From a love of two North Ends—of Boston and the North End of Virginia Beach—Aaron McLellan and his wife, Sarah, started North End Bag Company with just one sewing machine. A North Boston native, Aaron moved to Virginia to attend Christopher Newport University. After graduating, he felt drawn to a new North End at the beach. With a background in construction and restaurant management, Aaron’s ambitions were elsewhere. “I’ve always had a passion to make and build things. My mother taught me when I was a kid to sew hats and bags,” he says.
Now, his mother flies down from Boston to help during busy seasons. As Aaron sews, Sarah and his sister, Melissa, cut the leather and put the finishing touches on the bags. “With our company, you know the makers,” he says.
In 2013, the McLellans began their business out of their beach cottage by word of mouth and an Etsy shop before moving to Birdneck Road. With the New Year, they’ve set up shop in the ViBe Creative District to join a handful of other creatives in this growing nook at the beach. The new shop features a showroom with a much larger workspace for their growing brand. All of their bags are crafted with the sturdiest full-grain leather that’s less processed and of the highest quality they can find in the U.S. “The most important thing to us is not to look cool,” he says. “Making something that will last decades of use is our goal.”
Their sewing equipment dates back as early as the '20s, and their presses, cutting machines and rivet and grommet machines are antique as well. “We love working with the old equipment. I had to get some newer ones without a lot of soul, but one day they will [have it], too,” he says. Currently, they make two sizes of duffel bags, a backpack, crossbody purses, messenger bags, totes and aprons, and they're in the process of adding an all-leather briefcase to the lineup.
North End Bag Co. is located at 607 19th Street, Unit B, Virginia Beach. Custom orders are available. Prices range from $40–$550. Bags can be purchased at NorthEndBagCo.com, at the shop or during weekend pop-ups. To find where they’ll pop up, follow them on Facebook or Instagram @northendbagco.