Carly Epstein was out on a Saturday night with her girlfriends at one of the typical Boston University bars where students flock to on the weekends. It was at this classic, old school college bar where had somewhat of an entrepreneur epiphany, if you will.
“I noticed that we were all wearing boring small black bags and they all looked similar. At that moment, I envisioned a new type of bag – a bag that made a statement and was unique to everything else out there,” she says.
After that aha moment, Epstein decided she wanted to be the first to stand out among the crowd—literally and figuratively—by manufacturing a single black polygon-shaped, patent leather custom handbag for herself. Right after Epstein began sporting the accessory, friends, strangers, and even family members soon started asking her to make them their own handbags, too. “When I started wearing the bag I designed, my cousins and friends told me they wanted the same one. Even random people on the street of New York stopped me about it and asked the brand. It was then that I placed my first [mass] order [of the bags,]” she says.
Epstein, a recent Boston University graduate as well as current graduate school student and elementary school teacher, was determined to turn her vision into a reality—and after just four months, she was creating, manufacturing, and selling her own handbags, establishing her brand, Isacco, named after her boyfriend Isaac.
As for the name choice of adding the “o” at the end, Epstein said it just fit with the aesthetic and what she was trying to portray as a luxury handbag company “You have all these designer names—Balenciaga, Ferragamo, Prada—and [the name] Isacco just fit perfectly- it rolled off the tongue!”
Like all entrepreneurs, Epstein has faced economic challenges, such as having to invest a large chunk of money to kick off her business. Since she works with a manufacturer in China to produce the bags, there are sometimes miscommunication issues when it comes to the exact design, shape, size, and feel of each bag. Epstein also says she faces quality control issues on stitching and hardware, which in turn can eat into Isacco’s profits. Since Epstein is so focused on providing customers with high-quality merchandise, bags may be sent back and forth from China several times with small, nitpicky changes, which can impact the entire production schedule and customer orders. However, Isaac, a product engineer for Amazon, is always on hand to help Epstein with dimensions and figuring out the bag’s perfect shape.
Despite these manufacturing obstacles, Isacco has been well received by friends, family and other women across social media, too. Since she’s started the company, Epstein designs around five new styles for each fashion season in an effort to shy away from mass production and emphasize the exclusivity and luxury of the product itself. Her favorite place to sketch is either at her New Jersey lake house or the park. “I love drawing in Central Park with Isaac, or somewhere that is calming and peaceful,” she says.
As we’re talking, Epstein is ecstatic to show off her favorite new design: an orange (“it’s the color for spring,” she assures me) belt bag in pebble leather, which is “very fashion-forward and functional at the same time!” she says. Epstein raves about her creations and is proud that for her, designing is the easiest part of managing the business, while quality control and monitoring the process step-by-step has become difficult from across the world.
The Manufacturing Process
The process, from sketching to eventually selling the products, is long but rewarding for Epstein, as she inches closer and closer to displaying her products on the Isacco’s Instagram. First, she sketches her designs and decides on measurements for the bags. Then she chooses what type of leather or material would best work with the style she thinks is most attractive to her target customers; she then designs the dust bags that cover the bags while they’re making their way to the States, as well as designing the tags, authenticity cards, and other embellishments that go into the final product. Before submitting her design to the factory, in true entrepreneurial fashion, Epstein builds a cardboard prototype to check that every detail is perfect. Once the bag is shipped back to the United States, however, she’ll sometimes decide to make small tweaks if she sees inconsistencies or has a better idea for a stitching or zipper, for example. Finally, when everything is set and perfected, she uploads the photos and information to the brand’s e-commerce site and social media platforms and gets ready to promote the new products.
The Competition in the Market
Since there is so much competition with well-known designers, Epstein says that marketing has been the hardest part of starting Isacco. She says it’s difficult for consumers to give up the loyalty they have for more established and higher-end fashion brands in favor of Isacco’s designs. Epstein has stayed to her company’s original mission to never rip off a customer and is a firm believer that a consumer should never have to “wreck their budget for a boring bag,” as she says.
Epstein works with two business partners to create her innovative bags at affordable prices to sell around the world. She’s proud to have created a brand that’s cost-conscious to the consumer while also providing trendy bags for other women like her. Epstein pledges to not follow the unfair pricing practices of bigger high-end brands that hike up the prices of their products because they know customers will pay for the brand name. These brands sell their designer handbags for a huge markup than their original production cost, because consumers are so loyal to these brands and they want to “fit in” amongst their peers. However, Epstein hopes to one day reach the same success and brand recognition as her much-bigger competition and try to put an end to overpriced bags that aren’t necessarily the best quality.
As for Isacco’s next steps, Epstein plans to continue her growing business as online-only, which will help her reach her target market of millennial women. As Epstein focuses her time and efforts on marketing and promotional efforts to the brand’s website and social media platforms, Isacco is becoming internationally renowned, and Epstein has received orders from New Zealand, Mexico, Brazil, and other countries across the globe.
What She’s Learned
When it comes to sharing her products with family and friends, Epstein knows she’s walking a fine line in regard to charging friends for merchandise, and the possibility of actually losing revenue. One of her biggest challenges is making bags for friends and family for free, and feeling guilty about charging them.
“I wish I would have known about how much of my own money I would have had to invest. I also did not take into account the huge amount of competition of so many bags out there. It is a challenge to keep making unique bags that are different from others,” she says. Epstein is confident that her one-of-a-kind, versatile creations are worth a purchase, despite not being a brand name that her target market is used to wearing.
Part of what makes Epstein stay on top of the latest trends is Epstein stresses the importance of keeping up with and always expanding and perfecting her own “entrepreneur mind,” which she describes as spur-of-the-moment thoughts. “A good entrepreneur is always one step above the competition,” she says. It’s all about being innovative, creative, and thinking of new ways to differentiate Isacco from the competition while targeting the desired market, which in this case are fashion-conscious women in their 20s.
And as she keeps working on her entrepreneur mind and honing her newfound skills, Epstein feels optimistic about Isacco’s future, goals, and aspirations. “I feel that this brand is going in the right direction. I see this as a great hands on learning experience that every business teacher would and should want his or her students to experience,” she says.
With her business starting to take off, along her creativity and “entrepreneur mind” growing stronger every day, Epstein is looking ahead to expanding her brand and continuing to promote her business to new consumers from countries all over the world who share her passion for killer, quality handbags.