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Corporate gal becomes handbag designer

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Ally Losness had a dream. She would graduate from University of San Diego with her degree in communications and get a high-powered corporate job.

Out of college, the San Clemente, Calif., resident became the marketing and communications specialist for a toll road company in San Diego.

But the job wasn't what she expected or trained for. Plus, she never knew when she could see her boyfriend at the time, pro surfer and globetrotter Mike Losness.

He would invite her to accompany him to places such as Bali or Egypt "but I wasn't just going to follow him," said Ally Losness, 25, who married him last year. "I wanted to go on my own terms."

Those terms became clear on a trip to Vietnam in 2007 — she would design, make and sell her own handbags inspired by her travels.

Her label, Moda Viajando, means "traveling fashion" in Spanish, a subject Losness minored in during college.

She uses canvas, leather and snakeskin and is favoring prints such as ikat and tie dye. Most retail for less than $100, and most are clutches.

"Bags are so great. Anybody can wear them. There's no sizes," Losness said. "If you're having a fat day or a gross day, you can throw on a cute bag and feel great."

She considers clutches an easy way to "punch up" an outfit and doesn't mind the lack of convenience (most have an optional shoulder or wrist strap anyway).

But Losness also likes to keep on trend, too. Her next collection will likely include pouch bags, which were seen on the Spring 2010 runways.

"I'm a little bohemian with an edge of preppy," she said. "It's a conflicting style because I'm exposed to so many."

Despite having the penmanship of a "2-year-old boy," Losness sketches her designs and takes them with her to Bali, Indonesia, where her bags are made. She selects fabrics and has samples made before she decides what to produce for sale.

"I think proportions will make or break a bag," she said. "You can change something by 2 inches and it'll give it the look."

Losness really cherishes the business side of what she does, too.

One of her favorite tasks is picking up her boxes, containing a couple thousand of her bags, from the airport after returning from Bali. Alongside crews of burly men with cargo trucks, she'll be accompanied with just her husband or her dad and perhaps a Suburban to carry the merchandise home.

Moda Viajando is sold at Orange County, Calif., boutiques. Older styles are sold on the Moda Viajando Web site,

Losness has now expanded beyond selling bags in boutiques. Today she works with brides and makes clutches for their bridesmaids, and she makes lingerie. She also receives requests to manufacture bags for other companies under their label.

Although she knows she wants to grow Moda Viajando, Losness has learned from her experience in the corporate world to stay open-minded about the future.

"I almost got here on the no-plan plan. I like to be free with where I can end up."

(c) 2010, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).