‘Push Your Boundaries’: Auburn alumna uses lessons from The Plains to make her way in the design world

Published: October 07, 2019
Updated: October 09, 2019
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Elizabeth Purpich has come a long way from the days of being a high school student who wasn’t sure she wanted to go to Auburn. She resisted following in her mother’s footsteps—her mom, Melanie Moore Younger, played on Auburn’s first women’s basketball team in 1975.

“I eventually came here because it was the best program and it made the most sense,” Purpich said. “I came here in 1996 and was on the SEC championship team.”

Now, her love for Auburn is so much a part of her that she makes regular visits back to The Plains to hold pop-up shops for Elizabeth Purpich Designs, a collection of luxury handbags, jewelry and fine art that she founded. And, some of the bags are designed with orange and blue leather, a nod to her Auburn roots.

“I feel like a celebrity when I come back to Auburn, actually,” she said. “When I come back to Auburn, it just really is a family. It’s really cool to come back. It just feels like a homecoming every time.”

During her time at Auburn, Purpich studied biology and was interested in pursuing a career in a medical field. After graduating, her heart was leading her toward becoming an entrepreneur, and designing handbags fit. It gave her a creative outlet while allowing to run her own business.

“I just had an idea for a handbag, and it went from there,” she said. “That was 13 years ago.”

In September, she wrapped up her fifth time showing her collection at New York Fashion Week—and her first time to show solo.

“Usually, I would pair up with another clothing designer but this time it’s just me and the two collections I have: one is Auburn-inspired and the other one is a NASA-inspired collection to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.”

She attributes much of her success to the connections she made while at Auburn.

“One of my best customers that I have now, I got through an Auburn connection,” she said. “It was going to a networking event that Auburn was having in the greater Houston area and meeting someone that eventually led me to my biggest account.”

Another takeaway from her time at Auburn is advice she was given by Auburn’s legendary women’s basketball coach, Joe Ciampi, who she played under.

“He always told me, and he would tell the team, ‘You’re going to do it, don’t be nervous. You’re going to do it anyway. So you might as well do your best,’” she recalls. It’s a piece of advice she’s carried with her in everything she’s done since.

“Well if you’re nervous, that means that you’re excited and you care,” she said. “So that was a good thing. But the other part was don’t get too nervous, because you’re going to end up doing it anyway. So for me, I’m a worrier by nature, so that was my best lesson.”

Now that’s she’s been an Auburn alumna for more than 20 years, she has a bit of advice that she says she would give to students today.

“Meet as many different people as you can and learn different points of view,” she said. “I think the worst thing that you can do is get into a group and everybody agrees with everybody and it’s all the same kind of homogenous nature. Push your boundaries. There are tons of people from tons of different backgrounds here in Auburn and if you can do that, you’ll be able to navigate the world when you’re done with your four years.”

More information on Purpich and her collection is available online at https://www.elizabethpurpich.com/.

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn's commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact. Auburn's mission to educate, discover and collaborate drives its expanding impact on the world.