ensure they treat their workers well, and pay a fair, living wage, so that her products are not contributing in any way to the negatives that exist within the industry.
She cautions, “You have to be as careful here as you do overseas.”
As it’s essential to her business, Freedman personally visits and sees the working conditions and production on both sides of the operation; the cooperatives in Guatemala and the manufacturers in LA. These relationships are vital to her. Alma LA bags aren’t cheap, but they’re priced high for a good reason. Fast fashion has corroded people’s understanding of the time, resources, and workers that go into producing quality goods that stand the test of time. She knows that the people involved in making each and every bag are being fairly compensated, and that that’s a fact that matters more and more to buyers.
With Alma LA, everything ends up coming full circle, and it’s all by design.
After launching her original collection, using social media marketing, pop-up shops, and general word-of-mouth hustling, she was thrilled to see a successful start. The collections sold really well and were well received.
Freedman explains, “I love that the trend for sustainability has really grown. Appreciation for how a product comes to be, has been growing and growing. There’s so much more room to grow, and being a part of that within fashion is super important.“
With Alma LA, she’s trying to bring a youthful vibrancy to sustainability. It can tend towards older, more out-of-date markets, but Freedman believes there is a younger audience looking for stylish, sustainable products. She considers it a fun challenge to find new markets to share her bags with. Whether other producers overlook it, she is confident that there is a growing demographic of younger people that care about where their fashion comes from and how it is produced.
“It’s being proven that there is a growing number of people that do care. They are looking to purchase something that makes them feel good. They are motivated by products with unique, positive stories behind them,” she says.
After seeing success with her bags, she explored doing swimwear, and while she found it personally rewarding, it was full of challenges. People identified Alma LA as a bag company and that’s what buyers wanted. Freedman reached a point where she chose to primarily focus on the bags. She had to reflect on what Alma was all about and she kept coming back to the cooperatives in Guatemala.
“It’s a crucial part of who we are. That’s why I’m doing this, and I lost that path for a moment. It’s important to take those risks and try ideas, but I could start something new every day. Instead, I’m keeping my focus on what matters to me,” she explains.
When Freedman looks into the future of Alma LA, she sees women supporting women. She sees the weavers, the women-led producers, and the women who buy and carry her bags. She sees a richer story of connectedness and she’s working on a project to film the whole process, hoping to connect buyers to their true impact. She feels that customers should understand that story and feel connected to the women that create these intricate colorful weaves.
She doesn’t envision a huge company, where they’re bringing in millions and everyone knows Alma LA by name. Instead she sees buyers that understand the intimate story behind the bags, and truly care about helping to sustain and support that mission.
If Freedman sees any expansion ahead, it will likely be in consulting. She’d like to help grow the sustainable fashion movement, empower other women producers, and create an inviting atmosphere for women to come in for consultation and collaboration in a purpose-driven space. She would like to use her know-how to help others figure out everything from A to Z and get the inspiration they need to make it happen.
Check out Alma LA’s current collection of bags, and buy the bag that speaks to you, knowing that you are making a connection with real women who had a hand in its creation. If now is not the moment to purchase a bag, stay connected with the company by signing up for their newsletter or follow Alma LA on Instagram and social media to learn more about their unique story and be the first to see their new collections.