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Holding a green clutch from her new line of vegan handbags Eslla, Leigh Dorough ran her fingers over the exterior, which – in an eco-friendly touch – is made from cactus-based leather.
“I feel like he has the same flexibility. It is a luxury product. The construction is on par with any luxury brand,” Dorough said, sitting on her sofa next to her husband, Howie D of the Backstreet Boys.
“And when you look and touch the handbag, you realize there really is a great alternative – and you don’t have to destroy our planet to create something beautiful,” she said.
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Eslla is a young “ethically sourced luxury leather alternative” handbag brand co-founded by Leigh Dorough and her friend of over a decade, Charlotte Wienckoski. The start-up offers merchandise on its website at https://eslla.com, hoping to hit retail stores soon.
The Doroughs and Wienckoski, who live in Indian Harbor Beach, hosted a black-clad Eslla “soft launch” party for 250 to 300 guests Friday night at the Lansing Island Clubhouse.
“I’m just very proud. I’m very supportive,” project partner Howie D said. “I’ve always known Leigh as a go-getter. She has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. She’s very business oriented.”
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Wienckoski and Leigh Dorough have been designing and developing Eslla since 2020, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. After sketching out styles and brainstorming ideas, Wienckoski said she hired London-based handbag designer Carianne Moore and created her first prototype in August 2021.
The Eslla website offers three handbags — Dharma Crossbody ($455), Satori Clutch ($385), and Seva Tote ($535) — in four colors: White Star, Green Helen, Matte Black, and Beige Sand.
To produce the handbags, they partnered with Desserto, a Mexican company founded in 2019 that creates alternative leather from prickly pear leaves.
“Some handbags are cheap and say they’re vegan. You think you’re buying something awesome. But it’s made of PVC — which is basically plastic. And it goes to landfills,” Leigh Dorough said.
“It’s like using a disposable water bottle,” she said.
Wienckoski’s husband Tom and brother Chris Rossi are also Eslla’s launch partners. In May, Tom Wienckoski flew to Mexico to discuss the startup with the owners of Desserto and Howie D before a Backstreet Boys concert in Mexico City.
Eslla’s initial handbag production ended last month.
“Obviously we’re going to be going massively into social media, doing social media advertising. We’re going to be working with influencers,” Charlotte Wienckoski said.
“In addition to that, we’re going to start working on spring and summer for next year: ‘OK, do we change any of the designs? Are we adding different colors? And then thirdly, what other products are we going to introduce? ” ” she asked.
“We don’t want it to just be a three-way line. Eventually we will have different shapes, different sizes of handbags, different types of other accessories, even maybe belts. The market was a complete education for me, things I wasn’t aware of – and I was blown away by the industry,” she said.
In addition to his multi-platinum music career singing with the Backstreet Boys, Howie D made his mark on the Space Coast building scene. He and his brother John operate Dorough Brothers Development & Consulting, a Winter Park real estate development company that is building The Surf, a $35 million mixed-use condominium complex in downtown Cocoa Beach.
The brothers’ other projects in Brevard County include Flores Ocean Suites at Avon-by-the-Sea (15 units, completed July 2000), Flores del Mar at Cape Canaveral (33 units, completed June 2002), Flores de la Playa at Satellite Beach (18 units, completed October 2003), Flores de la Costa at Avon-by-the-Sea (14 units, completed June 2019), and Country Inn & Suites at Cape Canaveral (opened 2006).
A groundbreaking ceremony was held in March 2021 for The Surf, an oceanfront condo complex featuring ground-floor retail space and a second-floor pool between Minutemen Causeway and North First Street. Howie D said he hopes the crews will complete the job within eight months.
“We’re getting closer and closer. Unfortunately, with everyone in construction, we’ve had to deal with the ups and downs of delays. Probably our biggest delay has been getting into windows and framing outside,” Howie D. said.
Leigh Dorough is a vegetarian and she said Eslla’s mission aligned with her lifelong business plans.
“We’ve always discussed different ideas over the years. I haven’t always been a mother and a housewife. I was a producer for Warner Bros., and I had a career before that,” she said.
“I was a webmaster for the Backstreet Boys, which is how Howie and I met. And I always wanted to do something else as my kids grew up. And Charlotte always encouraged me to find the right thing “, she said.
“I grew up in a house where my mother was a holistic doctor. We were recycling in the 70s. She was always ahead of her time with that. So that really resonated with me, and Howie always knew me that way,” she said.
The Backstreet Boys’ ninth studio album, “DNA,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart in February 2019. The band is still wrapping up its world tour, which was postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Howie D will hit the road on October 3 in Lisbon, Portugal to kick off a Backstreet Boys tour across Europe with subsequent stops in Spain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, in Poland, Hungary, the United Kingdom and Belgium.
Meanwhile, “A Very Backstreet Christmas” – the band’s first holiday record – is set to be released on October 14.
Howie D said he would also focus on promoting Eslla to introduce its eco-friendly handbags to consumers.
“Now I feel like my value is going to come into play to raise awareness for our fans, especially, because I think our fans are going to eat this. Especially in the price range it’s in,” Howie D said.
“To me, it looks like a $2,000 handbag for a quarter of the price,” he said.
“It’s going to be fair in that sweet price for our fans who want a little something nice, but don’t really want to break the bank.”
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