Esther Hempel dreamt of becoming a designer since she first picked up a needle and thread as a little girl. When Hempel was five years old, her mother taught her how to sew. She fell in love with picking out patterns and fabrics for each project.
“I always knew deep down that I was meant to design, but life led me to working in retail for a number of years,” Hempel says. “I would always tell myself, ‘one day I’ll design.'”
While working at Holt Renfrew in the accessories and handbag department, Hempel became enamoured with leather and envisioned a handbag line of her own. After the birth of her first child, Hempel decided to take the plunge: “I decided I couldn’t keep saying ‘one day’ or else it wouldn’t happen. I’ve been waiting my whole life and this is what I need to do.”
In the summer of 2015, whenever her newborn was sleeping, Hempel typed countless questions into Google and sat through hours of handbag tutorials on YouTube. Hempel says there were many sleep-deprived moments when doubt raced through her mind.
“I had frustrating nights where I would draw out a pattern and make it in leather and it wasthe wrong size even though I measured everything,” Hempel says. “I was thinking, this is the worst idea; what am I doing?” But she says it was all worth the effort. After countless practice bags, Hempel officially launched Duval in June 2016 from her home in Edmonton. The clean, crisp and minimalist purses and accessories are sold online and available in Parkshop in RAAS at West Edmonton Mall, and The Maker’s Keep in Kingsway Mall.
Today, she still hand stitches every bag and accessory in her studio in her home in Sherwood Park. Each bag takes eight to 14 hours: “It’s a slow process but I love the craftsmanship. It’s high quality and will last you forever.”
Hempel credits the slow but steady growth of Duval to collaborations with bloggers, fashion events like Parkshow and word of mouth. Social media has also been a strong driving force in increasing awareness of her brand.
“I’ve sat on Instagram for more hours than I would ever admit,” she says with a laugh.
Her business plan always included giving back, believing every business should do their part to make the world a better place; she says that 10 per cent of net profits go to charity.
“If everyone helps out a little bit, we can make a difference,” Hempel says.
Once her line is established, she hopes to expand the line across Canada and create a women’s ready-to-wear line. She says running Duval is worth the long hours and encourages other entrepreneurs to persevere: “If you have a bad day, you can’t let that get you down. Know that in the future something amazing will come of it.”
This article appears in the April 2018 issue of Avenue Edmonton.Subscribe here.