Meet the Founder of the Fastest-Growing Black Woman-Owned Line of Luxury Leather Designer Handbags



Elena Holtzclaw, a designer and entrepreneur from Albany, New York, knows her leathers. She is the founder of Theugi – New York, a Black-owned line of high-quality top grain and full grain leather bags and accessories that are both beautiful and long-lasting.

She and her husband Derek got their start in the leather industry seven years ago when they began designing high school varsity jackets for their sons’ sports teams. Elena has always had a passion for design, and their leather and wool varsity jacket received a lot of positive feedback. They quickly began designing leather varsity jackets for other high schools. Because they are both from Chicago, they connected with a local distributor and began designing leather varsity jackets for high school students all over the city. This experience piqued their interest in leather, its production, and the various grades and qualities available.

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Elena explains that her passion for high-quality, beautiful leather handbags shifted their focus in 2019, when they began designing and selling leather handbags and accessories. Derek was also working on his vision for a summer youth program focused on economic empowerment of youth and communities. Derek, who has spent his entire professional career in government, says the one thing he has learned is that while government can provide services, it cannot solve the problems that Black communities face. His guiding philosophy is that our youth can be taught to work and build together, and that they can be organized to drive community economic development.


Economic empowerment, according to Derek’s model, is an organization’s ability to generate its own revenue and be financially self-sufficient. Derek and Elena founded Theugi – New York, an acronym for The Urban Growth Initiative inc., a New York-based not-for-profit corporation, to combine their two passions. This couple believes that as Theugi expands and gains a significant market share in the premium designer handbag industry, profits will support this new youth-led economic development model.

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Derek and Elena intend to take market share from the leading design houses in the United States and Europe by offering products made from only high-quality materials. That is why, according to Elena, Theugi specializes in top grain and full grain leather. She gives us a quick leather lesson, explaining that high-quality leather ages beautifully and will never fade, crack, or peel, in contrast to lower-grade leather and re-branded Polyurethane. When you first buy it, PU looks great, but after a year it begins to look old and worn, often peeling and fading.

Genuine top grain and full grain leather ages beautifully and develops a rich patina as it wears. Surprisingly, PU / vegan leather is just as, if not more expensive, than genuine high-quality leather. Elena is adamant that her goal is to provide a high-quality product that you will be proud to wear for many years.

While Elena is passionate about leather quality and trendy designs, Derek is concerned about the potential economic impact of Theugi on Black Communities. He claims that the US designer handbag market will be $11.3 billion in 2021, with annual growth of nearly 4.5% through 2026.

African American consumers accounted for approximately 20% of luxury goods spending in the US market in 2019, with that figure expected to rise to 25-30% by 2025. Derek believes that once Theugi has taken a significant market share from the leading European and American designer handbag companies, it will be able to make a real and significant difference in Black communities.

But, for the time being, Theugi is a small company that focuses on high-quality leather products at reasonable prices. Their ambition is to become the premier African American leather handbag designer.



Written by How Africa News

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