Quit Your Day Job

The craftsmanship of Alex Bender’s handmade leather bags suggests a longtime love affair between the artist and her sewing machine. But Alex’s relationship to sewing wasn’t always so sweet.

After growing up in the small town of Weißenburg in Bavaria, Germany, she left home after high school for a seamstress-training program in the countryside. There, she learned to sew under rigorous instruction. "It was very strict," Alex recalls. "We were not allowed to talk." There was immense pressure to sew perfectly, and trainees had to write down their daily speed. Through this training, Alex gained a strong technical foundation that would later prove essential to her creative work. However, she describes the experience as the worst time of her life.

It took several years for Alex to find joy in sewing. She spent a pivotal year doing production work for a small fashion label in Sydney, where she discovered what she calls the “no worries way of life” that opened her eyes to a more relaxed lifestyle and new possibilities. Back in Germany, she apprenticed at a small store that sold leather bags before before moving to Berlin to work for an upscale menswear label. Her subsequent job sewing custom bridal gowns left her enough time to start her own line of bags on the side, which Alex began selling in a local shop. In 2011, she took the leap and started running her business full-time. "Life gave me all these little hints, and somehow it happened," Alex says.