Luxury with a Conscience

Evanston designer finds third time’s a charm.


After several stops and starts, Evanston designer Lisa Kingsley has found her niche.

Kingsley never set out to be a trend-setting designer, but after a Bali vacation in 1999, a whole new path presented itself. What started as a tourist keepsake—a camisole made by a local girl from a sketch Kingsley had drawn—turned into a fashion bonanza. She liked the resulting garment so much that she had extras made to sell back home.

Her traveling companion liked it so much that he gave one to Madonna’s publicist.

“Within 24 hours of landing in L.A., I received a call from a vice president at Fred Segal who said he’d received a ‘tip’ that I had a line of tops that the store may be interested in,” she says.

Naomi Campbell also spied the Bali camis and asked to buy four. “I didn’t even know how much to charge, so I blurted out ‘$33 each,’” Kingsley says with a laugh.

Fred Segal bought the remaining garments. Charging $250 each, the camis sold out in four hours. Kingsley’s traveling companion quickly became her business partner, and they split their time between Los Angeles and Bali. But the bonanza ended when the local government in Bali collapsed.

After two years, Kingsley was ready to start again. With six investors, she took her new Japanese-inspired line to New York Fashion Week and received an amazing response. That was Sept. 10, 2001.

“When New York City was attacked on Sept. 11, it was over for us,” Kingsley says. “Even the space we had reserved to show our collection was seized by the FBI to use as their headquarters during that crisis.”

Kingsley decided to “quit fashion” and learn to teach yoga. But fashion kept calling to her. So, Kingsley turned to her affinity for leather and to León, Mexico, a city that has produced generations of leather artisans. These leather crafters are also careful not to deplete the wild life in their area.

“I work with one farm that releases three eggs into the wild for every egg incubated,” Kingsley explains. “I want luxury to have a conscience.”

Although Kingsley Handbags has only existed for a year, Kingsley’s message of down-to-earth luxury has created a loyal following—with her creations popping up on the arms of Hollywood A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna.

At press time, Kingsley was in the final stages of designing her line for fall 2010 and dreaming of outerwear as an organic next step.

“When I think about where I’ve been and what I’ve gone through, I now know it’s all been worth it. I’m really proud of what we’ve created.”

Lisa Kingsley bags are available at chalkofevanston or

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