Carla Westcott, Cruelty-Free Handbags



Part I – Carla Westcott
Cruelty-Free Handbags

Carla Westcott graduated from the Parsons School of Design BFA program in 1994 and one year later founded Westcott, a designer eveningwear company. She is adjunct faculty in the Parsons BFA program and is a member of The Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Carla Westcott is founder and designer at Westcott, a New York design house specializing in evening wear. A graduate of the Parsons School of Design BFA program, Westcott, a Vicksburg, Mississippi native, was recognized at Parsons with both the Jennifer George and Mary Ann Restivo Gold Thimble awards for her gown designs. She worked briefly for a Seventh Avenue dress designer before founding Westcott Design Group in 1995. She is a member of The Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Westcott’s guideline in creating her modern eveningwear is one of engineered harmony. The minimal silhouettes are clean and elegant, defined by luxuriously rich fabrics and traditional construction inspired by couture sewing techniques and by her affinity and respect for architecture. She cites artists as diverse as German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher and architect Frank Lloyd Wright as influencing her work. The details and garment construction of the garments are often drawn from architecture and its sympathetic discipline, industrial design. Pioneering the use of Swarovski crystals as graphic embellishment in her first collection, Westcott continues to develop this signature primarily on matte jersey.

Carla Westcott’s collection is emblematic of stark elegance characterized by flawless draping, couture construction and detailing, and always, body-conscious shapes. Following the launch of her first collection in October 1995 by Saks Fifth Avenue, Westcott continues to attract the finest retailers in America and Canada including Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus and Holt Renfrew.

For Spring 2014, Westcott launches her first handbag collection. Made exclusively of Italian textiles and hardware, the collection embodies Westcott’s esthetic of minimalist elegance. The collection is proudly manufactured in New York City’s garment district and is currently available at


Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody this is Caryn Hartglass and your listening to It’s All About Food, here we are on November 26th, 2013. It’s a good week, even though it’s kind of cold and damp outside, that’s okay because it’s holiday time and this is a very special holiday time for those of us who chose not to eat birds, right? This is the big unfortunate week for turkeys and many of us who don’t eat them vegetarians, vegans have our turkey free events. It’s kind of a hard time with family and friends when we all get together with the foods. It’s such a food focused holiday and it’s hard for a lot of us because I think when we ‘re giving thanks, thanks for all of our abundance it’s hypocritical perhaps or I’m not exactly sure the word I’m searching for, but how is it we can give thanks when we have something tortured and abused being served on our table and it’s something that I have tried to avoid for along time now. I’m really looking forward to this Thanksgiving because we’re having it at home and were making all the foods that we love and you might wonder what some of those things are and I made it really easy for you if you visit where I live, you can see our thanksgiving celebration feast video. You can watch me make all of those great recipes and all the recipes are there on the website and we just added a new recipe that I just got to taste yesterday and today. We’re having Thanksgiving all week at home but this is a Thanksgiving squash with polenta stuffing. We use this beautiful red, curry squash we found awhile ago when we were touring out on the east end of long island going to some of the organic farms, but it is a stunning red squash and you can use another large orange pumpkin or orange squash in this recipe, but I just found this particular one to have just to a very exciting shape and color and we stuffed it with a fabulous polenta stuffing and it makes a great main event, you bring this out and you can slice it too which is kind of fun. So check that recipe out, and it’s also Hanukkah starting on Thursday and I don’t know who plans these calendars but you know sometimes the sun and the moon collide and they do on our calenders because the Hebrew calender is based on the lunar cycle and we got Hanukkah the same time it’s thanksgiving. There’s been all kinds of crazy names for the new holiday. ” thanksgivikah” and anyway I’m making my baked potato pancakes as an appetizer for my thanksgiving feast this year and what I love about them is I’m saving the oil for the lamp and I’m not using it to fry my potato pancakes. This is a easy recipe, you can see it on our website, baked potato pancakes, they are really delicious. You can make them in advanced, which is especially nice. Okay a few more things I wanted to mention, the Swinging Gourmets were out swinging this weekend at the Dr. Fuhrman’s Weekend Health Immersion, yes