How I launched My Eco-Friendly Handbag Business

Interview with Marty Stevens-Heebner  – Creator of Rebagz eco- chic handbags

Q: What is your name? Marty Stevens-Heebner

Q: Company name and website?
I have three companies.
Rebagz Eco-Chic Handbags
Half the Sky Designs LLC
Altered Shoes

Q: We launched in: July 2007


Q: What is your business or what do you sell?
Rebagz™ Eco-Chic Handbags are made from colorful hand woven recycled juice packs and recycled rice sacks with vibrant graphics already printed on them.  We’re human-friendly as well as eco-friendly because all our bags are made under fair trade conditions.

Q: Who or what was the inspiration behind your company?
My interest in eco-design and fair working conditions dates back to my human rights work in Chiapas, Mexico amid the aftermath of the Zapatista rebellion. I was amazed by the inventiveness of the artisans in Chiapas, who lacked resources but more than made up for that with their originality and flare.

Q: How did you get started?
Prior to launching my handbag line, I had a small but successful business creating original handcrafted jewelry.  By the fall of 2006, I decided it was time to create an accessories line that would appeal to a broad market, and that’s when I decided to go into handbag design.

Q: How long before your business was profitable, or when is it projected to become profitable? Let’s just say the economic crisis affected our ability to be completely and consistently profitable.

Q: What significant obstacles (if any) have you faced & how did you overcome them?
The economic crisis!  That and time management.  We’re a small company and there are so many different hats I have to wear, especially with my book Altered Shoes coming out a few months ago.
Q: Do you ever feel like giving up at times? If so, what keeps you going?

What entrepreneur doesn’t get frustrated?  But I’ve always been a problem solver, and believe that there are always opportunities in any problem.  I also love what I do!

Q: What qualities (i.e., family support, discipline, time management) do you think are necessary for a women entrepreneur? All of the above!  I also think it’s important to be very people-friendly because things like customer service can make or break you.

Q: What is the one thing (book, website, coach, mentor, tool, blog, service, etc) that you value and can say has contributed to your success? My publicist Lisa Elia – and – has been instrumental in getting the word out about us.  Thanks to her, we’ve been featured in dozens of magazines and newspapers.  Not only does this generate buzz, but it also helped us indirectly as well.  The most obvious example is that one small article in a trade publication was read by the person who then became our QVC liaison.

Press is vital!  And Lisa’s one of the best.  The great thing is she teaches you how to do it on your own through!

Q: What was the worst advice someone gave you?
Being told I needed to be in showrooms all over the country.  It’s incredibly expensive to position yourself that way, and there’s no guarantee they’ll really make the effort to sell your product.  I’m very picky about what sales reps I’ll work with because you really need to make sure you’re working with people who have a strong work ethic and enjoy their work.  That’s the trick!

Q: What are your business or personal goals for the next year?
To vastly expand our internet presence, plus I’ll be launching my consulting business via  I want to help entrepreneurs avoid the mistakes I made, so I can save them massive amounts of time and money in the manufacturing process.

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in business or thinking about taking the leap into entrepreneurship? Now’s a great time to do it!   The economy’s beginning to show signs of life again, and as people start spending again, you’ll be ready to take advantage.

Q: is there anything else you wish I had asked?
I’m just so flattered you asked in the first place!  Thanks very much for the opportunity.

I will add this: I think it’s becoming increasingly important to make sure that the people who make your product are doing so under fair and decent conditions.  Also the whole environmental movement seems to (finally!) be here to stay.  I hope that being eco-friendly and human-friendly becomes the norm rather than a niche in 10 years or so……….so why not just start off working that way?

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Written by Sarah shaw

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