The LES Bags line of totes, pouches and purses are so precisely made, so perfectly architectural, so practical yet sophisticated, that when you spot them and reflect on their brand name, you might think: “Well, certainly these bags were made in a far-flung land — France, perhaps? — by artisans who learned the trade from their parents.”
“Oh, gosh, no, I’m sorry! It’s not French!” laughs Laurie Sorenson, the one-woman creative force behind LES Bags. “L-E-S are my initials.” She makes her worldly bags from a small studio in the basement of her Robbinsdale home.
And her designs aren’t part of a long-running sartorial tradition. Her chic, sculpted bags are the result, primarily, of trial and error. “I’ve wasted so much fabric over the years,” she laments. Always drawn to heavier, more durable fabrics, she started by experimenting with upholstery fabrics and even tried felting her own wool, but neither material gave her the results she wanted. In time, she discovered wholesale suppliers for the felted wool and waxed canvas that she uses today.
Her vocation as a designer of high-end bags wasn’t inevitable either. “When my sons were young, I just always had a sewing machine around,” she says. “I’d make blankets for the boys.” She first tried her hand at making bags about 12 years ago, solely for herself, and focused on purses, not totes.
As her sewing skills improved and her style evolved, she switched to creating tote-style bags because she wanted to expand her customer base beyond herself. “I hoped to sell a few bags here and there,” she says. Over time, she sensed that demand was greater for bigger, toss-in-one-of-everything-style totes, and she began to create her signature square and pyramid-shaped bags.
She did her first vendor event two years ago and was spotted by the buyer for the Walker Shop at Walker Art Center. The museum picked up her line and has carried it ever since. This fall, her work was part of the mix of local goods at Rose & Loon, a new store in Rosedale mall that features local makers (see story at right). She’s excited about the growth, but nervous, too. “I’m just a one-person operation,” Sorenson says.
And yet, she still makes time to go the extra mile for local customers. “If someone orders directly from my online shop and they live in the Twin Cities, I often deliver the bag myself,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just easier.”