we we’re out there and if you go to you can see some pictures from the event. Now the Swinging Gourmets, in addition to doing a few food shows online, we have a show where we tell a story about how foods are healing and are great for weight loss and we do it with song and we do it with fun and we really had a good time sharing our show with the folks at the weekend health immersion for Dr. Fuhrman, but there were something interesting that I learned talking to a lot of people at this event. A lot of people ask me: “Do you sell your food? “Where do you sell your food?” I keep telling people you have to find your kitchen and learn how to make foods and learn what’s in your food and the only way to do that really is to get in the kitchen and put things together and then you start to realize goes into food, and then maybe realize that the stuff that you’re buying in packages or in restaurants isn’t quite the same because they’re putting other things in those dishes that maybe you shouldn’t be eating. It’s frustrating when I hear people say “do you sell your food?” On one hand, I think maybe I should be starting a manufacturing business and I just may do that, I’ve been thinking about it for along time, but I think it’s so important to at least, make a lot of your meals. New, simple meals, clean wholesome, healthy plant-based meals. Find your kitchen. If you can’t find it… email me and maybe I can help you locate it. My email is and the last note is, I can be a bit chatty, okay so I’m chatty because I’m talking here for an hour every week, but I love it when I’m walking in my neighborhood and I strike up a conversation with a stranger. Now, I’m an adult. I’m aloud to talk to strangers. I don’t encourage children to talk strangers, but as an adult there are some strangers that can turn out to be really good connections. There’s a new receptionist at our bank and I started talking to her about making this baked potato pancake recipe and all the people in the bank started listening and everybody chimed in and it was really fun, but she ended up telling me the next time I came into the bank that she had a few friends over and she got a box grater because she didn’t have a food processor to grate the potatoes and they all had a great time grating the potatoes and the onions and it was a big social event and they made the pancakes and it was fabulous and that’s what it is all about, not just eating delicious whole nutritious food, but making it with your family and friends. Finding your kitchen and making an event of it because it’s fun and it’s good for us and in the end you feel good. That’s what I want you to do. I want you to feel good, in and out. Okay, I’m gonna stop with that chatter now and bring on my first guest and she’s here with me in the studio, Carla Wescott, she graduated from the Parsons School of Design BFA program in 1994 and one year later founded Westcott, a designer evening wear company. She is adjunct faculty in the Parsons BFA program and is a member of The Council of Fashion Designers of America and you can read more about Carla Wescott at or you can go directly to but we’re going to be talking about her new handbag collection made exclusively of Italian textile and hardware. The collection embodies Westcott’s aesthetic of minimalist elegance. The collection is proudly manufactured in New York City’s garment district and you can see more of them at Carla, but the reason why were talking about them is because they are cruelty free. Welcome to “It’s All About Food” , Carla.
Carla Wesott: Thank you Caryn, thanks for having me.
Caryn: Now we don’t eat your your handbags aren’t really food, but I think it’s important to talk about it because when people realize that they’re eating animals and chose not to eat meat, then I think that opens the door to being mindful about everything that is going on and then some people might realize. “Oh my goodness, my shoes, my handbags, my clothing are made from animals” and what happens to those animals before they became my accessories. And some of us make choices. like myself, I don’t wear leather. I don’t wear wool, I don’t wear silk, my shoes are all man-made and so are my handbags and what we need more and more and that’s why I got you here today and I’m grateful for you is.. we need access, we need access to these things and they need to be lovely.
Carla: That’s why I started making them. You know the only other vegetarian designer out there “of note” is Stella McCartney, I love her stuff.
Caryn: Don’t you like to put your name with Stella McCartney in the same sentence?
Carla: I do, we’re best friends, let me tell you, but her things are in the thousands, as they should be, they’re very beautifully made, but I couldn’t find that middle price that was accessible. I just wanted a nice handbag not over $500 and it was impossible for me to find. There are vegan handbag makers out there, but to be blunt, I wanted something “edgy” and urban that looked very chic, I live in New York. I’m a freakin’ fashion designer for crying out loud, you know, but I like black and I want it to be cool, so I started the company simply because I couldn’t find what I wanted.
