Since I can remember, I was always creating something—whether it was cupcake toppers or personalized gift tags for birthday presents. And, I didn’t ever just create one—I created hundreds and hundreds of them. I started selling them to family and friends; however, I wanted real customers and an online store. I wanted the world to know about my products. To support my drive, my parents purchased a laptop for me when I was nine years old. I designed my own website and set up the backend payment and inventory system. This was the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey.
I do enjoy observing and analyzing the world around me. I follow many brands on social media and dissect their mission, images, copy and layout—all the aspects that make up their brand images. Through this process, I started to realize that maybe cupcake toppers were not going to be my best business idea.
During this time, I had been taking year-round handwork classes. I learned how to knit, crochet, felt and sew. Over the summer, when I was 12 years old, I came home from camp and showed my mom some clutch bags I had created. She really liked them and took one with her when we went to Michigan to visit friends. While out shopping in the suburbs of Detroit, a boutique owner complimented my mom on the clutch bag. She asked who made it and was astounded when I spoke up and told her I had. The owner said, “You can sell that here.” I thought she was just being nice because I was young, but I received a similar positive response from an employee at another nearby boutique.
The inspiration to take these compliments and turn them into a business was further nurtured when I took an entrepreneurship class for middle and high school students. It was a year-long program that encouraged me to find my passion and harness the skills to write a business plan. I soaked up all the knowledge and advice I received from the mentors. I learned about accounting, how to register a business, taxes, investing, insurance and how to perfect my pitch. I went on to win the regional investor competition and competed at the national level in New York.
The real validation that I had created a product that people were interested in buying occurred when I was accepted into my first juried artisan show. The women running the show had no idea I was only in middle school! The event was in Philadelphia, and I was overwhelmed by the positive feedback I received from customers. They not only loved and bought the bags, but they were interested in supporting my sustainable and social impact missions.
The founder of TOMS shoes, Blake Mycoskie, has been an inspiration to me after reading his autobiography about how he saw a need in the world and created a solution to fulfill that need.
In the beginning, the demand for bags was overwhelming. I thought I was a failure if I didn’t have my hand in every single aspect of running my business. There were tears. But, my mom (really my entire family) was so supportive. She asked me, “Does Tory Burch make all of her bags, handle the marketing, update her website and photograph all of her products?” I knew the answer was no—and that gave me great comfort in knowing that I wasn’t going to be alone on this journey. Together, my mom was going to help me build a team that would allow me to achieve my dreams.
Even though I’m now the owner of the LLC and hold the trademark to the business name, I’m not old enough to have a business bank account. We’re in a unique situation because of my being a teenager; my mom has to be involved and help me behind the scenes. With this, I have learned that my mom brings a lot of wisdom and experience to the table.
With my mom and dad, I hold monthly meetings to plan six months ahead. We discuss how each product has performed, the revenue, the success of events, the introduction of new product lines (like the wedding collection), and expansion to corporate orders, the migration of our website platform and the redesign of marketing materials—the list goes on and on.
Especially vital to any business success is knowing the cost of materials, labor, production, packaging and mailing. I, therefore, take the lead on researching suppliers to find the best quality for the price and also handle the online ordering. Market research, as well as, regular event attendance for testing new products and pricing also helps us make well-informed decisions.
I especially like the creative aspects of developing new product lines: sorting through and pairing reclaimed fabric, designing the website, staging photographs and creating the displays. I use Pinterest to create vision boards and follow brands on social media that I admire. I share these ideas with my mom, and together, we take these ideas and integrate them into the littlebags brand.
“I want every girl to know that her voice can change the world.”
– MALALA YOUSAFZAI
Each day I juggle going to school and running a company. Many people ask me how I do this, and quite honestly, I can’t pinpoint my exact strategy, though having family by my side has proven to be essential. I can’t stress enough that without the support of my family, my business would not be where it is today. If I have a huge test to study for or have hours of homework ahead of me, my mom is there to handle correspondence or finalize a speech or prepare fabric for the manufacturer. Though, sometimes, simply reading a motivational message is just what I need to get through the day, as I am a huge lover of inspirational quotes.
