News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters graduate is making a living as an artist

Paige Bruguier graduated from Sisters High School in 2011. In school, she excelled in the arts from music to ceramics and jewelry making.

Bruguier was born on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. Her family moved to Sisters when she was starting the sixth grade.

With creative and supportive parents, and great teachers like Mike Baynes at Sisters High School, her creativity unfurled in music and working with metal in a jewelry-making class.

“Working with metal really clicked for me,” she said. “That’s what made me want to attend accessory design school.

Her company, J Paige Handbags, is located in Bend. She does all the designing, sewing, and cutting in-house for her one-of-a-kind creations. Working primarily with leather, and the limited quantity of each hide, means each bag is always unique. The leather and all the findings are sourced in the U.S. from various tanneries and manufacturers. She looks for hides that will be durable and luxurious to the touch. Her personal style radiates through her work revealing an appealing, creative perspective infused into all her products.

Art classes in school, and her parents’ own artistic endeavors, helped create a strong foundation for her future as a professional artist.

“I spent all of my time in the art room in high school. I played music too, but art was my first love,” she recalled. “I’m glad I grew up in such a creative town like Sisters, where students learned how to support one another and collaborate.”

Like many small-batch makers, the pandemic has impacted her business. But her pieces are still in stores from Bainbridge Island in Washington to Big Sky, Montana and Sun Valley, Idaho.

“COVID made it all so different. Shops are struggling to support people like me,” Brugier said. “I’ve been doing more online direct sales and I’m moving more into the wholesale world right now.”

J Paige Handbags produces a variety of leather products like wallets, pouches, totes, backpacks, cross-body’s, mini-packs, and roll-top backpacks. Products are sold locally in Bend at Found Natural Goods next to Pine Tavern and at Outside In next to Tower Theatre.

Like so many artisans, Bruguier worked hard creating designs that reflected her sense of style and zest for life. She found that simplicity, clean lines, and user-friendly products hit the mark and were pleasing to her customers. Bruguier goes easy on embellishments. One signature look for her designs is chunky brass hardware and soft, luxurious leather.

Her first big break came when she had the opportunity to do a pop-up show at lululemon in Bend.

“That really helped launch my business and gave me good exposure and new customers,” she said. “It’s been five years now and I see people in town carrying my bags and people are recognizing my brand.” Her two most popular bags are an oversized tote, called the Margeux Tote and her Kara Backpack that has a very simple, sleek design with a zipper.

Bruguier describes being a small-batch maker and entrepreneur as truly amazing.

“I can’t see myself working for anyone. It’s rewarding to be my own boss and be driven and motivated. It’s fulfilling to support myself as an artist. I love having my own schedule. It’s been really great and incredibly challenging. COVID really slowed down business. I had to hustle and find ways to stay afloat. I created more, designed more, and started thinking outside the box.”

One new offering from her company required her to utilize her sewing skills.

“I did an outdoor kitchen cover for a client,” she said.

Bruguier is investigating her next move.

“I want to work with a manufacturer in the States, so I can focus more on designing instead of making everything myself,” she said. “I’m also taking it a step further with marketing and reaching a larger audience.”

Living and learning in Sisters instilled the importance of being supportive of other artists.

“We could share our knowledge and know it would be reciprocated,” she said. “There are a lot of bag makers and artists in Bend. It’s nice to be part of a community of talented people who support each other.”

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