I’m very pleased to be able to share with you an interview with Jeep Collins, the son of famed handbag designer and maker, Enid Collins.
* How did Collins of Texas get its start?
Soon after World War II Frederic and Enid Collins came to Texas and bought a small ranch close to the town of Medina. Struggling to make a living as ranchers they began to use their talents and training to make things they could sell. Enid studied fashion design and fine art at Texas Woman’s University and Frederic studied engineering at the University of Michigan and was also a sculptor. Together they began to make leather handbags which she designed and he built on their kitchen table. Frederic sculpted brass ornaments for the handbags.
* How were ideas for new designs developed? Did Enid work as the sole designer?
She was the primary designer but Fred was also creative and had input especially in the ornaments. He was good at figuring out how to make things, first by hand and later when he built the factory he invented various jigs to make production easier. His father’s father was in the carriage building business in Michigan and his father invented things used in the early auto industry.
* My favorites are the box bags. Did Collins of Texas make the wooden boxes used as the handbag base?
At first they had someone make the boxes. When suddenly that source dried up Fred quickly acquired a large tent, until he could build a workshop, bought woodworking equipment and began producing them himself. The stock number prefix for the box bags was HH which stood for “high hopes.” The success of the box bags was a major step in the growth of the company.
* I know Collins was a family business. How were the Collins children involved in it?
Cynthia and I both worked summers in production. Later Cynthia modeled for a series of ads run in The New Yorker. She later went to Puerto Rico to train workers there in the factory.
* What were some of the most unusual bags produced?
The early leather ones were very unusual.
“Money Tree” comes to mind. Enid did so many designs. Every season she would have new ones ready to come out.
* Over the years I’ve found some unusual Collins of Texas items. What are some of the things, other than handbags, that the company produced?
Early on they made whatever they could sell. Frederic made bronze horse sculptures, bronze ashtrays (I have one of these from his maternal grandfather’s business, Alamo Explosives), and other bronze items. They also made leather belts with brass ornaments, leather sandals, papier mache mirror frames, paperie mache waste baskets, and papier mache broches.
* How big a problem were knock-offs and copycats? Did Collins of Texas ever try to take action against any of these copiers?
There was always much business discussion at home and I remember my mother especially discussing it but I do not think there was ever any action taken. Their philosophy was to always stay ahead with new things coming out constantly.
* Did the company copyright the designs? I know there is a copyright symbol on some bags under the “ec” signature.
* I’ve read that the business was sold to Tandy in 1970, with Enid continuing to work for them for a short while. What happened to end this arrangement?
The company took a new direction not wanting to be dependant on any one designer. This was difficult for her as a person because she built the company and now had to let others run it a different way. Being semi-retired she then began to use her artistic talents in other things: ceramics, painting, stitchery, and other media.
* And, most importantly, was a bag with a Scotty dog motif ever produced (please say yes!)?
And I’m still looking for that Collins of Texas Scotty bag!
Photo of Enid Collins in her studio courtesy of Christian Collins.