I’ve always loved MZ Wallace bags—not only are they practically indestructible, they’re also the perfect mix of style and function. Turns out, the admiration is mutual—when MZ Wallace co-founder Lucy Wallace Eustice experienced barre3’s total-body workouts, she was hooked. That was the beginning of a beautiful partnership; last year, we were lucky enough to team up with MZ Wallace to create our very own signature tote.
I recently chatted with Lucy about how she and her co-founder Monica Zwirner took their company from start-up to cult status. She had some amazing advice on how to stay true to your vision, both in business and in life. Read on and prepare to be inspired!
Sadie Lincoln: I love how hands-on you and Monica are in running your business. Can you explain what your respective roles are for MZ Wallace ?
Lucy Wallace Eustice: One of the reasons Monica and I have such a successful partnership is because from day one, we’ve had the same goals for the business. Today, our philosophy remains unchanged: to design distinctive accessories for women who lead dynamic lives. We work really hard to be mindful of that vision, declining external investment opportunities over the years so that we remain in full control of the brand, but still enjoy our personal lives. As far as design is concerned, we work together. With that being said, Monica tends to be more detailed-oriented while I tend to be more of the “editor.” All strategy and business decisions are made together. I think we bring strength and determination to our brand. We have, through our combined experience, been able to make more of the right decisions and avoid some of the wrong ones.
What led you to start MZ Wallace?
I began working in the fashion industry when I was 15 years old at the French clothing company, agnes b. Shortly after, I started at Manolo Blahnik, where I worked with the press and managed the store. It was during my job there that I first met Monica, who at the time was a stylist. She would come in to borrow shoes for fashion shoots. We became good friends but then lost touch over the years — by that time I had moved into the editorial side of fashion, working for magazines such as Mirabella, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle. After my time as Accessory Director at Elle, I moved into product development in footwear, spending half the year in Italy until finally landing as Vice President for a European designer who was setting up his business in the US.
It was when Monica and I serendipitously re-met at the Union Square Farmer’s Market here in NYC that it all began. We started talking and realized that we shared a similar sensibility and take on where fashion was at that moment. We both felt there was a gap in the market. This was the height of logo mania, and we thought there was a need for something else — a bag that really functioned without compromising style and a brand that addressed the modern woman’s lifestyle. Thus, MZ Wallace was born.
When we met last summer, we talked about the tug and pull of growing a company while also protecting your brand. Since then, you’ve maintained consistent quality and built a long-lasting cult following. What’s your secret?
As your company grows, more of your time is taken up with running the business, so it’s easy to get distracted and pulled in many different directions. The most important thing is to stay true to your vision. To do that, you have to be disciplined and stay focused. Relationships are key. Knowing your supply chain — working directly with your factories, establishing relationships with your banks, and most importantly building relationships with your customers to help you understand and address their needs. I believe that women today want to buy from brands that are truly authentic. Having an open, ongoing conversation with our customers is part of that authenticity. It’s important to note that we started from day one as retailers, and have always strived to maintain a direct line of communication with our customer — their feedback is important. We have been receiving daily sales recaps every evening from our retail staff since we opened our first store on Crosby St.
Speaking of cult following, what do you think people love most about your MZ Wallace totes? I can tell you, I love how chic yet functional and bulletproof they are! My tote comes with me everywhere from barre3 to date night to camping!
Thank you, I’m glad to hear you love it! I think a great bag should have the perfect balance of style and function. It should be able to transition with you from day to night if needed. Women today, myself included, are always on the go so we need a lightweight bag that will carry all of our essentials without compromising our look. MZ Wallace bags meet these needs because they are designed with these active women in mind.
I am curious if you have a mentor? If so, how do they help you? I know Chris and I can feel lonely as co-founders at times, and reaching out to people we admire for help has been a game changer!
I have many people I would consider mentors. I would say most often I hear the echo of advice both my parents gave me throughout my life. Trust your gut. If it’s scary, it’s good because it means you’re learning something new. Don’t be afraid. I would also say Monica and I really support one another for all the obvious reasons, but also because we are in it together, it’s an ongoing conversation, no backstory necessary. I do agree that it is lonely. Leading means having the strength to stick your neck out, be sure, confident and show the way. Sometimes people agree with you, sometimes not. You have to be able to handle when they don’t agree with you.
What are some other cool collaborations you’ve worked on in the past? What about barre3 made you want to work with us?
With Monica being married to gallerist David Zwirner, MZ Wallace has always had a strong connection to the art world and the contemporary artists in it. Our first collaboration was in 2005 with artist Marcel Dzama on a fine jewelry collection in celebration of our 5-year anniversary. Over the years, we developed our MZW Gives Back program, where we use our company and its strengths to give back. We’ve been honored to work with artist Glenn Ligon for the Studio Museum of Harlem, Food52 for The Edible Schoolyard Project and Charity: Water, or Raymond Pettibon for The New York Public Library, just to name a few.
I read about barre3 in a magazine about five or six years ago, and I was intrigued by your innovative approach. I started with the DVDs because that’s all there was before the website really launched. I had a feeling we were talking to the same woman. Realizing that the barre3 woman and the MZ Wallace woman have a lot in common, and that our companies address these women in the same way, I thought it’d be great to collaborate. The bag Monica and I first thought would resonate with the barre3 client and their lifestyle, was actually the same one you picked to be customized!
What qualities do you look for when you’re hiring a new team member?
Integrity, energy, good communication skills. Troubleshooting ability is really important, as things do not always go as planned.
What are your take-everywhere essentials that you always have in your bag?
Creme de La Mer sunscreen and SkinCeuticals sunscreen. Giorgio Armani Face Fabric Foundation, and Dior mascara. Revive hand cream. I’m having a real hand cream crisis! If I was going into cosmetics, that is the first thing I’d make. And jewelry — I love my bling.
What are the big fashion trends coming in 2017?
I think there is a lot of mix and match coming this year. We are also working with off colors which I think are interesting. Of course, lifestyle and athleisure are going to keep gaining momentum. Our triple strap bags are going to continue to be important for our customers.
What’s next for MZ Wallace?
Lots! We just opened up our first pop-up shop in San Francisco in June, and so we are exploring other cities in which we have a loyal customer base. As far as designs, we are really looking to expand our travel message with more pieces specifically designed with a traveler in mind.
Want to see the bag we created with MZ Wallace? Head to the B3 shop and check it out!