Fargo architect finds rewarding side hustle designing 'Haute' handbags
After struggling to find a handbag that would serve as both a laptop bag and purse, architect Tracy Jordre drew on her old 4-H days and sewed her own. Now her home business, Haute Hyde, is thriving.
FARGO — At a Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcase, Tracy Jordre sat in one of the countless vendor booths, surrounded by beautiful leather purses of different sizes and colors.
As people around her snatched up flavored mustards, locally made vodka and handmade soap from other vendors, Jordre’s booth remained relatively quiet.
The problem was not Jordre, who is warm and friendly, or her bags, which look chic and high-end.
The problem is that the purses are designed and sewn so flawlessly that people often assume she’s simply selling them for a large company.
“I know not everyone understood that I had made the bags,” says Jordre, who makes and sells the bags through her side business, Haute Hyde . “I even had a few people say, ‘How can you be a vendor here?’”
Few might guess that Jordre, an architect who has designed huge, mixed-use buildings to accommodate hundreds of humans, also designs 14- by 10 ½-inch purses to accommodate pocketbooks, makeup, keys and laptops.
Or that the former purple-ribbon winner in 4-H sewing competitions stitches every square inch of those purses from the bedroom workshop and the kitchen island of her home.
What started as a quest to find the perfect handbag for her own needs has grown into Haute Hyde. The Fargo woman has created a line of handbags — each named after the favorite females in her life — in a rich rainbow of vegetable-dyed colors like eggplant, chestnut, olive, navy and chili pepper red.
The structured leather purses sport clean, elegant lines and thoughtful design. Every rivet, strap and pocket seems essential. The handles and shoulder straps are of a thick, high-quality leather, which Jordre sources from a US company with 150 years in the leather business. Her creations range in price from $235 for a small, simple tote to $325 for the Britt, a large purse with zipper and several pockets.
The Britt, named after Jordre’s niece, is a bestseller. Another purse is named after Jordre’s teen-age daughter, Annika. “She is very frustrated she’s not the top seller,” Jordre says, laughing.
Although Haute Hyde has only been an official business since 2020, Jordre has sold over 250 of her bags through her website and word of mouth. And, as proof that North Dakota is just one sprawling small town, her Haute Hyde bags are carried exclusively by the owners of Grateful Cratefulls in West Fargo — largely because they also hail from Jordre’s hometown of Warwick.
Aimee Hanson, one of Grateful Cratefulls’ three owners, proudly carries a Haute Hyde bag, and says she gets compliments on it wherever she goes. “My husband was shocked at how beautiful my purse was,” she says, adding that she loves the practical features of the bag — such as the flat bottom that prevents tipping and the exterior pocket for her cell phone.
That’s good news to Jordre, who spent several years researching leathers and trying new designs to make a purse as practical and durable as it is aesthetically pleasing.
She also puts numerous hours of manual labor into each bag — hand-cutting, hand-tooling, hand-finishing and manually edging them. She estimates that if she made just one bag at a time, it would take five to six days.
“It’s not something that anyone is going to get rich quick doing,” she says. “But there’s such a satisfaction in creating something by utilizing some of the old methods. There’s a beauty to it in today’s society, where everything is throw-away and fast, fast, fast production. I love the process.”
'The smell of leather was always around'
The theme of practicality-meets-beauty resonates throughout Jordre’s life.
On the one hand, she’s a rancher’s daughter, who grew up around cows and horses on a multi-generation family ranch near the tiny, northeast North Dakota community of Warwick. Her dad, Jim Cudworth, raises Hereford and Angus cattle and loved to rodeo. She recalls, as a little girl, traveling as a family to rodeos around the area.
“He is a true cowboy, who probably is living in the wrong century,” she says. “I grew up in a house where Dad would bring in the reins and the saddle would be sitting on the counter in the entryway … the smell of leather was always around.”
Even so, Jordre always felt more of a tug toward urban life. “I will tell you that I never felt like I fit. I grew up on the farm, but I always wanted to move to the city. Then I got it and I kind of wanted to move back to the ranch,” she says, laughing. “It was truly a case of wanting to see what was out there. It made me appreciate deeply how I was raised.”
While growing up, she was taught how to sew by her mother, Jane, an expert seamstress. Jordre’s sewing projects turned out so well that she made it to the 4-H Fashion Review’s top 10 projects in the nation as a junior in high school. “It was a two-piece green suit … with a peplum. It had a big hat, the whole nine yards. It was a look,” Jordre recalls, laughing.
Also while in high school, Jordre took her first drafting class, which ignited her interest in building design. Although she had already been accepted into the University of North Dakota for pre-law, the experience prompted her to pivot to North Dakota State University's architecture program.
She graduated from NDSU and took a job with YHR Partners in Fargo. After a couple of years, her husband, Kevin — another Warwick native — was offered a banking job in Denver. They lived in Colorado for 12 years, during which time Jordre “got awesome exposure” to working on mixed-use buildings and later opened her own firm.
