Company/description: INCA Girl Enterprises Inc. makes fashion editors fawn with its hip plastic bags, plastic bamboo beach mats and beaded bikinis.
Based: New York City
1999 sales: $1.4 million
2000 projections: $3 million-plus
Divine intervention: After college, Hirsch worked as a waitress and talent agent gopher in Los Angeles--even as a stylist-assistant after moving to the Big Apple. But Hirsch "never felt right in any job. It sucked the soul out of me." A 1996 trip to visit a pal in Peru and some pondering on the Inca Trail generated an epiphany: She would make the plastic market bags everyone was carrying the hottest new thing in the United States.
How much? "Days of harassing [Peruvians] and giving them money" led Hirsch to the bags' manufacturer. The nondesigner then returned to New York City and spent $500 in savings on samples and a spot in a fashion trade show that March. Press in Vogue and Marie Claire quickly followed.
Starry-eyed: Sure, Hirsch lost $150,000 trying to save her trademark from shady angel investors at one point. But now this once-homebased designer's got a shipping loft, four sales reps (in New York, California, Hawaii and Italy), and kudos from actress Courtney Cox and model/Nylon creative director Helena Christensen. Sports Illustrated even featured an INCA beaded swimsuit in last year's swimsuit issue.
Make like a Clydesdale: Hirsch didn't accidentally go from being "very unhappy" to having Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Fred Segal in Los Angeles embrace her creations. "Just ignore negativity," she says. "Don't listen to people who go `Get a real job and make some money.' Just making a living is not enough for you."