When I was younger, I thought I wanted to become a classroom teacher. However, my entrepreneurial journey has shown me that I can be a teacher in many ways—as a mentor to other aspiring young entrepreneurs, to children in underserved communities and to the sustainable community to find solutions for textile waste.
So, will I continue on being a businesswoman? Yes! I have goals of being in Oprah’s Gift Guide as an option for people to give a sustainable gift with purpose. I want to be on the Ellen DeGeneres Show to share with her viewers the need to support childhood literacy for kids in underserved communities in the United States. As shared once during an investor pitch competition speech, “Even though I’m little, I know my business will be big.” And, at the end of the day, it’s heartwarming to know that I’m a woman-owned business with a strong sustainable and social impact mission. There’s something very powerful in all of that.
From a very young age, Anna was not interested in traditional day or overnight summer camps. I searched for alternative programs and found one that focused on handwork and needle arts. Anna got in the car after the first day and exclaimed (at the age of six), “Don’t sign me up for anything else. This is all I want to do!” She continued taking classes year-round to perfect her skills. Although we didn’t know it at the time, I believe that this, combined with the youth entrepreneurship program we found and enrolled her in, laid the foundation for her entrepreneurial journey.
Littlebags.bigimpact started because of Anna’s drive and vision. Thus, it’s important for me to let her guide the business and be there to support her mission and goals. As Anna’s business quickly grew, however, it was evident that she was going to need a team of people to support her. I now handle most of the operations behind the scenes—managing her schedule, applying to events, answering correspondence, tracking inventory and production…and driving her everywhere. And, while Anna does handle all of the social media posts, with her being a young entrepreneur, I monitor her social media followers. I am very much the gatekeeper before anyone is introduced to her either online or in-person—or not at all. Even when that happens, I’m on every call and with her at every meeting or event.
I use my marketing and communication background to help execute Anna’s visions and make them come to life. I also primarily manage the employees because Anna is in school. However, during our daily catch-ups, Anna is well briefed in what everyone is doing and conveys the next plan of action. The one person Anna manages directly is her pop-pop, Bob, who is her “Director of Transportation.” He picks up fabric donations and drops off fabric pieces to the production facility.
I think our age difference is beneficial to the business. Anna is full steam ahead and regularly brimming with new ideas, striving to improve and regularly focused on the end goal. I have had to be the one to slow her down a bit—knowing the energy, research and resources it takes to expand. (Now entering her third year in business, we jointly decided that her production team needs to expand again to include a cut and sew manufacturer—we were fortunate to find one locally!)
Having a business has taught us balance. Even though Anna has had the opportunity to mature beyond her years because of speaking engagements, media appearances, and corporate and artisan events, I make sure she spends time like most other teenagers—hanging out with friends, going to the movies, shopping, sleepovers and concerts. I also have a son and husband (and a really cute dog) who are very supportive of the business. However, spending quality time with them is equally as important to the health of our family dynamic. I probably feel the strain on my time the most and often put that time for myself on the back burner. I’m still working on figuring out this one…
Fast forward two years—Anna is now running a business overseeing employees, production and branding. There are many moments when my husband and I sit back and wonder what we ever did with our spare time before littlebags.bigimpact was created.
When in a working relationship, particularly mother/daughter, it is critical to have an understanding and clear vision of the business mission. Knowing when to give and take, when to push your agenda or agree to let the other one take the lead—this is critical to the health, not only of the business relationship but also of the mother/daughter relationship.
“Go confidently into the direction of your dreams! Live the life you imagined.”
-HENRY DAVID THOREAU
We both realize the need to be on the same page regarding the goals and the path to meet those goals. Constant communication is extremely important to achieving this. We spend a lot of time together, which can be both a positive and a negative! Seriously though, we truly treasure the time working on the business together—whether it’s checking out a new coffee shop for a meeting, sitting on the floor in sweat- pants sorting through the fabric, learning from other women business owners, exploring new towns at artisan shows or dressing up to attend an upscale corporate event. Mothers and daughters have a special bond, and we wouldn’t trade this time together.