The Struggles of A Bag Lady


Two Years? Really?

It is hard to believe that it has been 2 years since I retired. But maybe I should stop saying I am retired. I did retire as a federal employee. But I am still employed. Except now I have a really nice boss. She let’s me do everything I want (and don’t want) to do. She doesn’t mind if I take a long lunch break and doesn’t judge me (very much) about my quirky work hours. She is happy when I go for a bike ride mid day. Who knew a boss could be that nice? Even so, she still holds me accountable. That is fair enough and I actually don’t mind that at all. The other thing is that I no longer can say “You are not the boss of me.” Because now I actually am the boss of me.

3 Months Max

As I typically do, I completely underestimated the amount of time it would take to get things up and running. I thought we would be ready to go in 3 months, max. Seriously? I don’t know what I was thinking. (Or if I was thinking at all).

Let’s just pretend I said 3 YEARS max. If we can go with that I still have another year. But that is a really bad idea. Although small businesses take 3-5 years on average to make a profit, if Robert and I want to take another year to get things going, we are gonna have to eat beans and wienies for the next 12 months. I really don’t think I am up for that. (Robert agrees.) 

What’s my job?

Pretty much everything. I won’t forget the look on Shannon’s face when we were first thinking about starting this business. Because I was clueless I asked “what will I be doing if I don’t do the sewing?” She stared at me for a few seconds before saying “Mom, just think about this. Who is going to do all the business stuff and social media stuff if you are too busy sewing?” 

After trying 2,000 times to design the bags (well, actually I have no idea, I lost count), I totally understood what she was saying. When my time was consumed by test sewing, there wasn’t enough time in an 8 hour work day to sew AND learn how to use QuickBooks AND finding the right vendors AND learning how to navigate the textile industry AND understanding how to use social media to my advantage. AND most importantly, staying out of jail. (See below.) There was so much to learn. (And frankly, my PhD was not helpful at all in this regard.)

Basically, my day job of product development was followed by night school. Literally. I took a jillion evening classes at the Western Piedmont Community College Small Business Center. I started out with questions like, What do you mean by making it to the “break even point? How will I know?  What is cash flow? That just means keeping money coming in, right? (No.) Probably the most stressful class was the IRS small business training class. That totally sucked. Everyone in the class looked at each other, thinking like “oh shit. I am going to jail.”

Back to being a bag lady

Keep in mind that I am an epidemiologist not a professional sewer. I didn’t even play one on TV.

My day job chained me to my sewing machines as I developed our products. You might think I am an expert at sewing. Not so. I am an experienced quilter but that is not the same thing as sewing bags and wallet clutches. (Has anyone ever slept under a wallet clutch?) 

I did learn a lot through all the sewing trials but I don’t think I was made for that career line. Too much reverse sewing. Meaning, rip out the seams and sew it again. Only this time do it right. Otherwise, you are going to have to reverse sew again. I wish I could say that never happened. I never actually tried to throw my sewing machine out the window but I did think about it once or twice.

Making it right

I tested the bags. New issues emerged each time. For example, I learned to hate those little knobby things that fit through a hole to “close” the bag. (As shown in the picture.) Good luck when your bag is stuffed. Not happening without a fight. Long story short – they suck. They may look all pretty and nice but believe me they cannot be trusted. (Rest assured that they are no longer part of our bag design.)

Are you still awake?

I don’t want to go through the nitty gritty of the design process over the past 2 years because I don’t want you to get so bored that you will stop reading or fall asleep. But let’s just sum it up by saying without professional design training I had to wing it. (Winging it shouldn’t be too hard since we are Mountain Bird Designs, right?) Not so much. 

It was worth it.

Finally, after many hours/days/months/years of trials and tribulations (why not use the opportunity to be dramatic?) I finalized the bag design in early November 2015. It functioned well and it looked like I wanted it to. Super sturdy – so no more falling apart. No losing keys. Lots of pockets. A place for your laptop. All the while looking lovely with artwork. I stuffed it with a lot of crap and it didn’t care at all.

It was reaffirming that I got a lot of energetic and positive feedback while I was waltzing around with it. Now I know Mountain Bird Designs is on the right track and ready to jump in for our next best adventure. For real this time. Although it was a much longer process than I imagined it was definitely worth it. 

P.S. The bags have changed so much from the first versions like the one that is partly visible in this post’s picture. If you want to see the real deal, sign up for our newsletter and we will give you a sneak peek next week.  Plus you get a free creative guide to tap into your inner artist.

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