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Your What’s Next Journal: December 2021 — Internationally renown designer Laura Lee Williams ramps us up on What’s Next in Fashion

A Note from Hope Katz Gibbs & Cynthia de Lorenzi, authors, Your 2021 What’s Next JournalMeet truly amazing Laura Lee, founder of Laura Lee Designs. Her handmade handbags are a fusion of cultures, fabrics, and trimmings discovered during Laura Lee’s travels abroad. Stylishly appealing and refreshingly chic, each handbag is adorned with Nepalese fabrics, high-quality satins, and Japanese beads’ swirling patterns. Colorful snakeskin compliments the intricate beading, adding a functional elegance to every bag.

Here’s the back story to Laura Lee did not set out to design purses. She never went to school for that. Following graduation and degrees in hand, she headed for the corporate life where she held marketing positions with companies including Nike, Apple, American Express, and Ralph Lauren. The corporate world was her comfort zone, and all she really knew.

It was at Apple that the marketing bug kicked in. She worked to develop, improve, and distribute Apple’s “Power Book” product. There she honed the skill of brand integrity. She developed an appreciation for strong branding and began to notice it everywhere.

In her spare time, Laura Lee spent time running and felt particularly inspired by the Nike Just Do It philosophy — so much so that she wrote a letter to Phil Knight and Runner’s World telling them how the Nike philosophy motivated her to become a better athlete. Runner’s World published Laura Lee’s moving letter, and Nike employed her as a wear tester. Nike sent her pre-release products, and she would wear the merchandise and report on its quality. Eventually, she began working at Nike in global forecasting, a position that meant overseas travel. It was during this time that she caught the international bug. “Don’t live the ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ life wondering what you could have done.”

She then settled in Hong Kong, employed by PCCW, Asia’s leading Communications Corporation. At PCCW, she was responsible for developing and implementing international marketing initiatives with Microsoft, Disney, AOL Time Warner, Hewlett Packard, and Oracle.

Laura Lee grew up in Southern California, which influenced her love for athletics. An avid runner and triathlete, Laura Lee remains active and loves to get outdoors for some training. But for all she has done, her biggest influences came from her Mother and Grandmother. Her mother always encouraged her to make the impossible possible, and her Grandmother’s quote has always stayed with her: “Don’t live the ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda’ life.” It means don’t be afraid to do something out of the ordinary.

“Really, it’s quite simple,” Laura Lee insists. “Do what you love, and the rest will follow. Grandma said it best.”

In our upcoming video and podcast interviews, you’ll learn about Laura Lee’s background, what she has learned from spending decades working internationally in the fashion industry, how her business has grown and is currently coping with the reality of the global pandemic — and What’s Next for Fashion. Stay tuned for that! Please scroll down for Laura Lee’s answers to our four questions for a sample of what’s to come.

Laura Lee Designs Shines a Light on the Future of Fashion 

Hope & Cynthia: Tell us about your business and industry before the pandemic hit in March 2020. 

Laura Lee: My company, Laura Lee Designs, has long been positioned as an international luxury lifestyle collection of customized and unique handbags and accessories. Our established digital, integrated marketing focus and traditional branding enabled us to develop a global lifestyle footprint. We’ve partnered with some well-known brands and organizations, including The Academy Awards, Ritz-Carlton, The Kentucky Derby, the Four Seasons hotel group, and the PGA. We’ve also established licensing partnerships and created private labels with Fortune 500 companies to maximize our international reach and impact. I am proud to say that our products are Made in the USA. I began making some shifts in 2018, including selling the licensing agreement with our Collegiate line to a Japan-centric firm. So when the pandemic hit, the company was in a secure position.

Hope & Cynthia: Where were you personally in your life when COVID-19 arrived in the US? What were your short and long-term goals at that time? 

Laura Lee: Quite honestly, the timing could not have been better in my life. I knew that I wanted to transition to do something new and was moving toward making that happen. When we began quarantining, I developed a completely new vision of what my life could look like. I know I am not in as much control of much except how I handle the end game. I know the world is in a time of deep transition, and there are much illness and pain. Still, I continue to look at the glass as 1/2 full.

Hope & Cynthia: What are your thoughts now about your industry, your business, your personal life, your heart?

  • Fashion: My industry is in flux. Brick and mortar businesses are being redefined as we speak. I know that online shopping will only get stronger. Those with creative verve, and those that are risk takers tapping into tech options, are the ones who will survive.
  • My business: Laura Lee Designs continues to create private label designs in Japan. We will stay fluid with the special clientele until I see we have no more room for growth. The good news is that the UAE and Australia are interested in developing the same business model. I find myself making big decisions about whether I am willing to risk this uncertainty and start building momentum in those countries. To be continued!
  • Personal life: Like everyone else, I am adapting, staying resilient, and maintaining my positivity. Showing gratitude by not just saying it, but by doing. I’ve experienced some family members’ loss, and a close scare like that shook me from my desire to board a plane to work abroad every week. Being an extrovert, travel is in my blood, and I admit staying grounded has been challenging. But being grounded has grounded me. I no longer find myself wishing for more when I have so much to be thankful for.

Hope & Cynthia: Now the big question — What do you see coming next? 

  • For your industry: That’s a big, huge, giant question mark. I’ve been reading, Zooming, and researching and believe that the future of retail is still up for grabs.
  • For your company: Time will tell. Our manufacturing site was shut down for four months, and we are now just starting, slowly, to get our product line up and running.
  • For yourself: Selfishly, I am giving myself the approval to do things I have wanted to do for a long time — taking advanced piano lessons and hiring a French tutor. Learning French is actually a practical ambition because my ultimate goal is to live near Paris in three to five years. Plus, I regularly frequent Paris for work, so my French has needed much improvement for a long time. No more saying, parlez plus lentement sil vous plais: speak more slowly if you please.
  • For the country: I am praying that we go beyond the rhetoric and regain humility, kindness, and harmony in our country. Healing is critical now — more than ever.
  • For the world: I truly believe that caring for others, in the kindest of ways, is essential to moving forward for humanity.
  • For women: Support Support Support your sisters not just in words, but in action. Each of us must get uncomfortable discussing issues we are not familiar with, including Black Lives Matter, gender equality, and domestic violence. We all need to work toward being kinder, gentler, and more sensitive so that we can support each other — especially those who are feeling afraid to ask for help.

Stay tuned for our video and podcast interviews with truly amazing Laura Lee!