North End Bag Co. is located on 19th street in Virginia Beach. Two broad, tall windowed doors stand at the border of the shop. Before even walking through the threshold, the rich, woodsy smell of leather floats out into the street inviting friends, strangers and locals to take a step within the narrow shop that is home to the husband and wife artist team of Aaron and Sarah McLellan.
“Like everyone else, I was trying to find my way after college,” said Aaron. “I tried construction jobs and management jobs at restaurants. I learned useful skills, but felt empty.”
He felt another path was calling for him.
“My mother is a seamstress so I learned to sew at a young age. I just wanted to sew things and sell them,” he said. “I like to live simply. Sewing is simple. Make something and sell it. So North End came to be because I went after a dream.”
The shop is a complete representation of the creation process, from start to finish. Finished bags adorn the walls, ready to go home with a customer, while tools, material, antique machinery and sewing stations lined with spools of thread fill the space between the walls.
“For everyday use,” the company’s motto reads, “like hands, like hearts.”
North End, founded in 2012, is known for their handmade, quality, simple, resilient bags. They have an arrangement of totes, duffle bags and purses, as well as aprons, bracelets and pouches. Their products are solely made from American sourced textiles, a core value of the brand.
“At North End Bag Company, you get six hands making your bag,” Sarah and Aaron wrote on their blog, “pounding rivets, stitching leather, designing and sewing. You get quality textiles that support other American business. Six hands… each makes its mark that makes each bag unique… makes each bag ready for your everyday adventures.”
Aaron and Sarah have one full time employee, and each Christmas, to meet the demands of their orders, Aaron flies his mom down from Boston to sit at the sewing table next to him.
“Every stitch matters,” Aaron said. “Every bit of it is intentional. I grew in Boston watching my father get up every morning at 4:30 to go to work. He still does it. I haven’t encountered anyone with more dedication, hard work, consistency, and loyalty.”
He’s made these values the core of his business.
“I don’t care about being flashy like the big companies,” he said. “I care about doing things right to the best of my ability. I care about making something that I can feel good about making. Something that lasts.”
Beyond what he learned from his mother, Aaron spent time interning at the Knickerbocker Mfg. Co. factory in Brooklyn, New York, to hone his craft. The knowledge and craftsmanship he learned from that experience were instrumental in the work he produces today for his customers.
“I’m still in contact with the owner of the company I worked for and have even gone up to further my skills and the skills of our employees through some workshops,” he said. “It’s our passion. We are crazy about sewing and creating on old machinery.”
Check them out on Instagram (@northendbagco) or better yet, just stop by and say hello one morning, they’d love to have you.