Caryn: Okay, a lot of the vegan handbags are made..we don’t know where they come from and many of them come from China or third world countries and yours?
Carla: New York City.
Caryn: New York City!
Carla: I always had control over where my clothes was made. I’ve been making clothes for fifteen years. They were made on 36th street and now my handbags are made on 38th street so I can go to the factory. I know the people. I also know a sweatshop when I see one and I don’t use sweatshops. God bless China, but you don’t know what’s going on ten thousand miles away.
Caryn: I’m not knocking China and I’m not supporting them. We don’t know what’s going on with.. unless you go there and I really believe that we can be making most of the things that we need in our own country. Every country should be making what they need and there might be a few exotic items because of the weather or because of the weather or because of some particular artistic skill that’s developed in a specific country that you might want to import these things, bust most things, most of our foods, most of our clothing, most of our phones, all of our phones and computers should be made in our own country.
Carla: It’s a self fulfilling thing if you’re manufacturing here in the job states, in the money states the product you’re making will sell, but if we don’t keep manufacturing here, everyone knows this, people don’t have jobs, they don’t have money to spend and the very items you’re trying to sell in your own country, people don’t have the money to spend then. So really you’re helping your own business by helping your own economy.
Caryn: This is something I want everybody to think about because the holidays, the big consumer holidays are coming up. There’s that Black Friday day that some people tend to boycott and then some people like to take a lot of advantage and now it’s not just “Black Friday”, it’s like all week 24/7, but the point that I want to make is if you’re going out and consuming and buying gifts, I would really love it if you could think about what you’re buying, think about where it comes from, don’t just go for the least expensive because… and it’s so hard, that short term impact of getting all the gifts that you can for a great deal is so overwhelming and very powerful, but thinking ahead, long term when you invest in a quality product that’s made in the United States even better in your own state, your own hometown… New York City, yeah, think about buying less and spending your budget on quality items that are made at home.
Carla: You know it’s such a difficult thing because when you buy something made in the USA., it’s much more expensive.
Caryn: It’s much more money.
Carla: … and for individuals, what I teach my students at Parsons, I tell them to consider instead of buying 10 shirts from the large stores. I guess I can name names. Say H&M, the shirts are 20 bucks, take that $200 and buy one good shirt made in the United States. Buy a Phillip Lim, buy something local made in New York and take care of it. It’s less in the waste steam as well. It’s clogging the earth. I know people are out shopping and they say “well gosh this is so expensive”, switch gears. It’s better to buy a chocolate bars made in Brooklyn than to buy a sweater made by who knows where by who you don’t know. It could be someone under age. They’re probably making fifty cents for eight hours of work. So switch gears, it doesn’t have to be a goofy sweater, it could be a food products. Most of the food products we have here are made here, so seek them out, you know there’s a lot of businesses in Brooklyn… these small businesses making these little gourmets things. Or how about a bottle of wine either from the United States or New York state. It doesn’t have to be the typical things we’re used to because I know that buying USA made products is difficult for some people.
Caryn: Because they’re expensive.
Carla: My bags are expensive compared to things made in China.
Caryn: … and not all the time, but I think most of the time the quality is better. When they’re made in the United States, it’s either from a company that’s been around and has been able to survive ever thing that’s been going on because their product is so good or it’s a new company that’s just getting started and they just want to do good. So there’s only good reasons to support.
Carla: If you didn’t care about quality there would be no reason to manufacture here. You would absolutely go over seas with no quality control and get your cheap product and run with it.
Caryn: Okay, so I’m sure that people in the garment district are happy to have your business.
Carla: Yay, I hope so.
Caryn: What was their reaction when you told them what it was that you told them you wanted to make or did they follow instructions?
Carla: They just follow instructions. You know usually you get “oh” because people in the garment distract are pretty blasai. It’s whatever you want me to make or make you if you pay the price. There were some challenges. This was a company, for the most part used to working with leather so we both sort to had to learn together how to handle these textiles and some didn’t work and we had to start all over, but once they got it, they really got it and did a beautiful job.
Caryn: Great, now some of these materials come from Italy.
