How Twilight Made This Bag Lady's Fortune

The movie's craze couldn't be crazier for one Fremont designer.

Bella, our heroine, walks down a dark alley in Port Angeles. Creepy music begins to swell. Suddenly a crowd of teenage boys, all clearly up to no good, surround the pale, helpless girl. "Don't touch me!" she shouts, as they close in. Just then our hero Edward roars up in his Volvo C30 coupe. "Get in the car," he tells Bella, before completely freaking out the would-be assailants. Once again, Edward has saved the lovely heroine.But if you're an adept trend-spotter who figured from the start that Edward would swoop to Bella's rescue, perhaps you didn't give her predicament a second thought. Perhaps all you thought was "I love her bag! Where can I get me one of them?"The Bella Bag, as it's now known, is handmade in a Fremont basement studio by Angie Bowlds. The 27-year-old seamstress is frantically churning them out and mailing them off to fans of the angsty teen-vampire romance-novel series Twilight and of the film which has grossed over $191 million domestically since its November release. The current wait time for one of Bowlds' $175 satchels is about three weeks, though she expects it to hit a month soon. "It just snowballed," she says.Bowlds' business has reaped huge benefits from the movie, set in and around the Olympic Peninsula and filmed in the Northwest as well. Now legislators in Olympia are one signature away from passing a law that will give massive tax breaks to production companies in hopes that the sequel, as well as a slew of other Hollywood films, will shoot in the state.In late 2007, Bowlds got a call from a props assistant about a bag she had been selling at Velouria, a trendy Ballard boutique featuring clothes and accessories by local designers. It was a leather number with thick gold rings and an aqua-blue peacock feather printed on the side. The props assistant had been in Velouria a couple of months earlier with a notebook, looking for accessories for the movie's teenage cast. Velouria owner Tes De Luna says the assistant mentioned that she was working on a movie, but didn't say which one. The assistant "commented that [the bag] could work," De Luna says. She bought Bowlds' bag, and De Luna assumed that would be the last of it.But the bag turned out to be exactly what the film's producers were looking for, so the assistant got Bowlds' number from De Luna and asked for an exact duplicate (apparently bags have stunt doubles). Bowlds ended up having to pull another bag off the shelves at Velouria to match the rings, finished the duplicate that night, and sent it the next day. That was when she found out it was for a vampire movie called Twilight."I didn't know what Twilight was," says Bowlds, laughing. "I was thinking low-budge."Bowlds is a freelance graphic designer who started making bags in 2005 as part of a joint venture with her friend Nicole Sarsfield, a screen printer. The bags are a passion, and also a way of supplementing the money Bowlds makes doing things like ad design for various firms. She started out sewing canvas and cloth bags and purses, but soon bought an industrial sewing machine and got into leather bags, wallets, and iPod cozies. After shipping what would become the Bella Bag, she decided to switch to recycled leathers, picking up old leather coats at thrift stores and turning them into accessories. Consequently, she struck out on her own with a company called Stitch and Swash.One day one of De Luna's employees came to work having just seen Twilight. "She was like, 'Did you know that was the movie the bag was in?'" De Luna explains. "It's definitely exciting."De Luna called Bowlds and told her the bag was in the movie. Bowlds says she didn't really know what Twilight was and called her sister, a librarian, to find out. Not wanting to cough up the money to see it in theaters, she waited until it came out on DVD last month, expecting little more than a quick shot of her bag being toted by a minor character. But then there it was on the arm of Bella, the film's female lead (played by Kristen Stewart). And it was everywhere: with Bella getting out of the car at her dad's house in Forks, Bella shopping in Port Angeles, Bella packing up her stuff to run to Arizona in the hope of protecting her loved ones from evil vampires.Bowlds admits she thought the movie was a little cheesy—"when he sparkles?" she observes with a giggle. (The vampire object of Bella's affection doesn't melt or burn in the sun, he shimmers.) But seeing her bag on the screen was still pretty exciting. "I didn't know that it was going to have so much face time," she says.So Bowlds decided to advertise the bag on Etsy, an online store for craft makers. "AS SEEN IN TWILIGHT," she notes in all caps, including a couple of stills from the movie to prove it. She received a few orders right off the bat, but then Sarsfield mentioned the bag on her blog, etsy-love.com, which someone else posted on a Twilight fan site. And almost overnight, up to 10 orders a day began pouring in. In less than two weeks, she had over 70.To try to meet demand, Bowlds has been plowing through swaths of leather hide and mounds of gold rings. Working late into the night, she says she can finish three bags per day. She advertises them as handmade by her, though she gets some help from her boyfriend, Nicolae White, Seattle's pre-eminent African-American Rush fan, who once penned a piece for SW on his peculiar musical obsession ("Black Rushin'," May 28, 2008). But if orders pile up much more, Bowlds will need to hire someone to help her out.The demand is a blessing and a curse, she says. With the economic downturn, her graphic-design work had slowed, so having another source of income helps. And as hokey as she thinks the movie is, getting excited notes back from fans—saying things like "by all things holy this bag is PERFECT!"—feels pretty good.There are three more books in the Twilight series, and if the fans have their way, there will be three more movies. A sequel, Breaking Dawn, is already slated for filming. But state lawmakers are worried that the kind of success Bowlds has seen won't happen for anyone local if Breaking Dawn's cameras are moved to Vancouver, B.C., to take advantage of cheaper costs.So amid trying to sort out a massive deficit and dramatic cuts to social services, legislators in Olympia created a bill to entice movie producers to set up shop in Washington. Rep. Phyllis Kenney (D-Seattle) sponsored a bill that would allow filmmakers to apply for up to $500,000 in state funding to shoot here, in the hope that productions would also provide jobs and generate sales tax through local spending—on things like handbags for the main characters, say. The measure passed the House unanimously and received only two nay votes in clearing the Senate on April 7. The bill awaits Governor Christine Gregoire's signature before it can become law. (A gubernatorial spokesperson says Gregoire has yet to review the legislation.)In the meantime, Bowlds has an ever-growing list of angsty girls with a thing for hot vampires waiting for their bags. "It could not have come at a better time for me," she says, with one exception. Seattle finally got its first few days of sun, but Bowlds has been stuck in her basement sewing Bella Bags. When she has made it to her porch to catch a ray or two, she's happy to report, she hasn't started shimmering. Yet.lonstot@seattleweekly.com

 
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