When Colleyville transplant Simran Kaur first heard her brother Gagan Singh was dating Indian handbag designer Gayatri Chopra, she knew it was meant to be. “I jumped, and I said, ‘marry her now,’” she says. He eventually took her advice. When Chopra moved to the United States in 2015, Kaur convinced her to launch a new purse company, Simitri.
Now, eight years later, Simitri has grown into a thriving wholesale and direct-to-consumer brand of extravagant clutches, everyday statement bags, and bedazzled accessories. Kaur and Chopra sell their small-batch purses in stores across the U.S. and Mexico, and celebrities from Kerry Washington to Sheryl Lee Ralph have carried Simitri bags on the red carpet. Kaur says they found their niche with “people who appreciate slow fashion,” as well as stylish handbags.
That success took time. Kaur has always loved purses. Growing up in India, she was fascinated with her mother’s handbag collection and how she paired them with her saris and jewelry. Kaur and Chopra “hit it off instantly” when they finally met in Chicago eight years ago.
A couple of months later, Singh and Chopra visited Kaur in Kalamazoo, Michigan, her then-home, for Memorial Day weekend. There wasn’t much to do, Chopra says, so she placed her designs of intricate and ornate evening clutches on Kaur’s kitchen table. Kaur loved them, “and she was like, ‘oh, we have to launch the business here,’” Chopra says.
Chopra wasn’t so sure. Like Kaur, Chopra had always loved bags. After graduating from India’s National Institute of Fashion Technology, she designed bar accessories for a silverware company. Then, Chopra got the chance to make 20 purses for Indian designer Namrata Joshipura. Chopra says she converted her bedroom into a workshop. “I found one person who could sew the bags for me, and we made a collection.” The designer used the purses during her India Fashion Week runway show, they were later featured in Harper’s Bazaar India, and Chopra officially launched her eponymous brand in 2009.
Chopra says she ran that company successfully for years, but when she married and moved to the U.S., she planned to stop designing. Running a business is hard, she was leaving her support network in India, and she didn’t know anything about the American market. “I, at that time, had just moved,” she says, “I barely knew anyone.”
But “Simran was totally convinced.” They did a photoshoot in Kaur’s Michigan yard on their phones and listed a few bags on Etsy in 2015.
The business grew slowly. Kaur handled the business side, Chopra designed the purses. They came up with a name—Simitri is a marriage of sorts of Kaur and Chopra’s first names—and bought a domain. At first only their friends and family bought their clutches, but word of mouth spread. They realized the business was going somewhere when people they didn’t know began buying their bags, Chopra says.
But it still took time for Simitri to take off. Chopra and Kaur would sell on Shopify and show their purses in trunk shows. They’d also google boutiques near them, fill a suitcase with their bags, and drag that case into stores to show shopkeepers their wares. In late summer 2016, about a year after moving to Colleyville, Kaur schlepped her suitcase across Southlake Town Square. She was six months pregnant, and “it wasn’t fun.” But she walked into XAR Clothier, and owner Roy Rizwan loved the designs.
“Bags need to be fun. They need to be an extension of your personality.”Simran Kaur
While Simitri sounds like “symmetry” in English, Chopra says their designs are the opposite idea. “We call it structured chaos.” Chopra uses a wooden box as the base of her handbags, and then adorns them with bright and colorful designs. “The colors and hues are very Indian,” Chopra says. But most of the designs are “inspired from my life here and in India.” She uses chains, embroidery, sequins, and metallics to embellish the bags. Some bags are an explosion of sequins and beadwork, others feature embroidered animals like snakes, birds, and wolves. Many showcase an ombre metallic fringe.
Rizwan ordered some of their purses for his store and then helped them get involved in Dallas Market Center in 2017. They had never considered wholesale before. “Direct-to-consumer was all we knew,” Chopra says. “When that happened, I think that’s when this actually took off.”
Now, the majority of their business is wholesale, they say. Simitri sells purses in around 100 boutiques across North America, including Sharla’s in McKinney and Odonata in Plano. They’ve sold bags in Anthropology, Saks Off Fifth, and Lord & Taylor. Celebrities like Wynonna Judd and Abby Elliott have carried their clutches. Several members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team carried Simitri bags to the 2019 ESPY Awards, after their World Cup win.
Simitri’s bags are made-to-order in small batches in India. They’ll typically make 50 bags at a time in one style, topping out at around 400 products a month. Chopra works with a team of 10, flying back and forth to the workshop—Chopra now lives in New Jersey—and getting up at 2 a.m. for FaceTime meetings at 11 a.m. in India. Members of her India team have been working with Chopra since 2009.
“This team actually knew exactly how I work,” she says. They know what fabrics and materials she likes, and they know what techniques to use to make the bags.
Depending on the style, it takes at least a day to make one bag. Since launching eight years ago, Simitri has added totes, envelope purses, bucket bags, and headbands to its inventory. “Bags need to be fun,” says Kaur. “They need to be an extension of your personality.” Simitri bags retail $175–$475 and headbands $59–$69.
Kaur and Chopra say their customers have become braver with their purchases over the years. When they first started, people would buy “safer,” more neutral bags, Chopra says. Now, “our statement pieces do really well.” But, Kaur says, every customer is different. Dallas Market Center customers lean toward evening clutches. Online shoppers like the bucket bags.
Despite the shifting tastes of their consumers, Chopra and Kaur say they stay avoid fast fashion and trends (the only trend they’ve kept up with is expanding their box size to fit the ever-growing iPhone). Some of their most popular styles, like the Gray Kitsch and Lay M clutches, Chopra has been making since 2009. “I’m actually bored of them, but people love them,” she says.
But she and Kaur don’t mind. When they set out all those years ago at Kaur’s Michigan kitchen table, they wanted to create a fun, pretty, sustainable brand. Something that their customers could use the rest of their lives. They want their bags to be classic pieces that their daughters could love and admire, just like Kaur regarded her own mother’s pieces, and eventually pass along through the generations.
Something, they say, that’s timeless.