Diego Rocha doesn’t possess any formal design training, but in four short years, he has set up a formidable handbag business that has fast become the talk of the town. Made of premium, imported leather, his bags include unique details and finishing, and cater to the tastes and needs of varying women. Opt for a festive multi-colored design or choose a more subdued, monochromatic one. Elegant clutches and eye catchingly shiny purses are ideal for an evening out, while roomier bags take you easily through the work day. Above all, Diego’s primary concerns are that his bags be comfortable and his customers be assured of their quality. Come this fall, you might become a lot more familiar with his name. Macy’s will be selling eight styles from his collection in their Chicago stores beginning in September. Recently Second City Style had the chance to stop by Diego’s studio for a chat with the effusive, kind hearted designer. Not only did we have a lovely conversation, but he eagerly showed us around the studio, explaining the process behind his bags, and letting us even try on a couple.
What sparked your interest in design?
My mother used to be a patternmaker in Brazil. And as a young boy, I was involved in a way in the environment. The late nights. Designers calling her up. It was fun. And she was a very elegant, classic woman. She had nice bags and was always very well dressed.
So you pursued design because of her?
No, clothing was never my thing. I worked in the financial district in Brazil Then four years ago I moved to New York because my sister was there at the time, and this was where I really fell in love with handbags. I had some money, so I returned to Brazil and took a class for 20 days, and then came back to New York. I bought a sewing machine. I bought some fabrics. It took me four to five months, but I created 25 handbags. I took them to the Green flea market on 76th street, and in one weekend I sold 17 of them.
Wow. That’s pretty amazing.
It is, isn’t it? Then I started selling my bags at a few stores in Soho and at other markets in the city as well as in my own studio. I did that for three years.
Why did you decide to move to Chicago?
I really loved Chicago. My sister had moved here by then. We are very close to one another, and I was feeling a little lonely in New York and was missing her a lot, so I left. She actually works in this same building as I do, right above me.
Are there any differences between the New York woman and the Chicago woman when it comes to style?
New York women like funky, eclectic bags. They want to look different. The seventeen bags that I sold in the beginning were all very edgy and colorful. Chicago women are more conservative, but still stylish. They are very classical, charming women who prefer neutral colors. I did one show here with some funky looking bags. People liked them but they were also a little scared of them. Another thing I’ve noticed is that there is more customer loyalty in Chicago. I have clients that will call me up constantly at my studio to see whether I have anything new. The women here are very concerned about the details and the fabrics. But when you’re paying $400 to $500 for a bag, I suppose you have to be picky.
How have your bags evolved from when you first began designing them?
In the beginning, there was very little detail, and I used only one color fabrics. Now I care more about the details, such as tassels, and also the quality and finish of the bag. My bags are expensive but I wouldn’t want to sell them for less, because that would take away from the quality.
Does your Brazilian heritage influence your designs?
When it comes to the colors I use, yes, because Brazilian culture is very vibrant like that. But I am most inspired by American woman. I like the way they carry and care for bags. And I always think about a blonde woman. I am not quite sure why, maybe because most of my customers are blonde.
I’d like to think so!
What excites you most about Chicago fashion?
Chicago has been very good to me. It’s smaller so there’s not much competition. People here really want to help you and get your name out. And I’m bringing something new to the scene here, so that’s exciting as well.
Do you have any advice for other young designers?
You need to be persistent and aggressive. Don’t be afraid to hear the word â€œNoâ€?.
What are your goals for the future?
Three years from now, I want to have a very nice studio. I’m not so interested in opening up a boutique, but one of my ultimate goals is to sell at Neiman Marcus. I don’t know why. I’ve just always loved the store.
You’ll be selling at Macy’s soon, so Neiman Marcus can’t be that far off.
Well, let’s hope and see.