Dig Baton Rouge

The Root of It All

By Haylie Navarre

Fanny pack, bum bag, waist pouch—however you describe the iconic ‘80s “hip” accessory, it doesn’t stand out as something the modern day fashionista would covet. That was, until Celeste Austin got her hands on it.

Austin is the owner and designer of SavvyRoot and the one-woman force behind the brand’s hand-made accessories produced here in Baton Rouge. She designed the “fancy pack,” a handbag with five wearable options, one of which is around the waist.

“You know you really want a fanny pack, but you know that’s not cool,” said Austin.

So she made it cool. The intricately designed bag has a chain that can be adjusted to be worn cross-body or completely removed to be used as a clutch. The driving force behind the design is versatility. Really, that’s Austin’s intention behind each piece she creates: taking basics and making them multifunctional.

The first piece that she produced commercially is her signature “snap scarf.” Austin said that she always felt a scarf looked unfinished, “like the edges needed a facelift.”

She experimented with different fabrics to add sophistication to the common wardrobe staple, and decided that leather looked best. She took the guess work out of styling by adding snap-closures down the length of the edges, to fasten the garment into one simple shape.

“One of my thought processes is trying to keep it simple, but being savvy,” Austin said.

: SavvyRoot founder Celeste Austin aims to bring handcrafted style to fashionistas of BR. Photo courtesy of Kaela Rodehorst Photography/SavvyRoot.com
SavvyRoot founder Celeste Austin aims to bring handcrafted style to fashionistas of BR. Photo courtesy of Kaela Rodehorst Photography/SavvyRoot.com

Simplicity is key. All of Austin’s accessories are made in-house and by hand. Not only does a simple design make her pieces easily versatile, but it allows her to keep up with the ever-growing demand. She has to consider pieces that she can construct quickly, but are still very detailed.

She’s a stickler for quality control—she’s dropped manufacturers in the past because she felt the result just wasn’t up to her standards.

“I enjoy putting that personal, local touch on it.”

The self-taught seamstress bought her first sewing machine just three years ago. It was a hobby that came about from changing the covers on her throw pillows. She was hand-sewing her own pillowcases, adding a little flair to change the look of her living room, when she realized that she would be able to construct more with a machine.

Before launching her own website, Austin began selling her hand-made pieces in November 2013 through a page on Etsy, a retail site for crafts. Within the first three months, she had landed her line in eight local boutiques.

“It kind of took off without me,” Austin said regarding her speedy success.

She works hard to keep up with it. A typical day starts at 6:30 a.m., with e-mails and checking in on SavvyRoot’s social media accounts. Austin said she likes to start each day by sharing an inspirational quote, which she confesses is really more to motivate herself.

Around 8 a.m. she starts sewing and works on production through 6 p.m. She takes a small break for errands and maybe spending a little time with her boyfriend before returning to the grind. These days, Austin tries to wrap things up around 9 p.m., but during busy seasons she’s often working well into the early morning hours.

The dedication to her craft often causes Austin to fore-go one of her favorite activities: happy hour. This in turn inspired one of her latest collections, the “cocktail” line.

“I was able to love [happy hour] through leather.”

The handbags and clutches were designed with cocktail-inspired names like “Sazerac” and “French 75,” Austin’s favorite libation. The fabrics were also chosen to reflect the colors of their respective beverages.

Color is important. Austin, like many artists, abides by the PANTONE color system. She uses the resource to see up and coming color trends, and will often incorporate the name of PANTONE’s chosen “color of the year” into the name of her product. But ultimately, she makes her own decisions on style.

“I don’t like to follow trends, at all,” she confidently stated, “I like to create trends.”

Her biggest problem with fads is that eventually they go out of style, wasting closet space and money. But what if there was a low-risk way to try out a trend before committing to a pricey investment? Austin used this concept to embrace the currently trending fringe look. She created an anklet that can transform any pair of heels into fringe booties.

“That saves you the money of buying a whole new pair of heels.”

Austin doesn’t like to make commitments until she’s 100 percent sure about her choice, be that a design or her plans for the brand in the future. While she hopes to see the brand expand globally, she likes that right now everything is done locally.

“I take pride in that I can contribute to my great state in that way.”

Austin finds it important to give back to the community that supports her. Last December, she was in line at a fabric store behind a woman buying material to make blankets for the homeless population. Austin immediately volunteered to help, despite it being right in the middle of her busiest season.

“I didn’t even give it a second thought,” Austin said.

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