by Liisa Andreassen
When Julie Simon started watching Project Runway, an American reality TV show that focuses on fashion design, she had no idea that one day it would inspire her to trade in her computer for a sewing machine. After more than 12 years working as a graphic/web designer, she was ready for a change, so with the show as her muse and YouTube by her side, she bought her first sewing machine. She’d stay up all night cutting fabric from clothes and learning to sew.
“I was simply creating,” she says. “I love to make things. Without even knowing it at the time, Moss Bags was born,” Simon says.
The business name, much like the business itself, just sort of appeared one day. Simon, who lives in the Pacific Northwest, said her husband came home from a mountain bike ride in the woods and said, “Moss Bags.” She bought the domain and the name just stuck.
It took about six months for the business to get off the ground. Completely self-taught, she gathered material and hardware from a local craft shop and started playing. She watched countless YouTube videos, read many blog tutorials and spent time analyzing her favorite HOBO and Queen Bee Creations’ bags!
She started out small, and only invested in what she could afford. She sourced most leather and hardware in Seattle because it was easily accessible and she could ask endless questions and see what she was buying.
Slowly, but surely, Simon built an inventory and a photographer friend helped her to develop professional images of these products while she worked on creating her website.
“I feel very fortunate to have started my business when I did, and in the town where I live,” she says. “Instead of struggles, I’ve found connections with many other women-owned businesses in the area. These connections have been amazing and the support that we each bring to each other has made a potentially lonely career a very full experience.”
She’s also been happily surprised to see many men support and appreciate her design style –
“even before there were men’s wallets,” she laughs.
Simon’s workshop and office space is spread out in her Bellingham, Washington home and garage. She’s accumulated an array of equipment that now includes a hydraulic press and strap cutter.
“I used to cut each piece by hand, but the press has made an amazing difference in the overall quality and efficiency,” she says.
This new equipment has also made it necessary for her one-person business to expand. So, her husband has joined forces and now cuts everything and ships all the orders.
“He also works to keep me organized, which is forever a work in progress,” she jokes. “It takes time to be organized when connected to multiple platforms: email, website, Etsy, Facebook and Instagram, responding to comments and DMs, Google, Faire, etc. There’s also the added pressure from some platforms to reply instantly and ship quickly, otherwise your brand is penalized.”
So, while creating quality leather goods and nurturing client communication and relationships is all part of the fun, looking to find balance is an ongoing process.
She says the most difficult part, for her, of running Moss Bags is the accounting aspect.
“I like to create, not track numbers,” she says.
That’s why about a year ago she started contracting that job out and says she wishes she had done it sooner.
The evolution of design
While Simon admits that running a small business is not without its challenges, the payoff is worthwhile.
Right now, Moss Bags’ most popular products are the small convertible crossbody, which converts from crossbody to shoulder bag and the Mini Crossback, which converts from crossbody to backpack. Best-selling leathers are the distressed honey and the distressed slate – a beautiful mix of grey, brown and olive.
Personally speaking, Simon is a huge fan of the Crossback (crossbody + backpack). The original/large is her everyday bag and has also been her favorite mom-bag because of the backpack feature.
She had received requests for a backpack, but had always been a crossbody girl. Once the idea of bringing two features together in one bag came along, it completely changed the way she started designing. All of a sudden, she had a newfound appreciation for backpacks.
This bag was the start of a major change. Now, many of the bags and wallets convert or have removable straps for multiple options.
- Small Convertible Bag: crossbody + shoulder
- Crossback: crossbody + backpack
- Hipster: fanny pack, short crossbody + clutch
- Wristlet Wallet: wallet + removable wristlet strap
- Handbag: option of removable crossbody strap
- 4-in-1 Wallet: clutch + wristlet + crossbody
Each item is completely unique and the time it takes to make them varies. Some of the larger bags need to be assembled in different segments and that can span over two days, while some of the smaller goods can be made within an hour.
Each tote, convertible bag and wallet is created with one single piece of leather, which creates clean lines, classic designs and a strong base. And, there’s no bottom seam that can rip open.
And, in an effort to get as much use out of each bag, creating multiple features/options has become an important factor in her designs. For example, the Hipster started as a fanny pack and quickly turned into a 3-in-1 design. With a removable strap, it can be a clutch, fanny pack and short crossbody.
The majority of her work is made to order, which is what she prefers because she feels that these items are made with more intention. At the same time, she also loves the efficiency of pre-making items, setting up a “pop-up” and selling in person.
“It’s fun to connect with people after spending so much time as an online business,” she shares.
Currently, Simon works about 30 hours a week, but this fluctuates depending on the season.
“I look forward to having more time, but with two young boys (two and five) and working from home, it can be a challenge,” she says.
Simon plans to soon introduce new leather, hardware and designs.
In an effort to reduce waste and use as much of her leather as possible, a line of earrings is also underway. As an extension, she’s started offering wholesale on Faire for some of the smaller items (earrings, accessories and wallets) and would love to grow this side of the business.
“I’m really excited to see where we are five years from now,” she says.
Looking back on her first designs, Simon can honestly say that EVERYTHING has changed!
“Leather, hardware, styles, thread…and all of these changes started as my family grew and my lifestyle changed. I love reflecting back to see where it all began, but I’m even happier seeing the evolution of how every aspect has changed and improved,” she says.
As goals continue to evolve, she wants to always be true to her creative process while staying open to change. At one point, she tried to incorporate each and every request that came in and she lost track of her style.
“All of a sudden, I wasn’t happy to use my own designs,” she says. “That’s the moment that I knew I had to ‘like’ and ‘want’ to use each and every design offered,” she says.
Over the years, she’s learned that there isn’t one bag that’s perfect for everyone or one company that can satisfy all needs, that’s why she’s committed to simply designing what makes sense to her.
“I want to create something functional that I’m proud of,” she says.
Learn more here: https://www.mossbags.com/