The Lake Tahoe-based designer Melissa Michelsen comes from a (really, really) long line of Danish artisans—including a father who is a well-known woodworker—but the last thing she thought she would be when she grew up was a designer. “I said, ‘I’ll be an artist, but I won’t sell what I make for a living’—because I saw what a struggle it was,” Melissa explains. But, in the end, after spending her weekends in her dad’s workshop and tagging along with him on art-show excursions, she just couldn’t help herself.
Melissa’s initiation into the family business of sorts began when she decided to create just one bag for a friend’s birthday, and she soon found herself fielding orders from other pals and local boutiques. Despite her initial resistance, in 2000, she launched Love Mert, an eco-friendly line named after her great-great-grandmother Mert who designed extravagant gowns for New York socialites in the early 1900s.
Today, Melissa works out of what she’s dubbed a “chaotically organized” shop that bears a striking resemblance to her father’s own space. “When you buy one of my products, I want you to think about the little things, like how you shouldn’t use overuse paper towels or how you should conserve water,” she explains of her very conscientious pieces, made mostly of leather, wood, and hand-printed textiles. “I try to do more than just make a sustainable handbag.” We bet she’s also making her dad very proud. —monica derevjanik