Step two of CK Bags - A Journey with Cindy Kirk

After many failed attempts at finding my perfect handbag, I dreamt up my OG bag, the Cindy.  Then the task became, how to make it out of leather?  At that time, it never occurred to me that I would begin a new career in designing and manufacturing women handbags. It was through trial and error that hand stitching quickly became the most rewarding and practical way for me to produce my desired results.

Shortly after completing my first bag, I met some girlfriends for lunch, they loved it and encouraged me to continue!  They each wanted one so having been excited about their support, I gave each of them a bag and they wore them around town. Elisabeth, one of the girls, went into “Sister”, a local boutique, where the owner, Annette also fell in love with my work.  As it turns out, Annette does not carry my line but she has been one of my biggest sources of encouragement throughout the years. She helped build my confidence as well as giving me tips for entering the world of fashion and retail.  She is the one who turned me on to Souchi, an Aspen boutique, who is my best wholesale account.  (Suzi, the owner of Souchi, has her own line of hand-knit cashmere sweaters so she really gets the whole creative process and is super great to work with.  Check out her linet:  www.souchi.com )

Enter, the age-old dilemma: I had a great product, now how do I sell it?  I spent hours researching boutiques around the country and then hired a photographer so that I had professional images with which to work.  From there I had simple postcards printed with a beautiful images of my bags, wrote personal notes, dropped them in the mail to the boutiques, waited a week or so, and then began making follow up calls to everyone I had sent a postcard to (approx. 100).  True story . . . those phone calls were so hard to do that I forced myself to make 10 calls a day until I was through the entire list.  I would get so excited if a store didn’t answer because I could get the credit for having made the call without actually having to engage!  About 5 o’clock one evening George came in and I had cracked a beer just to cope!  It was awful, but I picked up two stores, Souchi and another one in Solana Beach.  The sheer rudeness and rejection from sales people was very humbling and I instantly realized that this would be a long haul for me.   It was so brutal.  But I am not one to give up and give in. 

Dealing with store owners and buyers has been an interesting journey for me.  I am continually amazed that stores which pride themselves for curating new designers, carry the exact same brands as every other high-end boutique in the country.  I mean, Nili Lotan, Mother, Clare V, those designers are going to be fine, why not introduce new ones, like CK!  Ugh, the frustration and perseverance.  No one ever said this would be easy!

Besides convincing store buyers to invest in me, the next biggest challenge has been translating the artisanal feel and handcrafted stitching into photos.  It seems that once a customer gets to touch and feel my product, they really begin to appreciate the quality and handmade nature.  That and the simplicity of my designs.  They are practical and easy to wear without any bells or whistles.  Another challenge is just getting my story out there.  As we all know, the face of retail is rapidly changing with customers wanting an actual connection with designers and brands. This is actually a bonus for me because I am all about customer service and relationships. I will always go the extra mile and will often send a customer a range of samples so that she can try the bags on and work with them in the comfort of her own home.  (My team is in the process of offering this service on my website.  It is not enough to just have pretty photos!)

Even though it was not intentional, I am proud of the fact that I have created brand recognition which is also a very important aspect of fashion today.  I have had a friend in the security line at JFK recognize one of my bags on a total stranger.  Each of my bags has distinctive hand stitching, a cross somewhere on it as well simple bead detail.   Both men and women can easily spot my bags because of my signature look.

When I started the search for MY perfect bag, it never occurred to me that I would actually turn it into a thriving business.  I have been fortunate to allow CK to grow organically in that because we do all of our own manufacturing, we are not sitting on a lot of inventory which often leads to profit loss.  We have been able to manage our growth and stay within our boundaries and abilities to continue to provide excellent quality and service. We do not make a bag until we receive an order.  I have worked very hard and It has been a long, but rewarding process building a team of great gals who cover the areas where I am weakest.  We are ready and working REALLY hard to get a broader reach within the market place.  We are ready for the challenge with a good team.

Fear of failure is an ongoing personal emotion, but I have learned so much about myself, the industry, design, finances, you name it, that I am constantly realigning my preconceived notions of success v. failure.  If I quit tomorrow, there is no way I would be a failure simply because of all the knowledge and experiences gained.  I am completely self-taught in working with leather and have never borrowed a penny but rather worked hard doing alterations which in turn fed my CK bank account.  I do not consider myself a leather craftsman but rather a designer, seamstress, businesswoman and entrepreneur. 

This journey has forced me to stop comparing myself to others!  I am who I am, I am what I am, and I am good!  I am in a constant state of growth and I am as happy as I have ever been. 

Cindy Kirk