In an age of chains and fast fashion, Denver’s Winter Session is a refreshing brand. Upon entering their boutique located at 3833 Steele Street, the difference is obvious. Inside you’ll find a minimal space that is used to display products such as bags and wallets. This is to put an emphasis on Winter Session’s ideologies of simple design and high craftsmanship.
Created in 2010 by husband and wife duo Roy Katz and Tanya Fleisher, Winter Session has seen a growth in popularity throughout the years. That’s because their simply-made products, such as canvas bags and leather goods, are hand-made to compliment just about anyone’s personal style.
“We believe simple designs are the most satisfying to use,” said Tanya Fleisher, owner of Winter Session. Their products are well-made and crafted with the highest quality in mind. Not only are these products easy to mix and match, the best part is that they’re unisex, allowing for maximum versatility. We visited their Five Points location to speak with Fleisher about design, starting a small business, and their return to Denver.
303: Tell our readers a bit about more about Winter Session. Why it was created?
Tanya Fleisher: We started Winter Session in 2010 as a way to channel our past experiences in art, design and architecture into a project that felt accessible, practical and human. We were drawn to bags because of their utilitarian function and universal appeal; everyone needs a way to carry around the things they care about. At the time we recognized a growing need and demand for timeless and durable yet design-conscious carry goods. We felt that we could bring our eye for refinement and obsession with details to a growing movement of small-batch, USA-made products.
“We make things for people who care about how things are made.”
303: Why did you choose for your designs to be more simple and minimal? What kind of customer is shopping the brand?
TF: We believe simple designs are the most satisfying to use. Our world is becoming more and more cluttered with information, images and objects of distraction. We hope that the versatile function, understated aesthetic and comfortable style of our products will actually help our customers focus and simplify — ultimately leading to greater productivity and peace of mind. We value integrity, longevity and intention, and every part of our business — from the design to the process to the product — is done with focus, thought and care.
We make things for people who care about how things are made. Our customers are men and women, students and teachers, designers and lawyers, entrepreneurs and adventurers, who are looking to invest in things that will last, who believe in supporting responsible manufacturing and who connect with the refined utilitarian aesthetic that we have developed.
303: Where does the name “Winter Session” come from and how did you choose it?
TF: In our late twenties we spent a couple of life-transforming years in Mumbai, India, working for a design-build architecture firm. Grappling daily with the seemingly contradictory nature of an unfamiliar reality, we struggled to adjust to the constant changes happening around us. We were riding across town in a taxi one day and when we stopped, a stranger in a business suit opened the door for us and mysteriously welcomed us to the city, exclaiming, ‘Winter Session has begun!’ That cryptic phrase (we later learned he was referring to the commencement of a new Parliamentary season), stuck with us.
Years later, when we were searching for a name for our new canvas and leather goods company, those words suddenly came back. To us, the name Winter Session represents shift and change, which is what starting (and running) a small creative business is all about.
303: You guys started the workshop in Chicago; why did you choose to return to Denver?
TF: We should probably mention that both Roy and I grew up in Colorado. We met (and briefly dated) while attending high school in the mountains. Fast forward to Chicago at the tail-end of the 2008-2010 recession: on a whim, we started a side project making bags and aprons after Roy’s architecture projects had slowed and Tanya had just finished a graduate art program in Fiber and Material Studies.
We ran our new business out of a small storefront apartment for the next two years, until we realized that Winter Session was becoming something bigger — something that needed its own space and also something that could actually support us. At that point we had been living, working and studying in various cities for almost fifteen years, and we decided it was time to return to our beautiful home state. We briefly considered moving to a small mountain town, but decided Denver was a more suitable place to continue to grow our business. We couldn’t have been happier with the move.
303: How has it been since your return to Denver? What is the reaction like from local consumers?
TF: We moved to Denver and set up shop in Five Points during the winter of 2013, in the midst of the massive change and growth that has put this city back on the national map. Denver welcomed us with open arms in so many ways, and we are grateful to be plugged into a strong network of like-minded small entrepreneurs here — not to mention being just a hop, skip and a jump away from the mountains.
Our local customer base has grown steadily and organically, and our products are a great fit for the casual, active urban lifestyle here. We continue to receive more and more visitors to our shop and studio, and we’ve enjoyed connecting with the community at events and pop-ups like the Denver Flea. We’ve also outfitted several local cafes in our aprons and forged some great collaborations with shops (Armitage & McMillan), brands (Journeyman & Co.), photographers (Luca Venter) and chefs (Jeff Osaka).
303: Like many companies, you guys started out at a small scale and have grown quickly. What advice would you have for young entrepreneurs trying to start up a business, especially here in Denver?
TF: Relatively speaking, our growth has actually been fairly slow and steady. But since scale is magnified when you’re this small, then yes, we have grown quite a bit! Besides taking on some investment for our most recent move into a much larger space, we have grown the business organically with a limited budget. Throughout our journey we have drawn significant support from what we like to call ‘the magic of the internet,’ our brick-and-mortar wholesale accounts around the country, our friends and fellow entrepreneurs here in Denver and elsewhere and of course, our customers!
Our biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to start up their own business is simply to make sure you REALLY want to start your own business. It’s certainly not easy. If you do decide to start something on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out to friends, other business owners or anyone you admire for help and advice (it can be especially helpful to ask people outside of your field, because they won’t feel threatened by potential competition, yet their experience will no doubt be relevant to what lies ahead for you).
303: What do you guys have in the works for fall and upcoming winter season?
TF: Fall is in full swing here at Winter Session. We recently launched three new colorways along with some new bag styles, including a roll-top backpack and a waxed canvas dopp kit. We’ll be releasing a larger weekender bag later this month, as well as a cocktail roll that we’re really excited about. We also have some new leather pieces in the works that are more homegoods-oriented.
303: Anything else you’d like to add?
TF: Yes, our new workshop and retail showroom is up and running and we would like to invite you to come visit! We’re in a really cool warehouse complex not far from RiNo, and we’re sharing our space with a coffee roaster; so you can come support two businesses in one stop. If you’re not able to drop by in person, you can follow along on instagram (@winter_session) or sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop. We’ll be hosting a grand opening later this fall, as well as some other special holiday events and launches, so stay tuned!