Meet the fearless founders of Pursey, a Grand Forks-based custom handbag design company that is working to change the way we view the world.
“A woman carries her world in her handbag.” Those are the words shared by three lifelong friends from Grand Forks who have altered their lives forever by designing, manufacturing and bringing to market two unique products. One is called the March On. The other is known as the Rebel. Both products, plainly described as sleek yet sophisticated and simple but still edgy, are made at a specialty manufacturing shop in New York City that is linked to some of the biggest names in fashion. Earlier this year, the New York facility responsible for making the March On and the Rebel created other handbags for attendees of the Grammys (fully equipped with built-in speakers). Through their cleverly functional, yet uniquely stylish design, the Grand Forks-linked founders of Pursey (early on they used the name Pursey Posse) have created a new existence within the fashion design world and transformed their general outlook on life. And, through the names of their first two products, the March On and the Rebel, all three of the founders believe they’ve revealed in themselves an empowered, inspired and fearless attitude that they hope others will use—or wear.
Designing A New Life
In their short span as an active company, Holly Foltz says what they’ve given up pursuing their creative aspirations with Pursey has been insignificant in comparison to what they’ve gained. Each has built a successful career outside of fashion, but from the moment the trio first began loosely talking about the Pursey concept, all three say they’ve felt and acted with a new energy they never want to be without again. Lifelong friends, all three have spent many nights brainstorming options that would allow the trio to work together on a creative business. In the past, the trio has explored other artistic business ventures, from shirt-making to custom art. “When the idea of Pursey came it was at a time when none of us were feeling strong or empowered,” Foltz says. “When we started doing this it just felt so good.”
In early 2016, the three attended the Women’s March in part to support others there who had also survived or experienced sexual assault. Standing amongst the crowd of women, each noted the need for a handbag that could be worn around the waist. Guided by a simple design concept and an unrelenting hint of purse enthusiasm, the trio returned intent on exploring the possibilities of creating a prototype.
“We wanted to bridge high-end fashion into a waist handbag,” Jeni Kurtyka says. “None of us could shake the idea.”
Larson spent a weekend reverse engineering a purse, finding fabric and sewing a purse to her own design at her Minneapolis home. Although she was happy with the end-result, she and the others knew they would be limited in their purse visions by their self-admitted sewing limitations.
Holly Foltz, a professional artist by trade, pushed the others to find a manufacturer. “It didn’t make sense to us to get a manufacturer,” Kurtyka says. “The idea just seemed impossible, but Foltz always knew we needed one.” After exploring regional options for their multi-feature functional purse design, they settled on a New York-based maker.
“We got the guts to call them up,” Larson says, “and then we got the guts to go visit them in New York.”
Unlike other manufacturing facilities, the Pursey option provides product and material sourcing, has patterning options and helps in creating an efficient and effective production construction process. The visit to NYC helped educate the team on the fashion manufacturing process, and, it inspired without deterring their vision, Kurtyka says.
“We didn’t even know the names of the items we needed for the purses before we went there,” Foltz says. Following a two-and-a-half-hour session with the manufacturers learning about their services and capabilities, the team was quickly up to speed and had plans in place to start a production run. “They told us we were like a breath of fresh air,” Foltz says, adding that the NYC crew asked if all North Dakotan’s were as pleasant, easy going and fun.
Later that year, the team built a website, held a photoshoot to showcase their purses and ran a kickstarter campaign. To date, more than 50 purses have been pre-sold and the team has held pop-up-shop sessions and showcased their products throughout Minneapolis and the region. “People were stopping us to take pictures of the purses,” Larson says. Energized by the early success and growing following they’ve created on social media, the team is already considering the wholesale market and how they can distribute their products on a larger scale.
The venture has been self-funded by the team, Foltz says, an element of their story they are proud of. “We didn’t think of starting this and pursuing it the way we did but we were able to figure it out.” In the future, the trio isn’t opposed to outside investment or collaboration.
Regardless of how large the Pursey becomes, all three stress a takeaway they hope women or men can see from their venture. To hold a product designed with the help of her sister and friend, one that featured meaningful elements and purpose, Kurtyka says she only had to give up the notion that she wasn’t capable or qualified or good enough to make something to the success and scale of Pursey. “Once I figured that out,” she says, “I’ve gained so much.”
For Larson, the Pursey venture has had unintended consequences. “This is the first time this past year that I’ve felt like me again. In fact, this is the new me and I really like her. She is not going away.”
And like her co-founders, Foltz is wearing a new outlook on life even if she doesn’t have a Rebel at her side. “I’ve come alive and I didn’t know that this was possible,” she says. “Regardless of what happens or who buys a purse, this is beyond successful.” G
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PHOTOS BY: MELQUIST PHOTOGRAPHY