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DC Designers: Pauline Lewis

Every week in DC Designers we highlight a local designer who has caught our eye.

What: Colorful hand-embroidered purses made by women in developing countries. The mission of Oovoo designs is to empower those women financially so they can support themselves and their families while working from home.

Who: Pauline Lewis, the company’s founder and codesigner. Originally from Malaysia, Pauline started Oovoo after she moved to Alexandria six years ago.

Where: The handbags are sold all over the country; call 866-996-6866 to find a store. Some local shops that carry them include ShoeFly in Arlington, Red Orchard in Bethesda, and Hoopla Traders in DC’s Adams Morgan.

Making an impact across the globe: Pauline had been working for ten years in market research when she took a trip to Vietnam that gave her the idea to start a handbag line. She met local women there who were making handbags but couldn’t afford to work from home. One woman in particular, Le Thi Hong Tu, agreed to work with Pauline to codesign an exclusive handbag line that would give something back to those women she’d met. Pauline now visits Vietnam twice a year.

“I just wanted to do something of my own,” she says. “I wanted to take the best practices from the companies that I’d worked with and start a company that would be for profit, but mold it with the social responsibility of nonprofit companies.”

Stand out from the crowd: Trends may come and go, but Pauline says Oovoo is here to stay: “People see our bags as classics that will be around for a long time. I think Oovoo sets its own trend, and people find us, not the other way around.” The designs of the bags have Eastern and Western influences, and she describes the bags as a little boho with exciting combinations of textures, materials, and colors.

It’s really happening: The first time Pauline saw a woman in public with an Oovoo handbag, she was grocery shopping with her husband. “He said, ‘Look honey, there’s an Oovoo bag in the grocery store, and it’s not you carrying it!’ I was kind of nervous to see someone else carry an Oovoo bag who wasn’t a family friend or me. It made my heart go pitter-patter.”

Pauline’s faves:
Place to shop for clothes: Hoopla Traders in Adams Morgan, Sweet November in Georgetown, and Free People in Clarendon.
Place to shop for shoes: ShoeFly in Arlington.
Restaurant: “Central Michel Richard is one of my new faves at the moment.”
Ideal day in DC: Taking in a couple of museums, walking around the Mall, eating lunch at Leopold’s Kafe in Georgetown, and topping it all off with a trip to Georgetown Cupcake.

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