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Fashion designer gives new life to old handbags

University of Denver alumna Traci Tisserat owns TraSh Bagz with her friend and roommate Shawna Sambrano. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

It started with a name, but it’s become a business.

In 2008, University of Denver alumna Traci Tisserat (BA ’05) and friend and roommate Shawna Sambrano came up with the idea to start a business and call it “TraSh Bagz.”

That was the easy part. The hard part was coming up with a business to match.

Being artistic helped. So did being socially conscious and active. The germ of an idea grew into a business. The two take old, discarded handbags and use a variety of techniques and media to turn them into works of art. It’s haute couture with a green twist: trash to treasures, handbags to handiwork.

The creations are Cinderella stories in themselves — bags collected from vintage clothing shops and closets across the region turned into glamorous pieces decked out in sparkles and feathers and hot pinks and zebra stripes.

“All of them are one of a kind,” says Tisserat, displaying a host of bags piled up in the swank Chrysalis Boutique in Centennial, Colo., south of Denver. “You’re never going to see someone with the same bag. You get one of our bags, you know it’s something special, and you’ve done something good for the environment by recycling a bag.”

Tisserat, 26, and Sambrano, 32, toil as much as 20 hours a week, sometimes more, on the complexities of designing, creating and marketing their creations, which sell for about $40 to $200 each in boutiques, mobile “trunk shows,” private “purse parties” and online.

The pair partners with area charities, donating 10 percent of their profits back into the community.

The two hope to make the company their full-time vocation soon. Deals are in the works to get TraSh Bagz in more stores in Denver, with an eye toward cities across the country. They’ve already seen orders come in from as far away as Hawaii.

But it all goes back to that one night when two friends dreamed of starting a business. As the labels on the bags note, “TraSh Bagz is a unique handbag company established over a cheap bottle of wine by an artist and designer who have an extreme passion for fashion and individuality.”


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