'American Idol' Alum Kimberly Caldwell Launches Accessories Line
The season two finalist has designs on a new career: creating one-of-a-kind backpacks, totes and mini-purses, among other handbag products. Plus, she reveals her season 12 favorite.
In the 10 years since she competed on American Idol, Kimberly Caldwell has hosted programs for the TV Guide Network, recorded an album for a major label and played hundreds of gigs all over the world, from Hollywood to Vietnam. Now, she has designs on a new career. The season two finalist has started her own company, Stage Presents, and is designing leather purses and bags.
“I‘ve said for a long time that I would love to do an accessory line of some kind,” the fashion-conscious Caldwell tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I wanted to design something that has an edge but still has class, but I didn’t know what that ‘something’ was. And even when I started creating this, I didn’t know what it was. It just happened.”
Caldwell describes the evolution of her new business: “I’ve always been creative and love throwing things together, like cutting up big, ugly T-shirts and making them into tank tops for me and all my little sisters. I love knitting, and I knew I wanted to work with my hands. I was at a fabric store and saw this big cardboard box filled with plastic bags of leather scraps. I bought the whole box and started piecing them together. I had a sewing machine that I bought two years ago and it was still in the box and I didn’t know how to sew. I didn’t know how to make a bag. I didn’t know anything. I started making little clutches, folding them over and using pyramid studs to connect them. It was fun, and I thought I could really get into this.”
Caldwell took some classes and bought a better sewing machine. “To sew leather, you can’t just use a rinky-dink machine,” she explains. Next, she made her first visit to a leather shop. “There were two women there who took me under their wing and showed me the tools that I needed. I started making things, and I would get frustrated sometimes, and some bags that you’ll see were remade three different times because I wasn’t happy with the way they came out. I’m literally self-taught. Every single time I make something, I get better, and every time I get better, the bags get cooler. My sister Kristy is my biggest fan in the whole world. For Christmas, I made backpacks for her and my four little nieces. When I came in with this big black bag from the airport she said, ‘Oh, that bag’s cool.’ I told her, ‘I made this one,’ and she said, ‘No, you didn’t.’ She called me a liar, and so I knew that the bag was really good when she didn’t believe I made it. That’s when I knew I’d really accomplished something.”
Caldwell described to THR how she works with the material. “If it’s a huge piece of leather, I’ll see a vision of what I want it to be, and I’ll find a suspender or a belt that goes with it. But if it’s a smaller piece of leather, then I sit on the floor and I fold it 50 different ways until I feel it’s right, and that’s when I actually cut the leather. Once you cut the leather, it’s cut and it’s expensive so I try not to mess up too often, but I do. I’ll get frustrated but then I find that every single time I mess up, the bag gets better. So I’m lucky when it comes to that.”
Creating a fashion line has affected Caldwell in some unexpected ways when it comes to her own style. “I carry one of my own bags every time I leave the house,” she explains. “Therefore I don’t want to leave in pajamas because my bags are really cute, so sometimes I have to throw on a couple more accessories and actually put on some leather boots if I’m going out of the house, instead of flip-flops, to go with my fabulous purse. Now, I can’t walk out the door with somebody else’s bag on. And I don’t let any of my sisters or my friends and family walk around with any other bags on either, so they’re always carrying Stage Presents at all times. I don’t know what to do with all of my other bags. I may have to give them away.”
The Caldwell collection already includes a wide variety of products. “I have men’s big travel backpacks that are distressed and rugged with industrial straps, and then I have shiny tote bags that are good for traveling, and then I have just little mini-purses that are good for everyday but still stylish and go with everything. And I do a lot of black and brown so you can kind of wear it with everything. Working with scraps made me not want to do little pieces anymore, so I really like doing larger pieces. Backpacks have become one of my No. 1 sellers.”
Caldwell’s fashion work is not keeping her away from music. “I’m probably going to have to get a few elves to start helping me out because I’m working with my producer and guitar player, Andrew Dixon, who is also one of my best friends in the whole world. I write so well with him. We performed for LA Fashion Weekend and their awards show. We have a really cool musical bond. We have the same vision and the same ideas. We’re writing with no one telling us what to do and how to fit inside the box because that’s what I’ve been told to do for a very long time. I’m at an age where I couldn’t be happier to be who I am, to be who I’ve become, and I finally trust myself and trust my instincts and ideas, and I’m finally willing to allow myself to lay it all out there. So we’re going to write and record the entire album in his studio, and we’re working with a lot of our musician friends that are coming in and laying down their instruments for us, and I’m really, really excited about it.”
Caldwell also is keeping an eye on season 12 of American Idol, blogging about the semi-weekly episodes for E! Online. What does she think of the show one decade on? “I think it’s cool how the producers have stepped it up so it’s looking like a newer, fresher show, especially with all the other vocal competition television shows out there right now," Caldwell offers. "I’ve always thought of American Idol as a personality competition as well as a singing competition, so I like that they’re giving the contestants more time to show their personalities and do their thing, and that’s what I like about Janelle Arthur. She’s so Kellie Pickler. She knows how to reel them in. She knows how to hook that audience.”
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