Samara Lou Willis Big Bow Bag

Samara Lou Willis is a London based designer and maker with a love for stories.

Made from natural materials her frill and bow handbags are cleverly made, eye-catching and big on texture.

Coming from a background in fine art, her design process is playful and generous in its serving of references from a highly personal soup that includes 1970’s performance, British confectionary and children’s literature.

Each bag is hand-crafted in her South London studio, often in collaboration with another artist or artisan. Collectively, they serve as an ongoing enquiry into what kind of objects we invite into our wardrobe/home and how they help us dress up/play house.

All pieces are made with ethical and sustainable production practices at the forefront. Always working with natural fibres and nearly always working with locally sourced dead-stock fabrics.

Where are you based? 

Brixton, South London.

Do you have a morning routine / daily ritual before arriving at your studio? 

I have a radio alarm so I wake up to music, currently it’s set to Heart 70s. I have a little toe wiggle in bed until I can get myself up properly to shake off my sleep. I’m not a morning person so I need to keep moving otherwise I’ll end up back in bed.

What does a typical day in your studio look like?

A typical day for me involves lots of cutting or lots of sewing. I like spending a whole day doing parts of things rather than making something from beginning to end. My favourite days are the ones spent making ruffles.

Samara Lou Willis in her South London Studio

How did your journey into accessory making begin?

A close friend of mine passed away and my Mum had a brain haemorrhage in the space of a month. I was not ok! I’d been working in fashion production and simply didn’t have the mental capacity to continue. I got a job in a bar so that I didn’t have to think about anything outside of work hours.

I’ve always wanted my own business and when hit with how fragile life can be I threw myself in to figuring out what might work. Within 6 months I was ready to launch. I definitely used the planning and making as an escape, a way to be constantly busy.

I’m a lot more settled now and prioritise working slowly but those months of mania and grief really set me up with a good foundation. I’m so grateful that my energy went in to something that serves me and not total destruction.

Samara Lou Willis pile of cotton ruffles

How would you describe your work ethos?

Above all, I value the playfulness and sharing that comes from stories. My pieces are whimsical, soft and that’s very intentional. I hope to contribute those parts of myself to others, to help punctuate other peoples stories with objects made from my own.

Equally, it’s important for me to know the stories of the materials I use, not only so I can share them but so I know they are conducive to an ethical and sustainable practice.

Where do your materials come from? Are they locally sourced? Deadstock? From a sustainable supplier?

All of my materials come from local suppliers. Mostly deadstock, always natural.

How long does each bag take to make?

Around 4 hours give or take.

Did you study design anywhere or are you self taught and naturally fall into this work?

I studied Fine Art and had a focus on gendered objects so naturally clothes came into play, but they were mostly hinged on being silly, or prop like. A giant pair of shoes, a paper bra, a belly-less jumper etc, the running joke was that they weren’t fit for purpose. The main goal was to make stories with them and get a good photo. The making wasn’t important.

It wasn’t until I graduated that I made anything wearable but I’ve always had that sense of space, understanding how things come together. I’m still doing exactly the same thing as I was when studying but now the making is important and taking pictures with them is just a byproduct.

How does your design process work from idea to finished product?

It varies on a case by case basis. Sometimes I have an idea that just needs making, other times I will need to play around for a while. When I play I will make lots of samples and usually the result is mix of them all.

What do you listen to or watch while you work?

I make a playlist every month of what I’m listening to in the studio. I’m also a big fan of the Adam Buxton podcast.

Who inspires you?

Most of my visual inspiration comes from artists, my most favourite is Louise Bourgeois. I think about Willy Wonka a lot too, I imagine what kind of business decisions someone like that might make.

Where did the inspiration for your bags on the C et C shop come from?

I was putting my hair up in the morning and by lunch finding scrunchies on my wrists. I played about with how I could work with that idea of having texture on my body and quickly settled on the bags, pretty much as they are today.

How do you overcome creative lulls?

I practice being engaged. I consume a lot. Galleries, films, workshops, lectures, articles, books. I take in a lot of things and make sure I have something to say about them. If I don’t like something I try to figure out why and what might change my mind.

Keeping my brain critical in that way means I have a really good idea of what I do like and why it’s important to me.

Samara making a frill bag

What is your favourite material to work with and why?

Currently it’s organdie! I love how structured it is, almost like paper. And it’s very novel working with sheer fabric, to have the stitching and work be visible.

Do you have other projects in the pipeline?

Yes! I can’t say too much but I have some projects coming up that aren’t textiles based. I’ll be working on some objects with another craftsperson and I’m very excited to see how things go, I love bouncing ideas off other people.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m not reading anything properly at the moment but I’ve been carrying Moominland Midwinter in my bag for when I have a few moments to spare.

What dream would you still like to fulfil?

I’m only just getting started with my brand so it’s hard to imagine, but the goal is to open up discussion about how we can bring more meaningful objects into our homes, and what they might look like.

Do you have any tips you'd like to share with other artists?

Detach yourself from the idea of an outcome. The best moments always come from playing and finding something there.

Find our curated collection of Samara's beautiful handcrafted bags here.