Bag of Tricks

One handbag creator's secret formula for success: Make your products fun, fashionable and fully customizable.
Magazine Contributor
2 min read

This story appears in the June 2006 issue of Entrepreneurs StartUps Magazine. Subscribe »

What: Line of create-your-own handbags
Who: Jennifer Velarde of 1154 Lill Studio
Where: Chicago
When: Started in 1999

Some women are notorious for having a bag to match every outfit. Jennifer Velarde, on the other hand, has a bag to match nearly every friend. Each design in her line of custom-made handbags is named for a friend, a family member or an employee of her company, 1154 Lill Studio. Andi, the hobo bag, was inspired by a close friend. Pamela, a versatile tote, is named for her mother.

Velarde's background as an interior designer specializing in corporate offices helped her implement the idea, which she came up with as a way to gain independence from her job. "It seemed natural to give [each] handbag a personality, and who better to name them after than friends and family?" Velarde says. "The hard part is when you have to discontinue one."

The unique line of handbags, which Velarde, 32, launched from her apartment in 1999, capitalizes on the customization trend. Whether online, at a store or at an in-home handbag party, customers can choose from 25 different styles of bags and an extensive collection of fabrics. At the store, customers can buy premade bags or place orders that can either be picked up or shipped to them later.

A few accessories have been added to the product line, such as the Joey photo album and the Nathalie belt, but Velarde wants to concentrate on fabric handbags. "Having a focus helped direct the growth so we could make the business bigger," she says. "Our focus is still on what we do best--having an unparalleled variety of fabrics that keeps our line fresh."

In addition to a growing product line and increased sales--$5 million projected for 2006--Velarde opened 1154 Lill Studios in Boston and Kansas City, Missouri, in 2004 and currently has 32 representatives in 28 cities across the country. As part of the Local Lill program, these reps extend Lill's products to customers nation-wide by providing all the materials necessary for group bag-making parties and handling party sales. The program caters to cities without retail locations and is popular for bridal parties and business networking. Says Velarde, "The Local Lill program gets our product out there and gives us a good feel for where the next store would make sense."

No matter where 1154 Lill takes her, at least Velarde knows friends and family are along for the ride.

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