October 5 2017

Meet Jen Lewis, Founder of Purse & Clutch

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m Jen Lewis, Founder + Executive Director of Purse & Clutch. I live in Austin, TX with my supportive husband, Jonathan a little eastside house that I love with a backyard that is shaded by huge 100+ year old pecan trees.

I have an undergrad degree in Chemistry & a Master’s in Leadership & Ethics that place me firmly on the nerdy side of things! I’ve always been interested in partnering with communities with limited opportunities to try to find systematic ways to combat generational poverty starting with hearing stories of my dad & his siblings growing up in Nigeria.

What exactly is Purse & Clutch?

Purse & Clutch is a socially conscious handbag brand working to break the cycle of poverty by connecting you to weavers & seamstresses in Guatemala + leather workers in Ethiopia. Our mission is to help support sustainable, long-term employment for men & women with limited opportunities. Everything you purchase in our shop helps employ & empower the artisans who made it!

What inspired you to start Purse & Clutch?

In 2011, a dear friend from grad school had moved to Northern India to help start an organization that worked with locals to make handbags designed with their Western customers in mind. The stories she would tell me of the transformation that employment could bring captivated me.  She told me there was essentially a line out the door of eager potential workers looking for a job, and that they just needed to sell more bags to be able to expand their workforce. I asked her to ship me a box of bags & as they were being made I researched everything I could about how to start an online shop.

Fast forward five years later & we’ve taken on designing & producing our own label that’s being made by single mothers in Guatemala as well as an incredible group of men & women in Ethiopia where other employment opportunities simply don’t exist. It really is incredible how much of an impact employment can have on an individual’s life as well as on her community. By changing the way manufacturing is done – from an exploitative industry to one that lifts its workers out of poverty – we can begin to unravel the cycle of poverty.

How did you come up with the name?

It actually started with a play on the word clutch – as in the sports players who come through in the clutch, but when I looked up available domain names everything was related to car parts! From there I checked to see if www.purseandclutch.com was available & when it was, I bought it immediately! I loved that it was straightforward & transparent, which is exactly what I knew I wanted the business to be about.

Where are your products sold? Are they sold in stores?

We sell online at www.purseandclutch.com & opened up a flagship storefront this past June in South Austin – 4477 S. Lamar Blvd Suite 590. We’ve just started partnering with small boutiques all across the US making our items available in their shops.

What is your favorite part about running Purse & Clutch?

The teams I get to work with – both in Ethiopia & in Guatemala as well as the US-based team of women who put so much passion into their roles at Purse & Clutch.

What is your least favorite part about running Purse & Clutch?

When you’re running a business, especially one that you really believe in the work that is being done, there is never a stopping point. There’s always something more to be doing which can begin to wear me down if I’m not super intentional about self care.

Is there a favorite product?

This is SUCH a tough question!! I’m pretty much in love with how our new botanically dyed, handwoven Guatemalan Silk & Cotton Scarves turned out. Super soft & the color is so rich. I’m also a big fan of our classic Leather Wallets from Ethiopia. They’re just the perfect size + hold exactly what I need!

How do you spread the word about your company?

A lot of how people hear about is word of mouth – a friend who discovers how we blend ethics & style tells her community. We’re also on Social MediaInstagram, Facebook, & Pinterest where we share both the stories of the artisans making the items as well as beautiful photos of the well-crafted handbags.

Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

  • Start small.
  • Learn the difference between being busy & being productive.
  • Test every assumption.
  • Surround yourself with a stellar team / support group.
  • Make a list of what needs to be done & just do the next thing. Every day.

Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying? 🙂

Lately I’ve been inspired by Marian Wright Edelman, founder & director of the Children’s Defense Fund who said, “If you don’t like the way the world is, you have an obligation to change it. Just do it one step at a time.”

About She's Fit to Lead

She's Fit To Lead is a community for the next leaders of our generation. We believe the simple act of connecting with one another is a critical step in building confidence and a successful future. Our community connects young women at college campuses and starting careers across the country, challenging and empowering them to unlock their true potential. ABOUT SFTL

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