Q&A With Ellie Schwing, Founder of Bene

Tell us about yourself. Where are you from and where do you live now?

I am from New Orleans but currently live in Rome, Italy. 

What did you do before starting Bene Handbags?

I lived in Central America working for a private equity firm on a real estate development project. I love traveling and immersing myself in other cultures, so I decided to move to Italy and figure out what my next chapter in life was. 

Tell us about your company. When did you launch? Where are you based? Why did you start it?

BENE is a luxury accessories brand rooted in the Italian tradition of luxury leather craftsmanship and inspired by the colorful culture of my native New Orleans. Each BENE bag is lined with custom printed fabric featuring original artwork by New Orleans Female Artists. I’ve spent most of my adult life living in historic centers with cobblestone streets, which inherently makes traveling with a rolling suitcase impossible. With my love for handbags and travel I was determined to make the perfect travel tote that blended the love of my 2 worlds: Italy & New Orleans. I launched BENE winter 2016 to some close friends and family while spending the next year learning, listening and developing what BENE would/could be! 

What has your last year looked like? How has COVID-19 impacted your business?

WOW! This past year has been one for the books. I left Italy on March 3rd 2020 on one of the last flights out of Rome. It was really difficult to leave my home not knowing when I could return. I landed to my entire spring tour being canceled so I quickly shifted my focus of BENE, lending my manufacturing expertise in support of the local entrepreneurial community in New Orleans, my hometown. In a matter of days, we were able to organize a group of 200 sewers, who, in three months, have provided over 250,000 masks and 30,000 gowns for our local medical facilities and frontline workers. 

What is your current mantra?

The cup is always half full, not half empty :) OH, and to breathhhhh!  

What are some routines you’ve been enjoying lately?

I never really have a routine. I travel a ton, but one thing I always try to do is go for a run wherever I am. It allows me to soak up the current city I’m in and it’s always been a great way for me to organize all my thoughts and go through my task-list for the day! 

What is your go-to outfit?

A pair of wide leg black pants ALWAYS. I have at least a dozen pairs, by all different designers and some may say they all look the same...but not to me :) 

Any books, movies, tv shows or podcasts to recommend?

Oh there are so many!! I love podcasts...when I am traveling and want the time to go by, I love listening to Armchair Experts. When I want my fashion fix, I listen to What We Wore by Laura Vinroot Poole, and when I need a little bit of inspiration being a young independent designer, I listed to How I Built This or Second Life. 

Are you planning any trips this year? What places are you most looking forward to visiting when life opens back up again?

Yes, I will live in a tiny beach town south of the Amalfi Coast all summer. I love it there. It takes me back a century in time and it's one of the most authentic Italian experiences. Then, I always bop over to Capri, and fingers crossed we’ll be able to get into Greece! 

Congratulations on launching your spring collection! What was your biggest inspiration? What is your favorite bag?

I usually draw my inspiration from walking the streets of Rome. It depends on the day but whether I am in a museum or coffee shop I’m constantly studying my surroundings and absorbing color palettes or strong hues! My favorite piece is a new everyday tote called The Robert. I particularly love this tote in our Buffalo hide with the large Croc stamp. I like to wear it with our capsule collection Keep Your Head Up strap benefiting Preservation Hall of New Orleans! I also love the Blakemore in Bordeaux gator. I bike a lot in Rome so having a bag that I can bike with my laptop in it is a huge plus! And the Bordeaux with a camel trench coat is just the perfect comb! 

You can shop all of BENE Handbags on Modatrova here.

Below are Ellie's Modatrova favorites.