I have always been drawn to fashion. My mom would find me, as a kid, pouring over the pages of Vogue, Glamour and Seventeen magazines studying the fashions and following current trends. Diane von Furstenberg, Giorgio Armani, Ralph Lauren and Carolina Herrera were some of my favorite designers.
Let me introduce myself—my name is Cindy, and my fashion passion has blossomed into Cindy Kirk Designs. I design and manufacture high quality, unique, easy-to-use, handstitched leather bags. Each bag has a signature CKD cross and bead detail unique to every bag. My customer appreciates distinction, quality and function in her handbag. I have been in business for six years and with hard work and dedication, my passion continues to gain momentum.
This mid-life career—as I refer to it—was spawned by an early love of sewing and design. Mom was my 4-H sewing leader and for much of that time, I resisted all aspects of sewing. But total resistance was not an option in our home. Mother knew best, as parents often do, and when I got into high school, I realized I could design and make clothes worn by no one else on campus. Having the most diverse and interesting wardrobe of any girl in my high school was, naturally, exciting for me!
Dad continued to fuel my sewing fire when I was in college—in fact, he offered to purchase all of my fabric so long as I kept sewing. I haunted fabric stores daydreaming and planning my next creation! His deal was pivotal, allowing me the freedom to access beautiful textiles. My life was forever changed!
We generate fears while we sit. We overcome them by action. —Dr. Henry Link
When I was newly married and into my 20s, I moved to Sun Valley, Idaho with my husband, George. After our first daughter was born, I was frustrated with kids’ clothing styles. So, I started my own children’s clothing line, Silverlining. My signature was using large floral prints (adult fabrics) trimmed in lace. The dresses were simple, making it easy for girls to dress themselves, and convenient to simply throw over their heads (as there were no zippers, snaps or fuss associated with the clothes). Silverlining was sold in a handful of small boutiques around the country. It was fun while it lasted, but the kiddos grew older and my priorities shifted.
Fast forward 20 years and handbags were calling…
After many failed attempts at finding a perfect handbag, I dreamt up my original bag—which was eventually called, The Cindy. The task then became, how to make it out of leather. At that time, it never occurred to me that I would begin a new career in designing and manufacturing women’s handbags. I just wanted a purse I liked! But over time, through trial and error, hand stitching became the most rewarding and practical way to produce my desired results. Cindy Kirk Designs was born.
Having no formal training in “business,” I have spent hours learning and working to grow and have found that open-mindedness, fierce determination, perseverance and just plain hard work are the tools to keep me going.
Shortly after completing my first bag, and with encouragement from my family, I gifted my friends with my creations, and they loved them! A local boutique owner, Annette, saw my bags and loved them also. Since then, Annette has been one of my biggest sources of encouragement. She helped build my confidence, as well as, gave me tips for entering the world of fashion and retail. She introduced me to Suzi, who owns Souchi (in Aspen, Colorado) which is now my largest wholesale account (Souchi.com).
As my business began to grow, I quickly realized that I needed more space for designing, creating and storage. With our last daughter almost out of the house, our seldom-used family room seemed like the logical next step forward. This was the real start to growing Cindy Kirk Designs into a business.
My studio is one of the best rooms in our house which continually inspires me. It is the “corner office” with 12-foot ceilings and lovely views into the wooded forest in which we live. In the summer, it is lush and green; and in the winter, it is overcome with waist-deep snow. Oftentimes, I can look outside and see deer, elk or even a moose wandering through the yard. This closeness to nature, while sometimes a distraction, is an important part of my process and design. I feel that leather is one of the most sustainable aspects of the circle of life and seeing the spectacular wildlife in a natural setting while working with leather brings me great job.
My studio is my happy place because it is personal and allows me complete freedom which nourishes my creative needs and inspiration. My customers feel similarly so I love being able to have them visit me. Nearly everyone who walks in also feels inspired. It is fun to get to work with my clients and help them design the perfect CK bag for them. Their enthusiasm and fresh eye help to inspire me!
Because my space is small, I am continually scheming up new storage and display ideas and have even daydreamed about opening a studio/workspace in the heart of our small resort town. But as long as I am able to continue producing beautiful products out of this space, I will remain content creating beautiful, quality bags for women to enjoy. After all, that’s what I’m about!
I am convinced it is the quality of my products and customer service that have been the primary aspects of my success. While translating the quality, artisanal, handcrafted and personal nature of my bags has been difficult, typically, if I can get my bag into a customer’s hands, it sells itself—all thanks to the touch, feel and even the smell of the leathers. Because of this, I go the extra mile with customer service. I am always willing to send samples to a customer so she can try on in her own closet. This helps ensure that she selects the perfect Cindy Kirk bag to suit her needs. I’ve learned that many of my customers are repeats because they appreciate how unique, high quality, functional and easy-to-wear the bags are. Happy customers equal happy Cindy!
Fear of failure continues to nag at me, but I have learned so much about myself, the industry, design, management, finances—you name it. I am constantly realigning my preconceived notions of success versus failure. If I quit tomorrow, I will not be a failure simply because of the knowledge and experiences gained. I am a designer, seamstress, businesswoman and entrepreneur.
This journey has forced me to stop comparing myself to others. I am who I am, I am what I am, and I am good! I am in a constant state of growth, and I am as happy as I have ever been.