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For now Central Oregon entrepreneur Melissa Kuchta only dreams of traveling to Bali. The Bend mother of two has never been to the Indonesian Island often described as paradise with white sandy beaches, volcanic mountains and lush jungle landscapes. It is the island’s cultural side that made this remote island in the Indian Ocean the ideal spot to start her handbag and footwear company. “Bali is an amazing island, full of soul and culture, with so many amazing artisans. It is also a haven for making high quality leather products,” says Kuchta.
Kuchta says she always knew she would work in fashion. Nearly a decade ago, she began making plans to launch her own footwear and handbag company. “The U.S. is impossible because of expenses, I didn’t want to go to China, and I was drawn to Bali,” Kuchta recalls.
So via the Internet, Kuchta began searching Bali for someone to help make her dream of creating handmade shoes and handbags a reality. That someone is Russian born leather manufacturer and designer Olga Luchanskaya. “We just clicked instantly. Our design sense, our attention to quality and customer service are all the same,” says Kuchta. In 2009 the two women, living worlds apart, launched their footwear and handbag company: Elf, which stands for Everyone. Living. Free. Kuchta says with a chuckle, “Our name may not have huge inspiration; we just liked it.”
Luchanskaya lives in Bali and oversees all production. Kuchta is responsible for distribution. “Elf shoes and handbags are in 50 stores nationwide, as well as Japan, Australia, and Canada,” Kuchta says with pride. Kuchta and Luchanskaya work together diligently, designing new styles each season. “We have 400 different styles of shoes and an extensive handbag line. We add new styles to our collection every six months,” says Kuchta. To minimize impact on the environment, paper comes from locally sourced cocoa plants, and all the leather is hand dyed on the island. Elf products are not made with large machines. “I think what sets us apart is everything we do is truly made by hand. Even our patterns are cut by hand,” says Kuchta. “When we say handmade, we really mean it. Every pair of shoes is double and triple checked,” says Kuchta.
At the end of this month Kuchta will debut her shoes in Bend with her first ever Central Oregon Elf Footwear and Handbag Trunk Show at Desperado in the Old Mill District. “I will have samples of my spring collection available for people to see and feel,” says Kuchta. She’ll also have leather and color samples and a tape measure to ensure perfect fit. “People will have the opportunity to order whatever they want. What’s most important to us is customer service. We make it right,” says Kuchta.
Elf footwear runs about $110-$190 a pair. Handbags cost about $110 for a clutch to weekend travel bags retailing for about $320. The Elf – Everyone. Living. Free. Trunk Show will be held on Saturday, May 30th from 12:00-7:00pm at Desperado in the Old Mill District at 330 SW Powerhouse Drive.