When I took my first look at Riley Versa, I was amazed by how beautifully the bags bridge the gap between fast fashion and slow fashion. In recent years, brands like H&M and Zara have release a slew of somewhat paradoxical eco-friendly lines, in response to our generation becoming increasingly uneasy about our relationship with fast fashion—we love the rush of trying something new, but we feel a tinge of guilt when we think about the impact our habits have on the planet. (What’s more Millennial than being tragically conflicted?) Innovative brands with fresh ideas, like Riley Versa, have the power to change the way we relate to fashion by keeping our classics current for years to come.
I sat down with the founder of Riley Versa—the incredibly stylish Melissa Urfirer—to talk about her unique line of bags, get some insight into her personal style, and find out what it’s really like to have your own line.
Ariane Collins: Describe your personal style in three words:
Melissa Urfirer: Classic and comfortable—with a touch of downtown edge.
I understand that you grew up in New York. Do you feel that was a major influence on your personal style?
Growing up in New York I was exposed to so much. A New York City sidewalk is like a catwalk and I think it really taught me to appreciate everyone’s unique style and to realize how much fun it can be to experiment with fashion.
What are your essential wardrobe staples?
MU: Jeans and white t-shirts! I love layering different accessories—scarves, hats, jewelry—and just playing around from there. And, of course, my Riley Versa bag.
For our readers who haven’t yet seen your amazing bags, tell us about Riley Versa.
MU: The idea behind Riley Versa is that it’s one bag that can have it all. The base of the bag stays the same, and there are magnetic removable covers that can be easily swapped. The bag itself is a beautifully crafted, timeless piece while the covers reflect the latest trends. So, instead of switching bags, you just switch the cover, and it completely transforms your bag and your outfit.
Where does the name Riley Versa come from?
MU: When I was first considering names for the company, everything that I thought of sounded really cheesy. I was thinking about a French name—but I don’t speak a word of French! Riley has always been my favorite name, so when I looked up the definition and found out that it means “effortless luxury” I was like “perfect, sold!”
So, that’s the story behind “Riley”—and then “Versa” because it’s super versatile.
What is a typical workday like for you, is there even such a thing?
MU: There’s no such thing as typical day of work, which keeps it exciting and fun!
Some days I’ll focus on the business side of it and I’ll spend the day at my computer answering emails, doing financials—basically a desk job. Other days will be devoted to the design part of it. I’ll be working on new designs, meeting with manufacturers, doing photo shoots. Everyday is definitely very different, and it keeps things interesting!
What’s your favorite part of the process?
MU: All of it!
But, really, my favorite part is watching the new designs come to life. There’s nothing like seeing something you created and then actually being able to hold it in your hands. It’s an incredible feeling.
Tell me about your design process.
MU: We don’t necessarily go by the fashion season. If there’s something that’s inspiring or we think would fit with the brand—we do it, we launch it, we release it. We really run on our own schedule, which I think fashion in general is starting to shift more towards.
Do you have any advice for other women out there with a great idea who are thinking about starting a brand?
MU: Do your research first to make sure that there’s a market for what you want to launch and once you do that, go for it! I think you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, so you just have to take the leap.
MU: Velvet. It’s new and I’m really excited about it!
In your own wardrobe—brights or neutrals?
MU: Right now I’m loving Gucci.
Flat or heels?
Pants or skirts?
MU: That’s a tough one, but I have to go with pants.
Photos by Adam Wamsley