Devra Langford needed a briefcase. “I wanted one that’s useful and cool looking,” she says. But she had a hard time finding one, so she got out the sewing machine and made herself a messenger bag. A friend saw the bag and wanted one, so Langford made one for her birthday. Then another friend at the birthday party saw it and wanted one. But the real push for Langford’s side venture, Ellis Grace, came from Langford’s mom. “She said, ‘Devra, these are incredible. You could sell these,’” she recalls. “And you know, she’s not the type of person to say something like that.”
So Langford decided to go for it. “I made a ton of them, and I did some art shows,” she says. But selling the bags from a table at an art show took a lot of work, plus time away from her daughter, who is now 4. The single mom, who lives in Little Forest Hills, already has a fulltime job selling medical equipment. Langford decided she didn’t want to do shows any more. She hired someone to build a website for her — ellisgrace.com — and now most of her sales are online.
Customers can select the bag they want, then choose the bag’s color and design. Or they can send Langford their own fabric. The interactive website cost about $4,000, but Langford thought it was one of the most important elements to her business plan. She recently received an order from Australia. “It’s fun to communicate with the people who buy,” she says. She wants to keep the business predominantly online, but she is looking for retailers who would like to carry her bags. So far, it’s not a fulltime job, but Langford hopes that something will push her line of messenger bags over the tipping point.
She recently sought the advice of a successful online retailer who let her in on a trick — get a celebrity to use your product, and the website will blow up with orders. Maybe Sandra Bullock needs a diaper bag.
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