In The Boss, women share how they became successful and the lessons they learned along the way.
Growing up, my parents called me the Chief Troublemaker. I’ve always been a curious person, and one that never plays by the rules.
Out of seven children, I often asked the question, “Why Not?” This landed me in the “thinking chair” a lot as a child, but it also set the stage for my entrepreneurial career.
Most entrepreneurs start a business because they want to solve a problem that they’ve identified. In July of 2017, I found that the combination of being a frequent traveler, a mother of two boys, a pet owner and a frequent gym goer resulted in me carrying three to four bags at a time. They were heavy, didn’t function properly and were absolutely killing my back. I thought I could create a better bag, one that fulfilled many needs and allowed me to go from day to night and week to weekend without carrying around multiple heavy options. I got that no one needs another bag, but I knew that I could reinvent the wheel somewhat and that’s what drove me to start The Oliver Thomas — a better bag company, affectionately named after the company’s co-founder, my beloved Shitzu.
In order to start the company, I knew that I had to surround myself with the most trustworthy, hard-working and no B.S. people I know. I called my best friend, neighbors, former colleagues and even Oliver’s nanny — who happened to be the former head of sales training for an automobile manufacturer in the U.S. — and explained my idea around solving a problem that many women face.
We assembled a phenomenal team of people that I’ve known for years and leveraged our collective experience to cut the red tape in today’s global development and supply chains. Brands cannot expect consumers to pay for their inefficiencies, so we worked fast and focused on providing premium products at an affordable price. We are privately funded, which allows us to invest and build a brand that reflects our vision.
Our aim is to make the world a little bit better one bag at a time, and we don’t play by fashion’s unwritten rules. First, we don’t take ourselves too seriously — my co-founder is a dog! Our company tagline is “Let’s Be Real,” and we continuously interject fun, witty statements into our campaigns, such as, “Our bags carry STUFF, not SELF WORTH”.
Everything we produce is lightweight, washable, water resistant, vegan and functional. In addition, the bags are an outstanding value for the customer at around $100.00 and under. It was important to make them accessible to all. Our “Keep Your Hands Off” RFID blocking technology is built into the front pockets of the bags in order to keep identifying valuables safe. We also designed fun badges that allow our customers to customize our designs. All of our bags also have unexpected compartments to neatly store and organize belongings.
What normally takes most companies 18 months, we committed to doing in four. I had worked for Ralph Lauren, Vera Bradley, L.L. Bean, Carhartt and other similar companies for over 20 years, so I was well versed in building brands and managing merchandising, design, planning, supply and licensing. We started the company in July 2017, and shipped our first bag — to my sister — that November.
We also soft launched that month with boutiques in over 14 states, and our own website, where we nearly sold out of all of our items immediately. In the beginning, nearly all of the marketing and public relations was by word-of-mouth from friends and family and boutique owners. What’s worked for us is to align ourselves with a top retailer in each market, who will support us for the long term. This has helped leverage local press opportunities. We also take advantage of every opportunity we’re given. For example, we were asked by a beautiful fitness facility to do a trunk show. We sold out of everything in two hours, and built some serious buzz for our brand.
In the age of technology, we’ve found that building in-person relationships is still key. This is how Oliver Thomas was built, and will continue to grow. We’ve also aligned ourselves with incredible partners that are owned and driven by individuals with entrepreneurial spirits. We have as many face-to-face interactions with our customers as possible, and hold frequent trunk shows at boutiques. This helps us hear feedback directly from the individuals purchasing our items. It’s helped us to adapt and innovate in order to truly bring our customers something special. While we’re still in our infancy, we have set out to prove that if you surround yourself with like-minded team members, have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, take risks, don’t play by the rules and have a ton of passion you can accomplish anything — or at least create a great new bag line.