Got a purse-lovin' vegan on your shopping list? Then Janna Hurtzig's got just the thing for you. The Vancouver designer has been handcrafting playful pleather purses for the last 11 years under the label Astrosatchel. But Hurtzig's whimsical designs aren't just for the Happy Cow set. Her functional but fun totes, wallets, lipstick cases, diaper bags—you name it—appeal to a wide variety of people (including meat eaters). They're waterproof and easy to clean, sturdy enough for camping but stylish enough for urban living.
It all began with a single mission: finding the perfect messenger bag.
“I started in 1998 because I couldn't find anything that I wanted to buy,” says Hurtzig, who sat down with the Straight at her Railtown studio to talk about her latest designs and the upcoming Shiny Fuzzy Muddy show.
“I was like, ”˜There has to be something out there for me,' ” recalls Hurtzig, who had no practical sewing experience at the time. “And so I thought, ”˜You know what? I'm just gonna go and buy fabric and make my own bag just for me.' ”
The finished product attracted a lot of attention, with people stopping her on the street to ask where she got that big, metallic vinyl bag of hers. Coincidently, it was around this time that Hurtzig was contemplating art school.
“I wanted to do something that was in an arts field, but I didn't have a specific focus at that point—I was 21,” she says with a laugh. “Nobody has any focus then. Your focus is going to the bar, meeting boys. But I started doing these bags, and as I went along I learned how to actually sew!”
With that, she started her highly successful line, and today, one of her very first designs is a top seller: the Medium Tote ($75), a Naugahyde vinyl bag with an adjustable nylon strap and a flap that features one of Hurtzig's 170 different appliqués. For example, you could get hot pink cherry blossoms on a plain black background, a flaming red heart on a pastel-blue bag, or un chat noir on a mauve flap. With so many images to choose from, her regulars can't seem to get enough of the Medium Tote.
“I get e-mails from people [saying], ”˜I have seven bags now,' ” she says. “So I'm like, ”˜Well, it obviously works for people. What can I do to make it a little more interesting?' ”
Thus the Olympic collection, a subtle and tasteful nod to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Here we have the same Medium Tote shape and the same designs, only the appliqués are made from gold, silver, and bronze vinyl ($85 each). This season, she's also debuting arm warmers ($38), made from recycled cashmere sweaters.
You can check out her ever-expanding selection at several Lower Mainland stores, including the Vancouver Art Gallery gift shop (750 Hornby Street); the Astrosatchel open-studio sale, which runs Wednesday to next Saturday (December 16 to 19) from 12 to 7 p.m. at 208–339 Railway Street; or the Shiny Fuzzy Muddy 10 show and sale at Heritage Hall (3102 Main Street) on Saturday and Sunday (December 12 and 13).
As one of the core members of the Shiny Fuzzy Muddy collective, Hurtzig can't say enough about the upcoming event. “It's not really a craft fair,” she says. “It's more of a designer market. When you say ”˜craft fair', people think tea cozies and doilies and stuff like that. And there's none of that.”
To fill the biggest Shiny Fuzzy Muddy show to date, Hurtzig and company brought in guest artists from many different disciplines. But not too many, mind you: “Sometimes shows can be really tight and it gets really claustrophobic and too crazy, and we're like, ”˜No crazy,' ” she says. Plus, you can do all your shopping in one stop while supporting Vancouver talent: “I think it's important for people to come and buy locally, especially now because artists are really hurting. The stores on Robson? They'll still be there. But if we lose our artists, the city definitely loses a lot more.”