Megan Avery '98 creates and markets funky signature handbags at her website, M. Avery Designs.
by Maura Stephens
Becoming a casualty of the dot-com implosion, says Megan Avery '98, "was the best thing that could have happened." Avery had graduated with a degree in television-radio and concentration in advertising, and quickly landed a job at Ogilvy and Mather as a media planner. After a year and a half she jumped ship to join a website company, bolt.com, that was geared toward teenagers -- a fun job that she enjoyed. But her abrupt joblessness when it went belly-up 18 months later gave her the chance to start her own business doing something she adores -- designing and creating handbags.
A self-described purse junkie, Avery has dozens of them herself (including vintage bags, which she collects), and her business, M. Avery Designs, turns out dozens of designs in a wide variety of fabrics and styles, all marketed online. "I learned to sew when I was in the 4-H in elementary school," she says. "I have always done it, even at Ithaca College just for fun. I started making bags for friends as gifts, and word got around. I began the website and started doing this full-time since I was laid off in 2001."
Handbags are very personal things, Avery believes. Her styles allow the owners to express themselves by choosing from among her funky designs as well as via items like yoga mat holders, wine totes, and diaper bags with matching changing mats. ("You're not going to find any diaper bags with Winnie the Pooh on them at M. Avery Designs. These bags are made to order, and you choose the funky, yet sophisticated, fabric. We make diaper bags for hip mamas only!" she proclaims on the website.)
Besides the website, Avery promotes her products via "handbag house parties" (modeled after Tupperware parties and lingerie parties), for which she'll ship a large selection of handbags and fabrics, supply the host with ordering supplies so guests can mix and match to create their own designs, and have the entire order sewn and shipped back to the individual partygoers within three weeks.
Except when she's superbusy, Avery does everything herself -- design, materials purchasing, sewing, website creation and maintenance, and marketing. "I have a laptop that goes everywhere with me," she says. "I design the bags using Illustrator. I don't use a pattern. It started out by trial and error; the designs started very simple, and as I got more skilled they got more elaborate. I buy the fabric from different sites online. I buy a lot via eBay, especially vintage patterns, which means I can really make one-of-a-kind bags."
She says she is using what she learned as an advertising student at Ithaca College. "It definitely helps a lot. Online marketing is how I've promoted my business and how I've done so well, figuring out how to get on the search engines. The vast majority of my sales are via the Net." (She not only learned a lot at IC, but she met her husband, television-radio major Jonathan Accarrino '98, there as well, in a Media and Government class taught by Wenmouth Williams.)
Avery visits Ithaca about once a year with friends, including Alexis Startz '98, a speech communication major she met during freshman year and with whom she is still very close. Startz, now an events planner with the Girl Scouts of America, also freelances as the copywriter for Avery's website. "She has even come over and helped me sew when I've gotten bogged down with work," says Avery.
Sometimes things aren't quite so busy. "I do part-time work from time to time when things get slow," Avery admits. "It can be kind of scary. In January things slow down. But then the wedding season comes." Things pick up again as brides-to-be pick out gifts for their attendants -- who will get something extra special in which to stash their tissues for the big day.