Artist Feature: 1820 Bag. Co.

As a team of handmade shops, we strive to promote and elevate the importance of true handcrafted items, handmade by the artists. We are kicking off our interview series with one of our top nominated team shops, 1820 Bag. Co by HM Mills. Helen’s business is an impressive example of a level we can all strive to reach; her bags are absolutely gorgeous—and I know from personal experience they are very well made and as gorgeous in person as they are in pictures—-excellent photography, a professional website, and well written product descriptions are just a few of the pieces that contribute to her growing success. We wish her all the success she can handle….and please share your comments on 1820 Bag. Co’s feature in the comments below. Thank you for helping to keep the hand in handmade!
-Sam Squailia,,
1820 ogo1820BagCo Studio 21. Hi Helen! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your work with us, can you tell us a little background about you, your family, and your business?
My name is Helen Mills and I am the owner, creator and designer behind the shop HMMills (1820 Bag Co.), a collection of durable bags. I am in the process of expanding my line to include small leather goods, (keychains, leather sleeves, etc.).  My home studio is located in sunny South Florida which I share with my husband and one unruly yellow lab.  For years I have toiled away in a Corporate HR position and found relief from the daily stresses through artistic outlets.  Over the years my husband has been very patient with my artistic endeavors which have included painting, metalsmithing, lampworking and sewing.1820BagCo Studio 1
2. What was your sewing background before you started making bags? What inspired you to start making the bags you do? What inspired your styles?
I was first introduced to sewing by my mother who was an avid sewer.  While I was in college, I brought a White sewing machine at a factory sale for $100.  While it was only able to sew six different types of stitches, it was made of metal and therefore lasted years, allowing me to make the majority of my corporate wardrobe after graduation.  Somewhere along the way, whether is was time or lack of interest, I stopped sewing, boxed my sewing machine and placed it on a closet shelf.
A few years ago, I wanted a large Bohemian styled cross body bag and I could not find one that wasn’t cheaply made or flimsy.  I guess because I was a sewer, I always had this tendency of inspecting the construction of an item and fabric durability.  I went home feeling defeated, but got this crazy idea and took my old White sewing machine off the closet shelf.  Although I had no idea what I was doing, I made the ugliest cross body bag that my mother-in-law still insists on using today.  When my store brought laptop bag broke,  I decided to make a durable messenger bag.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that messenger bag was the springboard for my business.
I tend to gravitate toward classic lines, bohemian styles, rugged canvas and leathers, (so basically, I am all over the place),  I think my style is influenced by conflicting environments: the corporate life influences the classic lines, and my free spirit inspires the bohemian style and the rugged style comes from the necessity of a durable bag as I bike through the Everglades.
1820BagCo Studio 3
3. Are your bags all one of a kind or do you make multiples of the same fabric?
I do have a few one of a kind bags, but those are typically family gifts or custom orders.  Multiples of an item are dependent upon material and fabric availability and with the exception of my gray and purple hemp messenger bag, the majority of my items are limited editions.  Unfortunately, my fabric supplier has discontinued the grey and purple hemps so any bags created with the gray and purple hemp are now in limited supply as well.
1820BagCo Studio 7
4. How do you source your materials?
I have an affinity toward natural fibers, such as hemp, canvas, wools and linen and natural things.  In addition to natural fibers, I recently started incorporating waxed canvas and leather into my designs as I found leather and waxed canvas add to a bag’s durability as well as a rustic look. I currently wax my own canvas and get a real kick out of attracting bees when waxing canvas fabric with beeswax outdoors.1820BagCo Studio 5
5. Why do you choose these types of textiles and materials? How do you weigh eco-conscious material choices with cost, durability, and style?
When I first ventured into creating messenger bags, I searched for a strong fabric.  Several years ago I stumbled upon a hemp / cotton fabric and was drawn to it for several reasons, such as it was a natural substance,  I liked its feel and look, as well as hemp is known for its durability.
1820BagCo Studio 4
6. What’s the hardest part of your business? 
Wow, there are so many obstacles facing entrepreneurs, I can only pick one?  When you are the lone individual running a manufacturing business, time is something I am always chasing. I am the pattern maker, fabric cutter, sewer, photographer, supply chain, marketing, social media and administrative departments, it’s hard to find time for family and friends.  However, aside from time constraints, I have found branding and finding your style/voice to be the hardest.  When I look over my product line, I see so many various products, from simple messenger bags, totes to clutches, and over the past few years, I have been struggling on finding product cohesiveness.  As I said before, I am influenced by conflicting environments so I am in the process of rebranding my business to reflect a mix of classic, bohemian and durable.
1820BagCo Studio
7. Do you feel you have found success where you are? What factors do you feel have contributed to your success? What are your long term business goals?
So far, what has contributed to my “limited” success is that that my items are quality handmade items and from listening to my customer.  I think I have always made things that I would want to use, but, I am not the one buying my items, right?  So when a customer reaches out about a different size, I have to stop and ask myself why, and usually it’s because there is a need, which means someone else probably has the same need.  I do have several long term goals for my business, but mainly it’s to grow outside of my HMMills Shop.  When I first opened by shop in 2007, I didn’t have a name so I just used my own.  Back then, the shop was about reducing the results of my creative outlets more hobby than business.  But now, my hobby has turned into a business which is growing and so I recently launched my own website 1820 Bag Co. to reflect that I am a bag and other durable goods manufacturer.  I realize that at some point, in order to grow and be successful, I will need to get some assistance, which is a bit scary and exciting.
1820BagCo Studio 6

Follow our artst

‘1820 Bag Co. Treasury’ by rusticcraftdesign

See all of these fabulous bags at hmmills on Etsy

Ikat Messenger Bag -  Waxed Canvas Pink Orange & Leather Strap - hmmills Mens Messenger Bag - Waxed Canvas Green & Leather, Field Bag - hmmills Brown Leather & Tartan Plaid Tote - Green Wool and Leather - hmmills Messenger Canvas Bag with Brown Leather Strap - hmmills
Resort Handbag with Bamboo Handles - hmmills 17" Men Messenger Bag - Orchid Purple - hmmills Orange Linen Burlap Tote - Leather Handles,  Market Tote - hmmills Striped Beach Tote - Blues, Green, Beige & Brown Leather Straps - hmmills
Blue Resort Clutch - hmmills Tweed Messenger Bag, Black Leather, Blue Canvas and Adjustable Leather Strap - hmmills Blue Messenger Bag 15 inch Laptop, Linen & Canvas - hmmills Orchid Lavender Small Messenger Cross Body Bag 15 inch Laptop - hmmills

Treasury tool by StylishHome.


9 thoughts on “Artist Feature: 1820 Bag. Co.

  1. I am the proud owner of a waxed canvas tote, with leather straps. The size is wonderful, and the expertise construction can’t be compared. Her designs are amazing and you can tell she cares about her details she puts in her products. Something that is hard to find these days. I just wanted to thank her for continuing her dreams and making bags everyone should buy.

  2. Wonderful to read of another’s hobby turned real business challenges! Taking note of how incredibly well organized Helen is!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s