Self-taught Indianapolis-based bag designer Anita Hopper specializes in upcycling outdated leather apparel into gorgeous, one-of-a-kind handbags, totes and clutches. A couple of years ago, she got the idea of embellishing the leather further … with her photographer son’s images.
“I noticed a couple things on Pinterest that caught my interest,” says Hopper, who runs ReFind Originals. “But it looked like the images weren’t painted on … they were actually printed onto the leather. I searched any way I could to find what kind of process people were doing. Obviously some people were doing it, but there was no place that was explaining the process.”
What followed was several months of research, trial and error and print companies that wouldn’t even attempt to print on leather. Some of the processes she tried resulted in images that would crack or peel. “I was getting very discouraged,” she says. Then she found Helen Farrell, account representative at DCG: Digital Color Graphics.
“We’ve printed on a number of different oddball things, from faux leather to toilet seats,” Farrell says. “Our guys are not afraid to at least try it.”
Hopper came across an article about LexJet’s product, Avatrex, a printable material that can transport and conform to almost any surface. Once affixed to the surface, the image actually takes on the texture of the surface.
“Our MO is that we’re not afraid to try anything,” Farrell says. “So once we got the material we tried different settings for ink density and color saturation. From the first one or two runs, we were having success right off the bat. The feedback I’ve been getting from the guys is that Avatrex is really easy to use.”
Once the Avatrex is printed with Anita’s son Eric Hopper‘s images, she uses a heat press that she purchased to affix the images onto the leather. “I love how you can see the actual grain of the leather in the photos,” she says. Then she sews them into a variety of bag styles.
She’s currently building up inventory for ReFind Originals as well as craft, art and trade shows. Although she’s been asked if she’ll create bags with customized images from clients, she says she’s going to stick to Eric’s dramatic nature shots.
“I love the art aspect of it,” she says. “Eric and I are in control of what’s going on … that’s where we want it to stay.”
She said that although it’s been a long process, she’s feeling more confident about this new line of bags and already sees even more opportunities using Avatrex. “I can think of so many things to do with it … jewelry cuffs, upholstery … anything,” she says.
We look forward to seeing what she dreams up next.