Brag Bags- The story of Brag Bags began when Kathleen Kennedy was a child and witnessed her mother’s work as an accomplished seamstress. Crafting gorgeous dresses, hemming pants, and making bags, her mother was very handy with a sewing machine and a true artist. She could walk into a store, see a lovely dress, and then head home and re-create it from her memory and her creative passion. Being exposed to this artistic energy was infectious, and as Kathleen grew from a child to a teenager, she began to pick up a love for drawing and painting, which led to a degree in art from SUNY New Paltz. Throughout her life art has always been a part of her work, from making jewelry and designing gardens to creating floral arrangements, and now with Brag Bags, her line of unique, hand-made purses and totes that we sell here at the Co-op.
During her time at SUNY New Paltz Kathleen met her husband, and they moved to southern New Hampshire and then Saxton’s River, VT. After a short stint as an art teacher, it became clear that teaching wasn’t her calling, but that entrepreneurship was. Her first move towards running her own business was designing perennial gardens for private homes and selling flowers from her greenhouse. Flowers are one of her true loves, and for many years this business thrived and brought her much joy—she still works as a florist today. As she raised her son things shifted and she began to make jewelry to sell as well. Gardening, jewelry-making, drawing and painting were all present and active parts of her life at that time. She was thrilled to be living out her passion with all its opportunities and challenges.
Over time she became very involved in the Brattleboro area community, and specifically Brattleboro Area Time Trade. As a way to raise money for the organization, a group of people started sewing bags, bottle holders and other items. It was at this time that Kathleen purchased her first sewing machine and began to assist in making these creations. This newfound love for sewing led her to experiment with making purses and tote bags. She found inspiration in the fabric she sourced from many local stores in the region; their patterns, textures, or touch often directed what she created.
From suede and faux leather to cotton and wool, each bag has a unique and artistic twist. Her goal has always been to make practical bags that will last and that can be used daily. She also gets many requests for custom bags, such as computer bags or diaper bags. These creations are a labor of love, and are made from scratch, by hand, in all aspects. She loves the challenge of being an entrepreneur as it drives her forward, keeps her quite happy, and allows her to take a personal pride in each bag she sews.
So why are they called Brag Bags? Kathleen said she wants people to “brag about their hand-made, one-of-a-kind Vermont bag.” They are intended for daily use, but some people purchase multiple bags for different occasions. Whether it be for a nice dinner out or to carry your laptop, she has the bag for you!
Looking to the future, Kathleen anticipates expanding beyond her locally-oriented business, perhaps creating an online store for her bags and other artwork. With her move towards a more digital presence, she hopes to incorporate social media into her marketing, which she believes will support both her business at our Co-op and beyond.
Our Brattleboro Food Co-op was the very first place Brag Bags were sold, and we’re proud to be one of the only places where you can get these practical and beautifully crafted bags.
Visit Kathleen at the Co-op on December 11th from 11am-1pm* to learn more about her story and her approach to creating the bags.
*Snow date 12/13, 11am-1pm.
Woodfield Press- Woodfield Press started in the living room of Cindy Hendrick, and has grown into a wonderful holiday and note card business that touches over four hundred locally- and independently-owned stores across the United States. The strength of the business and its growth are both the results of Cindy’s creative vision. She has always been an artist and was first inspired by her father who was a professional cartoonist. She considered art school, but ended up choosing a Liberal Arts degree, and when she became a mother, she chose occupational therapy as a more secure career. While still raising her children, she took painting and drawing courses at night at the Manchester Institute of Art and worked in public schools during the day. After a move to Massachusetts in the early 90’s she left that career to pursue art full-time. She worked part-time for a sculptor who introduced her to a friend who hired her to assist in her small freelance design company, which mainly produced images for wallpapers, kitchen textiles, cards and prints. Eventually, Cindy developed the animal characters for her cards and prints but was rejected by all the major greeting card companies. It was at that point that she decided to go out on her own to manufacture herself and sell directly to stores.
On a small Epson color printer Cindy and her friend Lark began to produce the handmade cards in her house. During my interview Cindy and Lark reflected on the sheer volume of cards they were printing—and how many they lost due to Cindy’s cats walking all over the fresh ink! Her first wholesale account was the Hannah Grimes Marketplace in Keene, NH, and as they attended trade shows their opportunities for growth increased. When it got to the point of covering two rooms in Cindy’s farmhouse with their prints, they realized it was time to take the leap and have everything printed professionally. They now work with a local printer in Warner, NH, and are very pleased that they can keep their investment within our region.
So how did Cindy develop her style of art? She first started drawing animals that lived in houses and dressed up in clothing when she was a young child, inspired by the illustrations she saw in her books, and she continues to be heavily influenced by Tasha Tudor and Beatrix Potter. She always had many pets including cats, dogs, rabbits, chickens and others, which have given her some major inspiration for her current work. Her creations now have a cult-following, and many folks are really big fans of her work. So much for those corporate rejection letters! She has a deep and loyal following which has brought her some serious success.
As the business has grown Cindy has brought on more support to handle business management, hiring Erin in 2013, who now handles everything from sales to shipping to insurance to booking trade shows. Erin was initially hired for a part-time position, but now manages the business full-time, which allows Cindy to focus entirely on the art, and in 2015 they became partners (with Cindy’s husband having a small share). Lark oversees inventory, and another employee, Peggy, handles shipping, photography, and social media.
The Woodfield Press offerings are quite dynamic as they are always coming out with new images and new products. For instance, their most popular items are their note cards, but they also offer notepads, paper-doll kits, mixed card packs, advent calendars, prints and many other items. They do see a spike in business during the holidays, but their goal has always been to have the demand for their products be year-round, and recently they have started to reach that goal. Currently they’re beginning to move towards the next level of growth, aiming to expand to independent stores on the West Coast. This could become a reality for them as they are attending one of the biggest trade shows for their industry in Atlanta this coming January. With this event comes excitement, anticipation and hope for growth that will support more local jobs and more demand for Cindy’s art.
Join us at the Co-op on December 13th from 11am-1pm to meet Cindy and Lark from Woodfield Press.
By Jon Megas-Russell