So, what’s a crafty mom to do when the son she’s been home schooling enters a school system?
For Melissa Hess of Kendallville, the answer was turning a passion into a business pursuit.
And, so, last fall when Hess’ son went off to school, she began Green Chick Designs, a company based out of her Kendallville home that sells handmade bags made out of recycled fabrics. Of course, that wasn’t the business name from the beginning. The name came some months later, after some research for Internet domain names and brainstorming.
These bags are not for the faint of heart. They are, in a word, bold.
Hess takes home décor fabric, old jeans and just about anything she can find to repurpose and create one-of-a-kind creations.
Hess did not sew prior to her business venture. She owned a sewing machine, so she took it out. And with some experimentation, shebecame a self-taught, handmade bag maker.
Personally I love tote bags, handbags. And so I like to have a lot of different kinds of them, Hess says of her interest in making bags.
Her first venture in selling the bags to the public was the Apple Festival in Kendallville last year. It was an eye-opening experience, Hess says. I didn’t do so well, she said.
The weather was cold and rainy, and while she had visitors, she had few sales. She had positive feedback but found people seemed leery of spending their money – particularly in the midst of a dismal economy – on a luxury item such as a handmade bag. Despite that experience at her inaugural sale, Hess will return to this year’s Apple Festival on Oct. 2 and 3 with a booth in downtown Kendallville, where she was located last year, she said.
Green Chick bags range in price from about $6 for an unlined gift bag to $60 for a larger handbag with more detail.
Some of those unlined gift bags have been consigned at Summer’s Stories, the bookstore in downtown Kendallville. But most of Hess’ work is sold online, for now.
Hess’ studio is a corner bedroom in her Kendallville home that is filled with natural light and painted a sunny yellow. The centerpiece of that studio was not there when I visited the Hess home: A 1949 Singer that she bought from her guy, a Kendallville man who repairs sewing machines. She uses that machine to do her straight stitching and was sold on it when her guy’s wife showed her how many layers of denim she could zip through with that older machine.
She uses a more up-to-date sewing machine, not an electronic one, to do pattern stitches.
Since that time, she has been busy making what are known as legacy gifts. Customers bring her fabric that has special meaning to them, whether it’s from grandma’s favorite pajamas or a remnant of fabric once used to make a beloved piece of clothing. Hess then constructs a bag that incorporates that special fabric.
Most exciting for Hess and her supportive husband is that a friend and customer in suburban Chicago says she believes there is a market there for the bags.
The friend, a regular buyer of Green Chick Designs, even sold the bags off her shoulder when she was shopping, Hess said.
The same woman is searching for a shop that would be willing to sell Green Chick Designs.
Hess doesn’t intend to restrict her designs to bags. She started as a paper crafter and enjoys making cards from recycled cards. Those may be part of the inventory soon, she said.