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In Good Hands

With style and business sense, 2 serial entrepreneurs fashion a handbag empire.

Kathy Van Zeeland

Vital Stats: Kathy Van Zeeland, 43, and Bruce Makow-sky, 52, of Kathy Van Zeeland in New York City

Company: Designer of high-quality, affordable handbags

Projected 2008 sales: About $250 million

In the Bag: Kathy Van Zeeland and Bruce Makowsky know what women want--on the inside and out. Mixing utilitarian features with fun, stylish signature prints and hardware plaques boldly displaying the Kathy Van Zeeland logo, the pair's handbags are currently in every major department store and in 500 specialty stores nationwide. They also acquired handbag company Tignanello in 2006, opened 40 retail stores in Italy and throughout Asia in the past year and currently distribute to 25 countries. In 2007 alone, they shipped 7.2 million handbags. "We saw a void of beautiful material, great hardware, great styling and great-looking handbags in the $75 to $100 price point," says Makowsky.

Get a Handle: Hailing from Nine West, where they created a $220 million contemporary handbag division for the shoe brand in just five years, the husband-and-wife team left in 2004 to open a small, part-time business of their own. So it was their proven track record and expertise that initially secured them space on store shelves. But when their handbags started flying off those shelves, their business was immediately propelled into the fast lane and currently requires the full-time efforts of more than 100 employees. In the next several years, they plan to open retail locations in the U.S. and branch out with new product lines, including footwear, jewelry and watches.

Purse Pulse: Maintaining a global brand in the fashion industry requires unwavering attention to what's new, so Van Zeeland scours magazines, travels the globe and is in constant contact with buyers overseas and the specialty stores that carry her brand. "They're like my eyes and ears where I can't be," says Van Zeeland. "It really keeps me on the pulse of what's happening in the world."

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This article was originally published in the June 2008 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In Good Hands.

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