Unable to find the bag she was looking for — one with a “cute little black girl on it” — Keisha McClellan decided that she would probably have to make it herself. So the Chicago-based television producer trotted off to an art supply store and bought supplies to help her start Girly Bags & Accessories, a line of quirky, urban pillows, purses, backpacks, and totes.
“I love pillows, and I can’t have enough bags,” beams 34-year-old McClellan about her creations. Each bag or pillow features a perky, round female face with expressive, long-lashed eyes. “My house and the way I live are very much about the child in me,” she says.
McClellan, who spends about four hours a night on her designs, says her creative exercise is also therapeutic. “My job is stressful because of deadlines and (ratings) sweeps. I found that I looked forward to coming home in the evenings and painting.”
McClellan has created seven fun images — four African American (in “chocolate” and “caramel” shades), two Caucasian, and one brown-haired Latina. She estimates that since 2002, she’s made and sold 300 pillows and bags via Chicago boutiques, bag parties, and the Web. McClellan, who even talked to retailer Barneys New York about carrying her wares, is ready to move to the next level. “I’m looking now to build this into a children’s home decorating line,” she says, hoping to find a manufacturer interested in licensing and mass-producing her designs on kids’ pillows, bedding, and wallpaper.
Prices range from $20 for wood-handled “shopper” totes to $65 for silk or brocade pillows. But McClellan insists that Girly Bags & Accessories didn’t start out as a business idea. “I made one for a friend, and when she’d carry it, she’d literally be stopped on the street. That’s when I started thinking, ‘Maybe there’s something to this.’ I think there are a whole lot of women of color who want to find themselves depicted in whimsical ways on accessories.” For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trademark your talent. Even if you consider your art a hobby, protect it legally. McClellan hired a copyright attorney to help trademark her designs. It cost about $350 to copyright the images, plus attorney fees.
Work your network. McClellan marketed her products to female organizations such as sororities and female book clubs. Word of mouth has led to other opportunities: She designed cotton change-purse party favors for a baby shower