Dianna Pozdniakov of Sofia Fima uses her architect’s eye to design bags that work.
Handbags are one of the most emotional purchases women make, to paraphrase iconic fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi. It’s a good bet that many of us have handbags we like, but that are not quite suited to carrying everything we need for our busy days. So, like architect Dianna Pozdniakov used to, we end up carrying additional bags to take up the slack. Working in New York City, Pozdniakov would show up at male-dominated client meetings with a variety of totes. “I did the three-bag schlep,” she recalls. “I would either go to the gym so I had a second pair of shoes, or toiletries if I was going out after work; women carry a lot.” And finding what she needed in the slouchy totes was a challenge, too, sapping her confidence when she had to rummage around before starting a presentation. She thought, “How do I create a bag that stands up, commands presence but is really beautiful, represents me as a woman and can organize my stuff, a bag that allows me to conquer my day?”
The answer was the Main Squeeze Tote, debuted in 2017, the “foundation piece” offered by Pozdniakov’s Lewiston-based company, Sofia Fima. Made in Union City, New Jersey, of soft Italian pebbled leather, the bag is timelessly stylish, with high-quality brass hardware, a pair of short handles, and a detachable, adjustable shoulder strap. Lined in nylon for easy cleaning, it has a key leash and a large interior zippered pocket that can fit a 13-inch laptop or tablet. But what makes the bag even more of a standout are the organizers, clever inserts sold separately that keep items in their place so they’re easy to grab. The Chief of Staff has sleeves for a laptop and file folders, pockets for phones and pens, plus elastic side pockets for a water bottle or a spare pair of shoes. The Momager organizer (also called the Senior Associate) has vertical dividers that can carry diapers and wipes, or books and gym clothes. “Once I became a mom I hated the whole diaper bag thing,” says Pozdniakov. “Why can’t the bag you need to carry stuff for your kid be the bag you want, and it just so happens it carries these other things?”
Pozdniakov and her husband, Kevin Morin, moved to Maine from Brooklyn, New York, in 2014. Morin, also an architect, had grown up in Lewiston, while Pozdniakov was raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, the daughter of immigrants from Odessa, Ukraine, when it was still part of the former Soviet Union. Her business is named for them: her mother, Sofia, passed away 12 years ago, and her father, Fima, a metal fabricator, now lives in Newton, Massachusetts. He sewed all of his daughter’s Halloween costumes and the extra-long bedsheets she needed for college. “The pride of making things is a big part of my heritage,” Pozdniakov says. The move to Maine was prompted by her desire to start her busi- ness where the cost of living is lower; she continues to do freelance architecture and design work, and Morin travels often for his architecture practice. While neither of them thought they would ever return to the cities of their youth, the opportunity to purchase a building in downtown Lewiston—an architectural and historical gem that would have been financially untouchable in New York—was too good for the couple to pass up. “We were able to buy the dream for us, a masonry-clad building with marble stairs and beautiful wood detail and terrazzo floors, built in 1895 as a bank,” she says.
On the ground floor of the building, 46 Lisbon Street, curved glass display windows date from the nearly 60 years it was Grant’s Clothing. But when Pozdniakov and Morin saw the landmark property, it had been vacant for a few months after a burst pipe forced the last tenant, Terrie’s Bridal, out. The couple bought the building in March 2015; in February 2016 their daughter, Vaughn, was born, and they started the renovation project. “I had just launched my business, so it was crazy,” Pozdniakov remembers. “But the potential of what could be the next life for this beautiful historic building intrigued us big-time. And that’s what sucked us back in.” Maine Preservation included 46 Lisbon Street on its list of Honor Awards for 2017, applauding the project for “respecting the history of the space while also introducing elements of modernity.” Pozdniakov and her family live on the third floor and rent out an apartment on the second floor. Sofia Fima is headquartered on the ground floor and is open Monday through Friday, although it is not a traditional shop per se. “Everything is sold online and through collaborative pop-ups and trunk shows, but because I have this incredible opportunity, I want it to be open and have people come in when they want and chat, so it’s a kind of experiential space,” she says.
Pozdniakov has been active in community organizations in Lewiston, and she has a particular interest in connecting with other female entrepreneurs, as well as mentoring girls through the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute. “My parents came here with nothing, but I never knew that because they always told me I could be anything and do anything I wanted,” she says. “I think it’s so important to share that with young women who may not get that support.” She is expanding Sofia Fima’s product line, recently launching a convertible crossbody bag in response to customer requests. The bag’s long strap comes off so it can be used as a clutch, and a shortened strap makes it into a wristlet. “It’s just a simple pouch, and it also stands up, which is so important for me even in some- thing that small,” Pozdniakov says. She’s also work- ing on a vegan version of her tote with an organizer included that will be lighter and less expensive than the leather bag. “The number-one feedback I get from women is, ‘Love this bag, it’s just heavy by the time I fill it up.’” And, as many people seek to limit the number of things they hold onto, “less is more” is a concept that also drives her current thinking. “I think there is an incredible market opportunity for women everywhere to have something beautiful that works for them and enhances their everyday lives without adding to the stuff,” she says. “I’m always trying to think about how I can be part of that journey.”
Dianna’s tips on staying organized from week to weekend
Using an organizational insert makes packing your handbag for work a breeze. Everything from your laptop to binders, folders, and cords live in their specific pocket inside the Chief of Staff organizer. Instead of needing to “unpack” your bag, you can simply take out the organizer with all your work gear. When it’s Monday again, just slip the organizer back in already packed. No need to remember where you left your charger because it’s safely tucked in its designated pocket.
For the new moms out there: If you carry a diaper bag in addition to your own work bag and frequently lose track of your wallet or keys, use the Momager organizer to keep all baby essentials vertically organized. You keep it packed and ready to go. It easily slips into your bag, replacing your work organizer. By simply switching organizers your work bag now goes the distance as an all-in-one management system. No need for extra bags, especially a temporary one like a diaper bag, taking up space and stressing you out.
If you’re not carrying a laptop or don’t need a large tote every day, a smaller bag, like the Convertible Crossbody Bag, provides streamlined organization and versatility. Interior pockets allow you to use the bag as a wallet and a roomy interior provides enough space for a phone, keys, a notebook, pens, and some cosmetics. Taking this bag out at night is super easy—just remove the adjustable crossbody strap. You can use it as a clutch, wristlet, or a shoulder bag with the addition of a short strap.