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Friday, Dec 1, 2023

Black Entrepreneurs Month: Bag Business

Kimberley Wesley started her business just nine months ago. After working as a registered nurse for 20 years, she became inspired to create a side profession selling hand-crafted bags.

Her line of tote and travel bags are manufactured in India and sold through her home-based business in Northridge.

“I am a visible vendor at community events and marketplaces,” Wesley said. “A great deal of customer traffic comes by word of mouth.”

Aside from their visual appeal, Wesley’s travel bags are durable and hold a great deal of personal items such as laptops, clothes, shoes, tablets, makeup-up bags and other purses.

“Most travel bags are considered a personal item on major airlines, which will save you money on carry-on fees,” said Wesley, who notes that her bags are eco-friendly and made from natural leather, goat hair and textiles of the highest quality. The ones crafted from canvas materials are derived from old military tents and recycled tarps.

Wesley guarantees that when a customer walks out the door carrying one of her signature bags, “you will make a statement.”

Tell us how you got your business started.

I started the business after visiting a store in Catalina Island that carried hip merchandise and mostly chic handbags. I bought two. Each friend with me bought a large travel bag. After returning home and hearing the great feedback on the bags I was carrying while in the community or while traveling, a light went off — start a business selling these swanky totes, purses, weekender and backpacks. I did the footwork, and Bag Swag was birthed in 2022.

Do you like being your own boss? Do you ever think of trading it in for a steady paycheck?

Owning a business is a lot of ongoing work. I do enjoy owning and building my business. I do continue to work full time in nursing leadership and administration at a well-known organization. I enjoy doing both and feel blessed that I can attend to and grow Bag Swag as well as being a health care professional. The future includes starting a second business and phasing out of health care within the next 10 years.

What’s the best aspect of running your own business?

Seeing customers light up when they make a purchase. I enjoy networking with other business owners. I value the opportunity it brings me to provide quality merchandise that people like.

And the worst?

All the steps it takes to open a business, such as coming up with a business name, creating a logo, obtaining a domain name, building the website, to name a few. It takes time for the web designer to build the website.

What advice would you give someone who’s about to start their own business?

Don’t be afraid. If you are afraid, do it anyway. Do your research on your product or service. Give yourself grace. You must build a business. It doesn’t happen overnight. Don’t give up. Buy QuickBooks or another accounting/inventory software early. I would also recommend getting a Dun and Bradstreet number for your business credit.

What’s the biggest challenge your business has faced? And how did you deal with it?

Getting the website up. To get to full exposure and capture online customers, it is pertinent that the business has an online presence. The launch of the website is scheduled for March. It has taken numerous hours and meetings to assure the website is exactly what I envision. Currently I sell merchandise as a home-based business.

Has the pandemic affected your business?

Yes. In a good, yet challenging way. I was able to start the business and I have had consistent customer traffic. However, due to the economy, I have noticed people are more focused on everyday needs rather than luxuries. I am sensitive to inflation prices. I reevaluated my price point. However, the quality, value, space and chicness of the merchandise remains unwavering. (Price points vary from $64 to $116.)

Do you think you’ll ever start another business?

Absolutely. The next business venture exists in real estate. I have some land in Michigan snuggled one block away from the Muskegon Lake, which flows into Lake Michigan. I plan to begin building a multifamily development this year. I have my eye on another real estate venture in the Middle East. 

Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk
Hannah Madans Welk is a managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. She previously covered real estate for the Los Angeles Business Journal. She has done work with publications including The Orange County Register, The Real Deal and doityourself.com.

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