By Ashley Breeding
A graduate of the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, industrial designer Bri Brant set out to build one-of-a-kind furniture pieces. Instead, the Chadds Ford native found herself taking a different path, dabbling in natural materials, including linen and leather crafts. When she couldn’t find the style of tote she’d been shopping for, she made it herself. Brant subsequently launched her handbag business, Arden + James, a decade ago with an eponymous tote that has become her brand’s signature. Throughout her career, Brant’s designed exclusive collections for Urban Outfitters, Longwood Gardens and the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Two years ago she opened a boutique within her family’s charming Chadds Ford Barn Shops. There, she combines eco-friendly sensibilities with function and durability.
MLT: Why leather and linen?
BB: A professor once told me to be true to the materials—choose those I love and create from there—and I’m drawn to these organic materials. I source saddle leather from a historic Pennsylvania vegetable tannery—one of only two left in the U.S.—where it’s treated with plant tannins. I like the grainy texture this brings out and the patina it develops over time.
MLT: What inspires you?
BB: The late Victorian Eastlake style—classic but functional, and without frills. I think that we [as a society] have an appreciation for that again. All the excess isn’t making us happy. We want simplicity and longevity.
MLT: How does your collection reflect that?
BB: The simplicity is in the materials and design, and they’re made to last like a tool bag. You can load them full, drag them around, beat them up, wipe them down and even hose them out. I sew using the thickest thread, then burn the edges and finish them with pure copper so they never come loose.
MLT: How can you style your bags?
BB: The styles—from totes to bucket bags to wallets—work in all seasons, and custom detailing gives you the look and size you want. All straps are adjustable, so you can wear it over your shoulder or as a cross-body.
MLT: What’s your go-to bag?
BB: The Arden Tote. It’s a good size for all my stuff and my boys’ stuff. I also make leather key chains that clip right onto a hook inside the bag, so my keys are always at the top and easy to find.
MLT: How are you giving back?
BB: Aside from sourcing materials from local businesses, I donate any remnants I don’t use to local schools for arts and crafts—nothing goes to waste—and sales from my bags go back into the Chadds Ford Barn Shops. It’s a special place where I spent my own childhood, and I want to preserve it for future generations.