The story of Vera Bradley: From sewing bags on a ping pong table to becoming one of America’s most loved brand

Vera Bradley

Inspiration can come from anyone at any time. Homemakers can do wonders too, Barbara and Patricia proved it right by building a new business with just Rs 32000 investment together.

Together, Barbara Bradley and Patricia R. Miller founded Vera Bradley, a popular American handbag, and luggage design company. They are two of America’s most successful self-made women according to Forbes.

“If you have an idea run with it. Don’t think twice, just go with it like I did.” said a very successful woman to those who are looking to start their own business.

The success story of Vera Bradley, a superhit brand has its own interesting back stories and the extremely unexpected beginning.

It was 1982, when Barbara Bradley Baekgaard and her close friend as well as neighbour, Patricia Miller were boarding a flight from Atlanta. They tend to notice how uninteresting women’s travel bags looked at the airport. The lack of feminine looks on the luggage bags disappointed them completely and that is when they decided to create their own brand.

Both Barbara and Patricia were homemakers and did not have money to fund their company. They decided to borrow $250 which comes upto Rs. 16,000 now each from their husbands. Out of that, they both purchased some floral, quilting fabric made in USA to make the colourful bags.

Their initial workplace was Barbara’s basement. They put up an advertisement in the newspaper for people who wished to take up sewing work from their homes. They cut fabric out in a Ping Pong table and put it with zipper and other elements in a bag. Later, this bag was passed on to women who took it home to sew.

Their important source of inspiration was Barbara’s mother, a former model and that is how the company was named after her name, Vera Bradley.

They soon ran out of funds and needed more to take their work ahead. Just then, friend of theirs who believed in their idea, gave them cheque of $2,500 which is around Rs. 1,60,000. He said, “If they were successful it was a loan. If they were not, it was a gift.” That cheque worked like magic for them and helped them achieve great heights.

In the first year, they sold products for $10000 (Rs.6.44 lakh) and by the end of third year, the revenue was $1 million.

In the year 1984, these two ladies decided to rent a space for sewing so that they could concentrate on marketing and sales alone. In the beginning, they had no idea about how to price the bags or do a cost analysis. It is then that they got in touch with SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives), a non-profit organisation providing free business mentoring to the entrepreneurs and there, a volunteer was appointed to help them.

The sales touched the sky when they started calling the stores and showcasing their bags. In 2007, Barbara and Patricia open their first retail store. Customers from the age group of 8 to 80 visited their store.

According to the designers, the designs were created after keeping the American taste in mind. They have also launched a wide variety of baby bags, student backpacks and accessories. Some of the bags are also inspired by English and French designs. For both the ladies, the business has seen the growth because of their family and friends.

Barbara still remembers what her father said to her that ‘In business, you sell yourself first, your company second and the product third. Business is all about forming relationships and having company that reflects your value.”

Early in the 1990s, Barbara and Patricia lost a close friend to breast cancer. They then decided to establish the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer which has donated more than $10 million to the Indiana University Cancer Centre.  Barbara Bradley and Patricia Miller have now become quite famous because of their business.

From homemakers to founders of a brand whose annual sales is over $550 million. The true friendship of theirs has always been the cornerstone of success of their brand, Vera Bradley.  The label, Vera Bradley is known for colourful prints and high quilted cotton bags today. Amongst the various other American brands, this brand has become one of the favourites.

From just handbags, the brand has now expanded their product offerings to clothing, jewellery, eyewear, fragrance as well. Barbara’s and Patricia’s journey are truly inspirational which started with a workspace of a ping-pong table and a wonderful idea in 1982.