Toting Equestrian Style: Heather Batchelor Creates Paul & Lydia, LLC

How an international brand was born from a beach, a vision, a diaper bag, and a daughter who loves horses.

May 2017

Writer /Cindy Argentine

It was October 2009. Heather Blackwell Batchelor walked the Alabama coastline, listened to the lap of waves, and filled two notebooks with thoughts and prayers. The children she had homeschooled in Indiana were preparing to leave for college. Raising them had been her favorite job. She did not know what would come next.

She had once worked in New York as an actress and model. She had studied painting and photography at the Herron School of Art and Design. And she had always loved fashion: “I was the girl who covered her walls with pages of Vogue magazine,” she laughs.

Batchelor spent a full month at that Alabama beach praying about what to do next. Those prayers were answered when the idea for a company—what is now Paul & Lydia, LLC—came to her mind. “It was like I saw the business from a long way off,” Batchelor explains. When she left the shore, she had a concept in place. She would start her own business selling handbags and accessories.

Back home in Zionsville, Batchelor began working toward her dream, trying to bring it into closer focus. She looked at retail space, spoke with the Chamber of Commerce, and drew up a business model that included her sisters. She was exploring what merchandise to carry when inspiration arrived in an unlikely form—a diaper bag.

Batchelor and a sister spotted a bag they liked and bought it as a gift for another sister. “It was such a fun, whimsical diaper bag,” Heather says. “My sister loved to carry it.” Heather had a heart for mothers and motherhood. Selling fashionable, functional items for new moms seemed to be the perfect base for her business.

Batchelor began by designing fanciful fabrics based on storybook illustrations. She contracted with an experienced seamstress who constructed bags to her specifications.

But progress began to snag. Time and finances weren’t right for retail space, and her sisters, busy with young children, opted out of the venture. Then, in what felt like the biggest setback, the seamstress Batchelor had hired declined to join the business.

Saddened but unwilling to let her dream unravel, Batchelor decided she should learn to sew. Her previous attempts had ended in “disaster,” but she had a basic sewing machine (a gift from her mom she’d never used), and she knew where she could learn. “The French Seam in Indianapolis offered Sewing 1, Sewing 2, Sewing 3, and Sewing 4,” Batchelor says. “In Sewing 4 they would help you do whatever project you wanted. I knew that if I got through the first classes, then they would help me make a diaper bag! I pulled out that sewing machine, put it on the dining room table, and got to work. That’s when it finally clicked.”

In a few months, she had enough inventory to go to market. The first store to carry her items was Ballerinas and Bruisers in Zionsville. She expanded to a few specialty stores like Nurture in Indianapolis. She added bibs, blankets, and lamp shades.

As Batchelor designed and sewed and managed her nursery-themed business, she began to recognize another opportunity. Her daughter was an equestrian who made frequent trips to barns and horse shows, carrying a lot of gear in the process. Heather’s mother had managed a local stable while Heather was growing up. Drawing on that heritage, Batchelor created fabrics where horses frolicked, foxes wore suits, and bridle bits were an element of graphic design. She pieced those fabrics into tasseled totes.

By December 2015, Batchelor was selling baby items and equestrian bags. Working at a holiday pop-up shop on Mass Ave, she met an artisan from Vera Bradley. The new friend saw great potential in Heather’s products and offered her a key piece of advice: “Pick a lane—babies or equestrian—and stay in it.”

Batchelor realized her colleague was right. Faced with deciding between nursery items and equestrian ones, she chose equestrian. The theme allowed her to combine fun and whimsy with her love for classic American design. It reflected her personal style, her family heritage, and the needs of her family right then.

When her totes sold out at horse shows, Batchelor expanded to tack stores. She added more products, including garment bags, cosmetic bags, wristlets, and portfolios. Business spread worldwide. Now, less than two years after narrowing her focus, Batchelor’s equestrian designs are sold in the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Japan, and Australia. Through her website, people can buy from anywhere in the world. She is currently bringing her line to gift shops, such as Michele’s on Main in Zionsville, and marketing to customers who like the equestrian look whether they ride or not.

Batchelor still sketches concepts and designs prints from her home. But the dining room table is no longer her workshop, and the kitchen is no longer the fulfillment center. Paul & Lydia bags are being made in China. The woman who owns the Chinese factory where they are made flew here to meet with her. The two ladies communicate regularly, often at 4 a.m., to discuss prototypes and business details.

The creative side of this endeavor continues to inspires Batchelor. Lying in bed, she might imagine a bag hanging on a hook and think what do I want to see there? She hopes that in some small way, her products improve people’s lives: “It’s a little thing that can bring joy, make someone smile.” Her designs help a person express who they are. That, in turn, helps them connect with other people. “For me,” she says, “this is still about art. I want to create something that speaks to someone, that communicates something. My media are simply bags now.”

Right from the start, Batchelor chose the name Paul & Lydia for her company. Paul, the New Testament evangelist, worked with Lydia, the seller of purple cloth, to bring faith and hope to a new part of the world. The purple tag Batchelor places in each of her items echoes the purple cloth that Lydia sold. It reminds Heather of her month at the beach, her vision on the horizon, and the faith she still follows while fulfilling her dream.