Four years ago, Jenny Ross woke up in the middle of the night with a business idea that just happened to fill a niche in the fashion industry. She applied for a patent, and Grateful Bags was born. Since then, Shark Tank has called the Apex-based company twice, and fashionistas like Stacy London, co-host of What Not to Wear, and actress Alexa Pena Vega are giving her shout-outs and social media cred. But there’s a steep learning curve in the fashion industry, as Ross tells Raleigh Magazine.
How did you start Grateful Bags?
I had an embroidery business and was always stitching monograms; I was also making and selling wreaths with metal initials on them. That Christmas, my nieces got designer purses with the big round logo on the outside [Tory Burch]. In January of 2012, I woke up my husband in the middle of the night and said, “Why can’t the purse logo be your monogram, or your brand?” So after much research, and a lot of trial and error, I patented the concept of these acrylic monograms attached to handbags and accessories. Because of how they snap on, they’re interchangeable. So you can get one monogram for several accessories or several monograms to change up the look of a single purse.
How do you come up with design ideas?
Customers play a role in what ends up on the factory’s production lines. I also have a mentor in NYC who helped advise Grateful for the past year or so. Our Izzy bag was designed to meet NFL stadium bag size restrictions put in place after the Boston Marathon bombing. They only allow clear bags or bags with the maximum size dimensions of 6.5” x 4.5”. Just this fall, several NCAA stadiums started implementing this same rule. The bag monogram color to match school or team colors has been a huge hit.
You’re launching bags in both plaid and velvet; what’s next?
We actually have brand new monogram patterns in leopard, tiger and plaid with new pattern ideas in the works. Velvet is on trend this fall and winter but is also a classic fabric I’ve wanted to use for a long time. This spring, I’ve designed a beach bag using a straw material that we’ve never done before. It’s a great-sized tote with a lot of pockets.
How have you promoted your bags?
We use social media, fabulous bloggers, and we have awesome retailers that carry Grateful. We’ve had some fun social media shout-outs by Lauren Scruggs Kennedy, Courtney Kerr, Stacy London and Rebecca Robertson. Word of mouth and people simply seeing the product on the street has been our best advertisement.
What advice would you give to other would-be entrepreneurs?
One of my favorite quotes is ‘You only get out of things what you put into them.’ This applies to just about everything in life. I have clearly seen where effort equals results, and the opposite is true as well. Which doesn’t mean work is constant, but it does mean when it’s meaningful and focused, the outcome is usually fulfilling.
Where did the name come from?
Even in dark moments and down days, we all have so much to be thankful for. It’s about appreciating the little things and being present in the moment. The verse Luke 12:48 has a lot of meaning for me, and for Grateful: “For those to whom much is given, much will be required.” Giving back is our ongoing responsibility and commitment. Grateful has the honor to be touched by and connected to the ZOE Ministry (zoehelps.com), a three-year program developed in Africa that empowers orphans and vulnerable children globally to overcome extreme poverty, become fully self-reliant and learn about God’s love for them. Active in seven countries, ZOE has approximately 28,000 children currently enrolled. This summer, we went to Rwanda to meet the children we help support.
Grateful Bags (from $64-$138) are available online at gratefulbags.com