Carla: Right now all of our textiles are from Italy. There are a few linings that are from Korea simply because I can’t get the right color from Italy. We’re looking at more textiles from Spain so it will be pretty much be Europe but the Italian company that provides our textiles is so amazing, I can’t see using anyone else.
Caryn: Well, I like that, I know in Italy there have been a number of clothing manufacturers that have been sticking to very traditional methods of making Italian suits and their fabrics and it’s getting harder and harder to compete with the rest of the world, but okay this isn’t made in the United States, but it’s made in a country in a way that they’re making high quality products and they’re not necessarily mass manufacturing them or abusing their workers. They’ve got very highly skilled workers who are making quality products and so I can support that too.
Carla: Yes
Caryn: I know that there are a number of vegan shoe makers that are going to Italy and they’re probably using some similar materials.
Carla: Yes, the company we use also have a line for shoes so this company is wonderful at providing textiles that are just stunning. A lot of people don’t realize the ubiquitous, Luis Vuitton bag with the LV print.
Caryn: We like to say Vuitton.
Carla: Vuitton!
Caryn: Because it’s so much fun to say stick out your lips and say Vuitton.
Carla: It’s okay, I know you enjoyed that, but that’s synthetic and it doesn’t really click with people why the bag is $1,800 dollars. It’s synthetic and it comes from the same company that I use and they just print it on their and I’m glad I’d rather it was synthetic than leather. Like otherwise those cows would be all over fifth Avenue.
Caryn: But interesting what a brand can do to the price tag.
Carla: Exactly, it’s all in the image.
Caryn: Now let’s talk about image because I think that’s really important and I want to give some examples before I jump into where I’m going with this, but I remember reading not too long ago about lobster because lobster’s name has recently had dropped considerably price per pound and there restaurants that use the lobster and are concern because lobster is considered a luxury item. I’m not promoting lobster here folks, I’m a vegan I don’t get into dropping animals into or sentient beings into boiling water, but this is just for an example. So the restaurants are concerned they want to keep the dishes with lobster in it at a high price, even though their price per pound wholesale has dropped considerably and I was reading this article that said several hundred years ago there were servants that worked for people and they were fed lobster everyday because lobster was so cheap. Lobster was not always considered a luxury dish and it changed traditions and impressions change over time. So lobster went from a food for servants to a luxury item and it’s now, we’ll see where it goes depending on where the price goes. And you may remember me interviewing, okay his name escapes me at this moment, but we talked about whitebread, he wrote the history of white bread and we learned that white bread originally was a product for the wealthy and now since we’ve come to learn more about white bread and it’s so cheaply made now that it’s a bread that’s more affordable for the poor. And it doesn’t have the same image that it used to have. So there’s another product that goes from a luxury item to a not so luxury item and you may have had this when you would tell people you’re not wearing leather shoes. They’ll tell you that they must be cheap. Shoes that aren’t made from leather have an impression of being cheap and as we get really better at making these man made textiles and synthetics and when they’re made in a quality way, not only are they superior because they’re not exploiting animals by using there skins or exploiting workers who are manufacturing them, but they are actually comfortable, and breathable and wonderful and long wearing and I’m looking for the name. It’s Aaron Bobrow-Strain, who wrote White Bread: A Social History, a book I really enjoyed. Alright, so tell me about … some of the materials that you’re using.
Carla: Most of them are polyester based and a lot of them are pbc, which sounds so much nicer than polyvinyl chloride. Also a lot of them are cotton. It’s a coated canvas with a sort of , probably a polyester coating on it. So, that’s pretty much where we are. I don’t use cotton because of the lack of durability unless it’s coated because otherwise the bag would be in New York City, you have a hole in it after one day. We also, …I like synthetics that appear to be sort of satin and silk because I like that luxury side because I’m an evening wear designer. I have an impulse to make this sort of suede lux bag and so the synthetic satin silk among my favorites.
Caryn: Okay, I had a thought.
Carla: We we’re talking about bread.
Caryn: I know we were talking about bread, I think I’m hungry. All of a sudden I’m tongue tied, can you believe it? , I said I was “chatty” and now it’s not going anywhere. Okay, so let’s talk about the different kinds of bags that you have. You have some that are for evening wear and then I saw there are some that are more for business wear, a boxy shape or a briefcase kind of shape?
