But now that her kids are nearly launched (her son is in college; her daughter is a senior in high school), Jayna is in full fledged entrepreneur mode. Using her design talents, her interior design degree and many years of design experience, she has created “Jayna Bags,” a middle market bag with clean lines and an Asian aesthetic aimed at busy moms, professionals, mom athletes and crafters.
This is a story about how a suburban mom has used her creativity to develop an income stream by making something that never before existed. Clearly Jayna isn’t the only person to ever do this. But she’s a good example of how women can take time off to raise their kids, then use their professional background to create a job for themselves and re-enter the workforce. [For those wondering, Jayna is not a client I’m promoting through this blog; she’s a friend and neighbor.]
After graduating from the University of Washington with a fine arts degree in interior design in 1981, Jayna (maiden name Matsudaira), worked as an interior designer for 19 years, space planning corporate offices, lobbies and interiors.
When her son was born in 1994 she chose to stay home with him. Although she took on a few freelance projects, she never went back to work fulltime. She also realized she didn’t want to keep working as an interior designer.
Then she noticed a friend’s cute diaper bag. “She told me what the website was and I thought, `I’m not going to pay that much for a bag!'” Jayna recalls. “I went to the fabric store and got material to make my own. I still have it.”
She tried to make another one. Jayna is particularly good at color and materials. She kept buying fabric and making different bags. “One led to another to another. Pretty soon I had all these bags.”
She sold some at a neighborhood bazaar. Friends and neighbors suggested she make and sell more. Around the same time she started playing tennis and determined that selling bags could fund her tennis habit. She brought bags to book group, did a trunk show, held open houses, and applied for her business license. She also started selling bags on Etsy. Word spread. People called. “One person said she was looking for a tennis bag online, but hadn’t found anything she liked. Could I make something? I said I think so.”
This was the beginning of the current version of the Jayna Bag – a large tote with pockets for tennis racquets, balls and a water bottle. It could sit up. Jayna quickly learned that it wasn’t only attractive to tennis players. Others bought it for knitting, yoga and travel. The more she sold, the more input she got for improvements in design and material.
Jayna has made more than 1,400 bags! But like most business stories, Jayna’s hasn’t followed a straight, positive trajectory. “I had so many events last fall, I had no inventory. I was making bags until midnight, and took on a job for the holidays working 20-30 hours a week. I was worn out,” she says.
Then her father got sick and fell. He died in February. “After my dad passed away I said I think I’m done,” Jayna says.
But she couldn’t quit. A friend who had been encouraging her through the process suggested this spring that she start outsourcing production of the bags. She started calling sewing contractors and after many misses she landed with a local one she’s now using.
“They do products and they do good work,” says Jayna, who picked up the first 50 outsourced bags at the end of September. They’re selling quickly through direct sales and Jayna’s new website. She ordered another 175 and is signed up to sell through Amazon (a steep learning curve she’s still working to scale). Because she’s now outsourcing the sewing work instead of making the bags herself, she’s had to start over with her promotions and websites.
Now she’s focusing on marketing, settling on which channels to sell through, and promoting her bags through social media. And like many people who go into business because they’re good at something, Jayna is realizing that that alone is not enough. She has to become a good businesswoman. It’s a lesson I learned with my business as well – and one that I pass on to others who are excited to strike out on their own.
But Jayna is happy with this new direction. “It’s like what I did as an interior designer, the project management, the design. I feel like more of a designer v. a sewing contractor. It’s more fulfilling and it’s less work because I’m using my mind and creativity versus my labor.”
She’s meeting with as many people as she can to learn about promotions. She encouraging people to write reviews and she’s trying to spread her brand. In the future she plans to make a travel bag, letting a flight attendant friend try a prototype on the road.
[Do you have an entrepreneurial journey story to tell? If so, please tell your story in the comments section of this post.]