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Life Writes Fashion: Luxury Handbags With A Message For The World

Fashion columnist Taylor Markel talks about Pursey, a line of purses with a message as impossible to ignore as the chic handbags themselves.

Photos by Hillary Ehlen

On the Harper’s Bazaar website, I found a Miuccia Prada quote, “What you wear is how you present yourself to the world, especially today, when human contacts are so quick. Fashion is instant language.”

On January 21, 2017, Randi Larson, her sister, Jeni Kurtyka, and their best friend, Holly Foltz, were heading to the Minneapolis Women’s March. Randi meant to ask her sister, “Did you grab your purse?” But, instead, accidentally said, “Did you grab your pursey?”

The trio felt a renewed sense of empowerment marching alongside countless other women at the March; a few weeks later, the vivacious trio couldn’t shake this idea of “pursey”. They decided to transform their slip of the tongue, one that would change their lives into Pursey – the luxury handbag brand destined to deliver a bold, unapologetic message to the world in a language teeming with words like empowerment, solidarity and confidence.

Experimenting with pleather before committing to real leather, Holly said they sewed four handbags in only 24 hours, adding that it was, “Like we were channeling Betsy Ross!”

Sewing wasn’t the trio’s forte, so Holly suggested finding a manufacturer. Equipped with an Art degree from the University of North Dakota, she created the hand-drawn tech pack they sent to a New York manufacturer.

“We put together a garage sale to make enough money to go to New York,” said Holly. Raising about $400, they flew to New York and met the manufacturer. “Your relationship with your manufacturer is the number one thing in business,” Holly said. Their partnership was a match made in Heaven!

Pursey proclaims a message as impossible to ignore as the chic handbags themselves. “Pursey is freedom,” Jeni stated. Despite each having experienced sexual assault, the trio agrees they’ve transformed from disenfranchised to empowered, adding that their handbags are physical representations of this transformation. They also say the handbags, as Holly described it, “have a life of their own,” and have evolved right along with the trio.

Shining light on the negative beliefs one may believe about themselves after experiencing sexual assault is important to the trio. “We had to reclaim that power and we had to decide that those things that we believed about ourselves weren’t true, and that you don’t have to keep identifying in that way,” Randi said. “There’s nothing wrong with you if that’s happened, you’re not broken. You’re not damaged. You can recover from it and, it might be a part of your life and there may be moments and triggers, but in the end you have the power to still be a completely loving, thriving, happy, joyful, empowered person.”

The Pursey trio supports RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization that offers a variety of services and addresses sexual violence in a holistic way. $20 of every Pursey handbag sold goes to RAINN. They also support Beauty for Ashes – Nepal, an organization that provides things like living wages, housing, medical services and food for women escaping exploitative situations like sex trafficking, and creates one-of-a-kind duster bags from recycled saris.

The trio wants to enter the wholesale market. They strive to make Pursey a household name and have their handbags in stores in Grand Forks, Fargo, Minneapolis – even stores in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Not to mention they plan on Pursey being in fashion empires like Saks and Nordstrom.

They have decided to make their passion a reality no matter what. If the Pursey trio didn’t know how to do something, they knew there was somebody out there willing to show them how or they’d do it for them. The trio recommends choosing to see tricky experiences as learning opportunities, not obstacles. Randi says that if you’re waiting to start something until you know everything about it, “You’ll just be paralyzed, so you need to be willing to make mistakes and try things out and start before you’re ready.”

The ladies have been asked about sacrifices they’ve made and how difficult this whole process has been, but Jeni eloquently describes the Pursey adventure as, “The best thing we’ve ever done in our lives, so, it’s amazing.”

Freedom, banding together to choose empowerment over being disenfranchised, seeing “obstacles” as opportunities to learn and grow, encouraging women to be genuine and confident. Pursey, and the incredible women who created it are equipped with the ability to positively impact women empowerment worldwide.

In honor of Randi’s comical but oh-so- special slip of the tongue, I have one question for you. “Did you grab your Pursey?”

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