"Bag Lady" in LA Magazine
Sarah Legare creates stylish and sought-after purses from her home in Lewiston
By Ruth Decoster
One purse at a time, Sarah Legare of Lewiston hopes to someday go ''national'' with her EllieAnna Purse Company. In the meantime -- while her children are young and still in school -- she is slowly but surely building her reputation, product line and customer base.
The business began two years ago with a checkbook cover. After the request of a family member to make a matching purse, along with a bit of prompting, Legare made the first EllieAnna handbag. ''Then friends began to find out,'' she said, ''and it started snowballing from there.''
Another friend urged her to create an actual company with a formal name. With help and advice from friends and family, along with an informal Facebook poll, she combined the names of two of her daughters, Ellie (5) and Anna (7). A friend, Angela Chase of Lisbon, gave her some logo advice, urging her to ''use a symbol of some sort that has meaning.'' That turned out to be an easy decision, she said, deciding to use the three-flowered tattoo she had inked on the back of her neck the summer before. ''It was perfect!'' she said. The largest flower represents her nine year-old son, Jaden.
A self-taught seamstress, she has made more than 1,500 purses and accessories since EllieAnna first started. She good-naturedly admitted to watching a YouTube instructional video five or six times to learn how to create an adjustable strap, and has since overcome her distaste for installing zippers. Her first few purse styles were made using patterns as guides, which she soon altered to fit her own preferences. She now designs all of the styles herself.
Along with handbags, she has expanded her line to include diaper bags, pet carrying cases, e-reader and iPad covers, key fobs, lanyards, camera accessories, and sea glass jewelry. She hopes to someday offer a line of home accessories, too.
Legare started by buying only one or two yards of fabric at a time from a local craft store, which is how she stumbled upon her favorite fabric designer, Michael Miller. She now uses his fabric almost exclusively, and buys it directly from the designer by the bolt. The fabrics tend to be modern and vibrantly colored, based mainly on what she likes.
From the very beginning, Facebook has played a major role in her marketing. She periodically posts photos of new products and fabrics on her Facebook page, urges people to enter into drawings for free products and entices clients to host purse parties. ''Facebook is amazing for reaching a ton of people,'' she said. She has found that fans will often place an order if they don't win the item in a drawing. She has even engaged Facebook fans to help name new products.
Because she wants to maintain a balance between her business and home life, she is happy with her current sales volume. ''I haven't needed to advertise at all,'' she said. ''It's all been word-of-mouth.'' She often sets up at craft fairs, and is a regular participant at Lost Valley's Diva Mall.
Legare currently does most of the work herself, from designing and stitching in her home studio, to presenting at purse parties. She has hired a few women to sew purse linings on a piece-work basis. She has put her daughter, Anna, ''in charge of label production,'' which means cutting the ties and punching holes in her designer tags.
When it comes to expanding her business, Legare has a vision. ''I want mill space. Old mill space.'' She would love to create a combination retail shop and work studio, where customers would come in, select the style and fabric for their pieces, and sit down to watch it being made while enjoying a cup of coffee while they wait. She would also like to incorporate other Maine artists, and hopefully offer mother-friendly work schedules to her employees. ''It's so important for community survival,'' she said, ''to support local businesses and artists.'' She added there is a ''very large following for hand-made goods. People are willing to pay a little more if they know it's locally made.''
While EllieAnna purses and accessories are currently available at the Maine Maven in Orono and Monkitree in Gardiner, she is working to find a location in Portland's Old Port to carry her product. Pet items can be found at The Doggz Inn in Auburn. Customers can schedule purse parties and view, design and order products from her website, www.ellieannapurses.com, or contact her on Facebook.