Carla: Yeah, in the industry, bags are divided into soft and hard and that’s pretty much it. So the hard would be like a “clutch” or a stiff briefcase, things like that. I started with soft because it was still a learning experience for me.. accidentally went to the hard things just because I chose the tougher textiles and when they sewed it up it was very stiff and beautiful and what’s ironic, is that even though, I’ve been doing evening wear for fifteen years, every evening bag I tried to make has “bombed”. The sample just really sucked. So most of them are day bags or tote bags. I find that.. who doesn’t need a tote bag in New York City? So I have some that doubles as an hand bag and tote, it’s got enough compartments inside to put your wallet or valuables in and then I have the soft black one, I showed you earlier, it’s very roomy and happy, but now I’m going through my third round of the perfect evening clutch, so I’ll let you know how that turns out.
Caryn: Well every blog, every story, every book that you read about entrepreneurs . they are always like seven failures until you get the eighth win or numerous failures.
Carla: I think it was R.H. Macy who failed like nine times. I’m holding on to that..I’m really holding on to that, but I did my homework with the handbags, it was actually three years of preparation, you know, from day one, when we started the research so I feel like maybe I did enough so it’s been going well.
Caryn: I remembered what I want to talk about before, plastic. Now pbc…you mentioned polyvinyl chloride and some of us will go “oh” plastic but in order to make leather. it’s a very toxic environmentally, unfriendly process and plastics are not the most environmentally friendly, but we can use them. I think responsibly and I read different reports weighing one versus the other and I think leather comes up a loser.
Carla: It’s just not the leather, you know it. I mean I don’t have to tell you the farming of the animals what that does to the environment so it starts long before the animals ever slaughter.There’s an impact on the environment the tanning of leather is horrific as far as toxins go and it’s not nice to kill animals.
Caryn: It’s not nice.
Carla: I am hoping that I can find more textiles that don’t start with pbc or something like that. That doesn’t make me happy, but I’m doing what I can do and this goes back to the issue of quality when we make our hand bags they are built to last. If they’re taken care of they should have a life span of ten years so that your not buying a new bag every year. You shouldn’t have to if you buy a quality product use it until it falls to pieces that’s what I truly believe so that you’re not throwing crap away.
Caryn: Right, I’m just thinking I have a friend who subscribes to this handbag of the month club where she gets a handbag and returns it and gets another one and those handbags have to be durable if people are going to be sharing them.
Carla: I think if you get one that’s good quality and if the textile is wisely chosen and I test drive all of the samples. I carry them around for a few days. I’m on the subway. I’m throwing them at my husband, running from my cats whatever and if they don’t stand up to that test it’s off.
Caryn: Okay, where can we find these bags? Are they in stores?
Carla: No, I’m doing my own ecommerce at
Caryn: I’m looking at it here and your also on the PETA mall.
Carla: I am on the PETA mall. If you click in the PETA mall. I’m like a business supporter, so you’ll find me in there somewhere.
Caryn: Excellent, well if you’re thinking about those holiday gifts, here’s something that’s cruelty free and made in the United States and rather lovely.
Carla: Thank you.
Caryn: Thank you Carla for joining me.
Carla: Thanks for inviting me, your welcome.
Caryn: Alright so we just have a couple of minutes left and I wanted to mention something else made in the United States because now that we’re on this thing and I got this bug about made in the United States, I mentioned this before, but I really believe in clean water and I distill my water and I have used a variety of different distillers and they’re all made outside of the United States. Most of them are made in China and even some of the best brands that we know, I’m not gonna drop any names, but then I discovered one brand of water distilleries made in the United States and if you want to find out more about them you can go to scroll down a little bit on the right side there’s a water made wonderful. It’s about water distillers made in the United States ant they’re my favorite water distiller products so if you’re looking for one for the holidays, this is the one I recommend. Okay, clean water, cool bags. When we come back, we’re gonna be talking about naturally sweet and gluten free vegan deserts. That sounds pretty good. Let’s take a break.

Transcribed by Marci Skinner, 12/3/2013

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