This article is part of a series of interviews conducted by LIM students with winners of the Accessories Council's 2019 Design Excellence Awards (DEA). Students are enrolled in Fashion Merchandising Professor Andrea Kennedy's Introduction to the Fashion Business class.
First, here’s a brief history on the paragon that is Bentz Luxury and the minds behind the brand, Kim and Melissa Bentz:
The Bentz sisters are based out of Silicon Valley, but they have traveled all over the world pursuing their love of art and using their strong business mindset. That mindset was instilled in them by their father, a businessman who is also an engineer. Their love of art was passed down by their artist mother.
Following the attention around Melissa’s small collection of handbags, which she made on her own, the sisters started working on the Bentz Luxury Brand in the early 2000’s. Over time, notable names started adding Bentz handbags into their collection. Using this newfound traction, the Bentz sisters dove into the market of luxury fashion and became a staple brand for accessory connoisseurs worldwide. The brand notably became one of the coveted Swarovski crystal brand partners, and the sisters started designing handbag collections that featured the glitz of the prestigious crystals.
This year, the brand celebrated a big win when their purse “The Jewel” (pictured above) won an Accessories Council Design Excellence Award in the “Handbags over 1K” category. This added to their growing success, and created a buzz around The Bentz Luxury name.
Nerves were high as we laid our notepads and questions on the conference table, and even higher as we waited to welcome the Bentz Sisters onto our campus. How do you keep a cool demeanor as you meet people who have reached a status of excellence? All nerves melted away as soon as the duo walked through that revolving door. We can say with full confidence that the Bentz Sisters are two of the nicest people we’ve ever met. A warm greeting was all we needed to relieve our fears, and the gateway was opened for us to start asking our questions:
1. What inspired you to design The Jewel?
Like everyone else in the 21st century, Melissa spent a lot of time browsing social media. She noticed the average Instagram spectator’s infatuation with handbags. For every It Girl, there was an It Bag to match.
In designing The Jewel, the Bentz sisters’ goal was to make a handbag that could speak to this client. They had to find a way to combine all the pride and glamour of a Birkin with the style and chicness that the Bentz brand boasts. Working with their design team, and the Swarovski team, they were able to finish the design and create the award-winning handbag.
2. Why did you choose to enter the The Jewel for the Design Excellence Award?
The Bentz sisters chose to submit the Jewel for the DEA awards because they felt confident that this truly was their most polished handbag and an item they could believe in; it was a handbag that was a clear representation of their brand. Before the Jewel was designed, the Bentz sisters met with Janet Hill, wife of renowned American inventor Steve Wozniak. They clicked with Janet, and she became a mentor to the sisters. Although Janet has no children, her beloved dogs filled that role in her life. Out of respect and appreciation for Janet, the Bentz sisters named the The Jewel after Janet’s dog. This was their way of saying thank you for all of Janet’s advice.
3. With the rush of excitement around your brand, are there any plans to expand?
The Bentz Brand refuses to be limited to the world of accessories. When you have creative talents like the Bentz Sisters, it’s no surprise a full Bentz clothing collection is in the works. The sisters are excited to translate the glitz and glamour of their handbags into clothes for the effervescent man or woman. Fans of the brand can expect to see Swarovski incorporated into the upcoming designs.
4. How long did it take for the Bentz brand to become your main career focus?
Starting a business is one of the hardest things for anyone to do. The sisters were candid about the need for strong financial backing to make any plans come to fruition. Their partnership with Swarovski gave them security and access to resources that allowed them to fully invest their time into the Bentz brand.
5. Why did you choose to collaborate with Swarovski?
Melissa had purchased a bag with a Czechoslovakian glass handle on it. One day, the handle broke, and Melissa took matters into her own hands by creating a new bag with crystals on it. A trip to her local fabric and jewelry store provided her with an excess of Swarovski crystals. The sisters fell in love with the combination and started coveting the rare Swarovski partnership. After negotiating, the partnership was born, and Bentz and Swarovski are forever intertwined.
6. What motivates you to keep innovating new ideas and creating incredible pieces?
Kim and Melissa’s motivation is simple: success. As Kim said, “We like to create something beautiful, and have someone else to say ‘that’s hot, I want to rock it.’” They see the fruits of their labor when they see the power that carrying a Bentz bag gives to someone. They are also driven by a sense of responsibility to give back to a world that has been kind to them. They work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and have partnered with the charity through sales percentages to make sure Bentz bags brings light into the world in more ways than one. Additionally, Kim highlighted that they are not, and cannot be, motivated by money.
7. If you could go back and do one thing differently in your career, what would it be?
When Kim and Melissa first started their brand, they decided they needed a team and wanted to hire an employee they believed would prove beneficial to them. An adviser cautioned against the move and convinced them to go it alone. Melissa said, “I wish I would’ve put my foot down,” meaning she wishes they would have gone with their gut and done what they felt was best for the brand. Kim pinpointed the fact: “You can't do everything.” It takes a team to get everything done, and many people won’t take you seriously if you present yourself as full brand but lack a team to back you up.
8. How do you convince a high-end consumer that your products are of the same luxury and quality as popular designer names?
The Bentz sisters don’t just sell handbags, they also sell wishes. What stood out to us was their good luck charms. In every bag they design, there is a tiny pocket big enough for a penny. They include an 18-carat gold penny with each bag sold. They wish luck and prosperity upon every person that buys a bag, and they send positive energy through the symbolism of the penny. Melissa and Kim were so kind to gift us each a penny! To us, this is what makes the Bentz brand stand out: They achieve a connection with their customers through this symbol of good fortune.
9. What advantages are there to working with a sister? Did this get you further?
Melissa was quick to respond, “Of course it got us further, and man do we have a lot of fun going through it together.” Kim and Melissa made it clear that they are extremely close, and that both of them are grateful for each other’s company and ideas. Kim added, “I could not do it alone.” Having someone to bounce ideas off of can help foster creativity and innovation. We appreciated seeing how close their relationship is. It helps to have someone to rely on throughout this whole process.
10. What advice would you give aspiring fashion students who want to be in the industry?
The sisters centralized one point from the entire interview: Do not give up. The Bentz brand did not form overnight—it took long hours and sleepless nights. If you have a genuine passion and love for your craft, and are willing to work to make it a reality, success is out there. Students should always seize networking opportunities and not shy away from career risks. There are opportunities for growth and expansion, but they won’t come to you—you must seek them out.