As a child, Cortnie Hutchinson spent countless hours watching her grandmother sew, but she never connected the dots and realized that she was being prepared for a career as a handbag designer. The owner of Love, Cortnie, a handmade collection of oversized clutches, leather, and calf-hair bucket bags recalls, “My grandmother was super handy so I always wanted to learn how to sew, but never found the time. During the summer of 2011, I was between jobs, so I asked my grandmother to teach me how to sew. While sitting in her kitchen playing around with scrap fabric on her machine, which she later gave to me and I still sew on today, I came up with the idea of making a clutch.â€
Now, four year later, Hutchinson has transitioned from employee to entrepreneur and her business continues to thrive. Black Enterprise caught up with the Miami based Handbag Designer to learn more about her journey.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 2006 with a BS in Kinesiology. I planned on being a Physical Therapist, but couldn’t really picture myself in that position after working as a part-time Tech for over a year. I loved it, but it wasn’t until my Godmother asked me one simple question– “If there were anything you could do, what would it be?â€
Later I got accepted to the Fashion Institute of Design. About four months later I moved across the country to California. I got my second degree in a year with intentions of becoming a Buyer. I moved back to MD some time in 2008 and got caught up in working retail. I wasn’t happy. I worked as an associate, a merchandiser, a stylist, and a manager and even worked in visuals. It just wasn’t what I wanted to do. A few years later I’m running my business full time. I’m grateful.
Why did you decide to focus on designing handbags and clutches?
I had a big thing for oversized handbags and clutches, but could never really find one I loved. They were always too small or all black. They were just boring. Clutches were not a big accessory at the time. I wanted one that was large enough for all of my crap, colorful, pretty on the inside ad unique–it just something fun. Again, my grandmother was excited to teach me. She took me to a local fabric store and we picked up a few things and came back and started sewing. It took over three hours just to make one, it was brutal, but I loved it.
I even blogged about the idea of creating a couple of clutches and making them available for purchase. My blog readers encouraged me and they are a big reason why I even started. The next week I opened my Etsy shop with about three different clutches available. I’ve now done over 100 different styles.
Why did you choose Etsy as a platform to market and grow your business vs. your own website?
I chose Etsy because I loved it. I never started making bags with the intention to call it a business later down the road. I was curious. It was really just a hobby. Etsy was a platform that made it easy to set up your handmade items for sale. It was convenient. Once I started my bags, blogging about them, sharing them on social media, etc. my business grew tremendously. That’s when it became a business. And I kept at it because I truly enjoy it.
Most recently you switched from Etsy to your very own platform, what prompted this decision?
I know of a lot of people that have had really big success just selling on Etsy. But I wanted my own little spot on the Internet. Plus, in my opinion, it’s more professional to say Lovecortnie.com instead of lovecortnie.etsy.com. I wanted to partner with people to help me raise brand awareness. I was more confident with my own site. I still sell on Etsy because it has it’s own community and people still shop my brand there. I just don’t mention that I’m on Etsy now and keep the focus on lovecortnie.com.
What are your top three accomplishments?
1. It will be four years since I started this September and that is my biggest accomplishment. So many people set out to start their own business and don’t succeed. They give up, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the time, etc.
2. I was able to quit my job. My business continues to grow and I’m able to live off of it. It’s an amazing blessing to be able to do so.
3. I have wonderful supporters. I’m thankful for them. They share my brand with their friends and family, on their blogs with their readers, they share on social media, they choose my bags to complete their looks at events they attend.
3. I love when I receive an email about how much they love their bags or get tagged in a photo of someone wearing their bag. It’s amazing. Love, Cortnie wouldn’t be anything without its supporters.
What are your top three lessons learned?
1. When I started I knew nothing about running a business. I learned how to juggle being a Buyer with the demands of the marketing/advertising, finances, producing, packaging and shipping. I learned how to do it all on my own.
2. Time management is important. I learned that not everything you do is for everyone. I remember making a bag that I happened to love, but it didn’t get the response that I had hoped for. You have to move on. Don’t waste time or money if something doesn’t perform well. Figure out how to make it better or move on.
3. I’ve also learned that it can be a challenge to do everything on your own. Ask for help if you need it. I struggle with this. I’d rather do it all myself and get it done. But it can’t always be that way. Especially if you want your brand to grow. So I’m in the process of building a team.