By 2011, the transplanted North Dakotans were ready to return to their roots. By then, they had two young children, Cole, then 6, and Annika, 1. “We ended up moving back to Fargo because we had small kids and we wanted them to know their grandpas and grandmas and all of their family,” she says.
Since their return, Jordre has worked with JLG Architects. Her current role as a principal architect and director of workplace design requires heading workplace design teams across JLG’s network of offices, which means frequent travel. “It’s incredibly fun,” she says.
The search for the perfect purse
Jordre's decision to branch out into purse-making was prompted by her own experience. She had grown frustrated with trying to find a good-looking tote that could serve both as a handbag and a laptop bag.
“I couldn’t find anything that I liked that was kind of in a price point that was reasonable,” she says. “And I expected to pay a couple of hundred dollars but when I did, everything seemed to fall apart. Or it just wasn’t the quality that I expected.”
Sometime in 2018, she began researching the art of making her own leather tote. She watched YouTube and Instagram to see what other makers were creating and to research the best leather companies.
“Little by little, I started ordering leather samples and my husband was like, ‘What is going on?’” she says, laughing. “Why are there hides showing up by the Fed-Ex guy?”
Ultimately, she settled on two American companies, including Wickett and Craig, which produced a superior product that was sturdy and high-quality enough for a handbag. With her background, she liked the idea of supporting U.S. ranchers as well as companies that processed only American and Canadian cattle.
Unlike the companies that used harsh dyes and chemicals to treat their leathers, Jordre also liked the idea that the U.S. companies used natural elements, like tree bark and flowers. The vegetable dyes created a robust, natural-looking palette of colors.
“It felt true to my roots,” she says. “It seemed like the best option for my values.”
With raw materials in hand, Jordre pieced together her very first handbags.
Tori Burch and Michael Kors had no reason to worry. “My first ones were a disaster,” she says. “They are terrible. But as I learned some of the old techniques and the handcrafting process, it got to be more and more fun.”
She did find her design training, as different as it was from handbag design, came in handy. “For me, with the architectural background, it was the fundamental knowing that I could figure it out,” she says.
Over time, she invested in a Techsew 2750 Pro industrial sewing machine — “an awesome workhorse” — and her efforts grew more and more polished.
Designing bags is surprisingly complex
She also made a purse for her mom, Jane, who received compliments on it wherever she went. Her mother became Jordre’s greatest booster. “She was the one who cheerleaded me on and said, ‘I think you can do something with this,’” Jordre says. “So she was really the one who put the idea in my mind.”
By the fall of 2020, Jordre had created her first website. “It happened fast. That’s when it really started to come together,” she says, adding that online sales still make up most of her sales.
She currently has seven styles online and is always looking for new ideas. “I have four or five sketchbooks going at all times,” she says.
And once the sketch is done, she then makes four to five prototypes of a purse and will use it for a month or two to pinpoint any design flaws.
“You just never know how it’s going to wear,” she says. “How is the handle going to wear? How is the bottom going to wear? That’s been a great way to learn. It’s really understanding all those things—the design, the leather weight, like all those elements matter.”
As a busy mother of two, she knows first-hand how much wear-and-tear a handbag can sustain. “My kids throw stuff in it so it’s like my bag weighs 80 pounds,” she says. “I literally took a hockey puck out of my bag this morning. I’m like, ‘Where did this come from?’”
Another challenge is working with a material like leather, which isn’t perfect. There are sometimes scars and fat lines. Jordre tries to work around the most glaring defects but also appreciates that she’s dealing with a natural material. She would rather not follow the lead of some large manufacturers, who will apply such thick coating to the surface of a handbag that people can't tell the leather underneath is low quality.
Haute Hyde leather “is completely natural and authentic,” she says. “It’s just beautiful, high-quality American leather.”
With such a successful “side hustle” going on, one wonders if Jordre would ever consider going full-time.
She says she actually did take a seven-month break from her career in 2022. “Life had gotten sort of crazy. I needed to take a break, be mom, be home,” she says. “I was doing bags, left and right, to the point where it was almost overtaking my life in a different way. I knew it was time to go back to work.”
After she returned to JLG, she realized two things: One was that she really missed and loved her career. And two was she enjoyed making bags — as long as it stayed a side job. “I feel so blessed to be able to do both,” she says.
So she’ll keep making bags on weekends and evenings, while considering new additions such as Haute Hyde wallets or backpacks.
After all, this country girl found a way to utilize all aspects of her personality, from working mom and architect to handbag designer and rancher’s daughter.
“I think (my parents) think it’s really fun how it’s come full circle,” she says. “Like maybe I didn’t think I fit on a ranch but look at how this all now ties back.”
Learn more about Haute Hyde at