Several of my friends have abandoned careers in corporate America to pursue their creative dreams.
Meet Lindsay Thomas of Garland Bags. The Savannah, Georgia-based maker marries home design with fashion.
For chic wearable moments, each clutch she makes is crafted with beautiful and well-known fabrics from the interiors industry. I like to wear one of Lindsay’s colorful clutches with a white shirt, crisp denim, and strappy sandals or wedges to dress up my everyday uniform. However, they add an unexpected layer to a cocktail dress or blazer and heels. Any way you use them, these head-turning pieces elevate preppy casual. The size is perfect for a phone, keys, and lipstick, and the clutches are sure to amplify your style quotient.
How did you begin?
Garland bags started two years ago, but unofficially, I started as a pillow company. I wanted to be creative, and I collected fabric swatches. I would make pillows and sell them. At some point, I decided make a clutch or two from remnants. I posted a few of my bags on Instagram. The response was incredible, and it gave me the idea to learn how to make these clutches with more polished construction. Keep in mind, the first clutch that I posted culminated after I watched an online tutorial. My materials were fabric remnants, hot glue, and a piece of cardboard. People started asking if they could buy them.
You can boast the “Made in the USA” label.
I sure can! My passion for interior design encouraged me to take sewing lessons about 12 years ago. My mother gifted me a sewing machine, and I was on my way fabricating pillows. I still make pillows, and I still contribute to the inventory of clutches, especially for the one-of-a-kind pieces that are made from vintage designer scarves. But I couldn’t have built this business had it not been for a factory right here in Savannah—the Port City Sewing Factory. They construct small batches for makers. I have a great relationship with them and couldn’t do this without their expertise.
You credit social media, namely Instagram, for catapulting Garland Bags onto the digital runway. Was its power a surprise?
Definitely. I never thought about what Instagram could do for a business, much less that it could support it entirely. Initially, the majority of my followers were my friends. And of course, my friends were supportive. I thought that Instagram would just allow me to show off the fun I was having while being creative. But the positive response made me use it as a tool to grow my following and my sales. Instagram feels very communal. People are positive and encouraging and helpful. It’s so nice to see other women with small businesses touting what I do and vice versa. Women really do band together on Instagram to build each other up.
Your clutches beam with so much vibrance and personality. Does that come from your own wardrobe style?
Yes and no. My personal style has always been relatively conservative. Conservative with a little punch. I remember a time when my daily uniform was some sort of A-line skirt with a statement necklace. My friends would joke about my same look every day. In other words, I’m never the trendsetter or first adopter. But I do love an unexpected moment in an outfit. I love that my clutches can take a simple black dress or conservative daytime outfit up a notch. A punch of color, a punch of pattern. Wearing the clutch says, “I am a confident woman.”
Why decorative fabrics instead of those from the fashion world?
Interior design is where my passion lies. Fashion doesn’t ignite that passion for me in the same way. But it feels good to look nice. And fabrics for use in interiors are some of the most beautiful works of art. For instance, I can’t get enough chinoiserie. I love to think about how certain fabrics might translate into my clutches, and sometimes I fall in love with a fabric that just won’t work. My inspiration comes from watching what is going on in interiors, and that gives me a different creative lens. Now it’s not so much about trial and error. When I started, I was working with remnants, and so I could play. Now, I’m ordering real yardage, so I have to control myself and order with intention. Everything is measured, the way a business should be.
You make small batches and sometimes one-of-a-kind pieces. What are your thoughts on exclusivity?
I struggle with this. For so long every bag that I made was one-of-a-kind. On one hand, buyers were attracted to the idea that nobody else had their bag. That was part of the allure. On the other hand, it was frustrating for people who wanted something that they saw. The clutches are still relatively exclusive. I can maintain that with the vintage hardware that I discover online. I hunt for vintage animal brooches that feel chic and fun and unapologetically fierce. And to be more sustainable, I do source hardware now, too. I have a local maker who can produce for me in quantity. All business moves that I must consider as I grow.
Why do you think it’s important to think about personal style?
When I’m confident in my personal style, I feel confident in so many parts of life. When you are comfortable in your personal style and put together with great accessories, you have a good day. In order to have a vision and brand, I have to understand my own personal style and trust my taste. I am the arbiter of what works and what doesn’t. If I don’t have confidence in my own personal style, it’s difficult to do that for the people.
What advice would you give someone thinking about their own start-up?
DO IT. Put it out there. I tend to build slow and steady, very low-risk. I started this one bag at a time. I was a full-time pillow maker as I began to dabble in the clutches. Point is, this was my side hustle. If you can swing it, it’s nice to start a business while you still have another job. And never disregard finances. Build up the nest by putting aside for when you feel ready to scale up and take a step forward. Be patient and understand that your investments never yield immediate outcomes. If you’ve made reasonably good decisions and are hiring the right people to help you, your seed money will grow. For me, the next step is always thinking about what’s to come. And I’m always crossing my fingers that my choices are the right ones. Every day presents new questions. I have to figure these things out. It’s the next business move, and I’m a person of action.