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Bag-Lady Chic 

“I’m pretty funky. I mean, I’m all tattooed,” says Beebe Bags creator Ellen Baxter, describing her nonconformist approach to fashion. Baxter, who fearlessly pairs satin and polyester without thinking it a heinous crime, sells her handmade tote bags at New Frontiers and Coalition (a Monterey Street skate company).

click to enlarge CAN’T SEEM TO GET ENOUGH :  Ellen Baxter sits surrounded by her bags, which are selling like hotcakes in several San Luis Obispo locations. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • CAN’T SEEM TO GET ENOUGH : Ellen Baxter sits surrounded by her bags, which are selling like hotcakes in several San Luis Obispo locations.

Baxter apparently has a head for numbers. She cites March 30 as the exact day she embarked on her tote-bag odyssey, and 44 as the total number of bags she made in her first batch, all of which were snatched up within six weeks, at $20 apiece. Now that the bags have found stardom in San Luis Obispo—Baxter’s home for only the past seven months— they retail for as much as $40 or $50.

A fashion design student at Cuesta College, Baxter says she’s inspired by the sight of women on the street sporting her recycled, wearable art. The Goodwill-bad-girl look of her bags mirrors Baxter’s bent for street-tough attitude and second-hand fabric. The bags are comfortable and chic, though the pattern is a simple one. There are no duplicates, as each piece is handmade one at a time.

Baxter, a New Frontiers employee, originally had a reusable designer grocery bag in mind when she set out to create Beebe Bags. But the bags gained popularity more as a fashion statement than a shopping necessity. Her most recent design features one strap instead of two, allowing the bags to drape luxuriously across the body.

The daughter of a seamstress, Baxter has long been interested in fashion—“since I could thread the [sewing] machine by myself,” she says. Baxter already holds an Associates Degree in Interior Design. Once she began seriously studying fashion, however, she “aced everything.” Baxter represented Cuesta at the Fashion Symposium in Los Angeles in April, where the community college placed fourth, thanks to Baxter’s designs. Baxter decided to pursue a fashion career, aspiring to eventually work in Los Angeles as a pattern maker.

Like her bags, Ellen Baxter’s clothes are often made completely from scratch. People ask her where she got her short jackets, 1940s and ‘50s-style dresses, and naturally, “skeleton shirts made from old He-Man sheets.” But everything Baxter makes is an unrepeatable creation. 

Coalition is located on Monterey Street in downtown SLO, between Booboo Records and Urban Outfitters. Also check out the selection of Beebe Bags at New Frontiers, located on 896 Foothill Blvd. in San Luis Obispo.



Intern Anna Weltner compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business news to

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