I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ami Beck who is the founder of DOLYN bags, a luxury handbag brand in Kansas City. We were fortunate to meet her at our Brand/Factory mixer that we held during Sourcing at MAGIC last month. During the event, we learned that she was looking to find the right factory partner to help her scale her business. When we heard her story we were so inspired that we decided to share how Ami got her handbag brand started.
From Psychology to Fashion
When talking about her background, Ami didn’t have the smoothest trajectory into fashion. This is how she describes it, “I went to school and had no idea what I wanted to do. You know they make you decide at such a young age what you’re gonna do with your life. It’s a lot of pressure. I just couldn’t decide what I wanted to do.”
Eventually, Ami landed on psychology, but knew she didn’t want to pursue a Masters because she wasn’t passionate enough about it. So, she worked as an administrative assistant for three years in a hospital. “It was really interesting stuff, but probably not something you want for your life goals.”
“I always wanted to study fashion design so bad. And I kept thinking about if I could do it all over again I would go to school for fashion design.” She recalled that one day she finally decided that she would do it all again and went back to school.
First Steps to Starting A Handbag Brand
Ami talked a bit about trying to find a way to transfer what she was learning about apparel design to handbags, “I went to school for Fashion Design, but I got a degree in apparel studies instead. I didn’t want to go all four years learning about garments. I knew I needed to be in the industry and doing what I wanted to do.”
Nearly immediately after she graduated she bought a “$2,000 big-ass sewing machine and some random scrap hide.” She thought to herself what the perfect bag for her would be. After that, she drafted her first-ever handbag pattern. “I just made the bag. I spent so long on it and it turned out so cool and it’s still my favorite bag. It’s one of my bestsellers.”
“I was just playing around with different bags and different designs. I messed up on so many bags. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was so much fun. It took me six months before I even came up with a name for my brand. I didn’t even know what they were called.”
“I was working part-time, I was doing DOLYN part-time and I did that up until September.” Then, everything took off when Ami went to Kansas City Fashion Week. She joked that didn’t even know that Kansas City had a fashion week, “I saw it and all these incredible designers.”
“After nine months, I applied to be in the following season. So, in March of 2015, I launched a nine-piece collection of bags on the runway and it was a huge hit! I received so much press from it. And then by that fall I had to take DOLYN on full-time because I already had too many Christmas orders to keep up with.”
Ami had trouble keeping up with the orders because of the intricacy of making the bags. She spent the next two months working 14-hour days to get her orders done and just barely made the deadline joking that she collapsed at the end of it, “it was an incredible first year!”
After her first year, Ami had to figure out how to run her business. The winter months were more difficult for her to get orders and it was something she had to adjust to. “Now, how do you run a business?” is what she asked, “I have zero business experience and that’s what 2016 is about.”
She has since hired a seamstress, gotten more press, and has eight trunk shows coming up. “Right now, it’s figuring how to get my name out there on a budget.”
Production in the U.S.
“It’s so convenient for me. I need small runs. I need easy communication. I speak one language. It’s really great that time zones are easy. It’s great that I can go in and visit.” Ami was adamant about being made in the United States and the quality that comes with that. However, she also pointed to another reason why Made in U.S.A was so important to her, “I think that as a nation we’ve lost so many skills and trades that used to be passed down from generation to generation. You’d take pride in it. Your grandfather would do it, your father would do it. And we’ve lost that.”
She talked really passionately about the opportunities that Made in USA affords, “the fact that that’s coming back as an art and people are priding themselves on it and able to sustain jobs in it, I think that’s what’s amazing about Made in USA.”
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“People know what they want to do, but don’t know how sometimes. But if you wait till you know how, you might not ever do it. You’ll never have all the answers. Jump in, get your hands dirty. The biggest thing that has been really beneficial has been surrounding myself with like-minded friends.” She talked about the Kansas City fashion community that she has been able to meet through events and how the women in that community are dealing with the same struggles like how to use QuickBooks and whether they’re an LLC.
“I think that everyone should do it if they want to, but I think there’s a piece of knowing yourself and whether or not you’re really up to it. I have been astounded at how challenging it is and I’m really bull-headed and passionate about it and stubborn. But if that’s not your personality, you might not be able to get through it. But I’ve been charging ahead and I will continue to.”
Photos courtesy of Andrea Larson