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IDEA IN HAND

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IDEA IN HAND By Allyson Marrs

Pent-up energy can lead to a lot of things. It can lead to excessive cleaning, a four-hour workout or even a craft project that Martha Stewart would be jealous of. It can lead to aching joints itching to engage in activity. It can lead to hair standing on its end in anticipation of something great. It can even lead to a whole lot of nothing beyond lounging across a couch, feet wiggling up and down frantically. For members Amy Roberts and Kea Rensch, it led to two different businesses.

Amy and Kea have been friends for years and share many things in common. From similar hobbies and interests to splitting presidential duties on the PTA, the two are inseparable. Even their children are the same ages. But their separate business ventures were completely coincidental.

Perfect strangers helped encourage Amy to take her idea to the mass level. She created and sewed her own environmentally friendly bag that served the exact purpose she found lacking in other products. It wasn't until a few passersby asked her where they could find one just like it, that she started asking questions herself.

5 ReflectionsMeanwhile, Kea was left perpetually frustrated from always sacrificing one thing or another when it came to her totes. Either the bottom got wet, the straps were uncomfortable or her cell phone ended up lost in the abyss of the bottom of the bag. She had her own ideal perfectly sketched in her mind, but it was a matter of making the sketch tangible and comfy enough to throw across her shoulder.

Neither woman knew what the other had been planning until a shared dinner. Amy asked Kea's husband—who's in the apparel industry—for advice to make her bag a reality. Confused, he asked if she was talking about Kea's product. "We kind of looked at each other and were like, 'what are you doing?' " laughed Kea. From there, they started the process, each choosing separate manufacturers and marketing different products.

Amy's Libby Green (libbygreen.com) bag was inspired by her home state of Wyoming. "I grew up in a very outdoorsy, nature community," she said. Not only did she want her bags to help replace the use of plastic, but she wanted them to be green, too, made from 80 percent post-consumer material.

She considers both herself and her bags "light green." The totes are made from recycled PET water bottles, which follows the company's mission of saying no to plastic and reusing earth's natural resources. "I figured if I could take a tiny step myself then others could, too," she said. "Everything could add up to something larger, and I want to help others change their behaviors."

Amy acknowledges that living a greener life is just that—a lifestyle choice. "I wanted to make a change in my behavior environmentally and lessen my carbon footprint," she said.

The totes come in a variety of colors and patterns and are sold in sets of three. The designs are Amy's original sketches that she hand draws and has digitized for fabric printing. Inside pockets make it easy to stow the bags in one another and under a car seat. "I figured if I made something I really like, I would actually get it out and carry it into the store," said Amy. "I wanted them to be cute to boot," she laughed.

Kea's company Merin Designs (merindesigns.com) was based out of need. She desperately wanted a particular product, and so she created it. "I think the only reason it got this far was because I wanted this product so bad. In order to make something work, you have to believe in it and want it yourself that you keep going down that path. Otherwise, there are so many roadblocks," she said.

She did everything by gut feel and has been happy with the results. Her totes come in a variety of sizes, all with the signature thick, waterproof bottom. Her goal was to make the bag utilitarian but beautiful, large but organized and thick but pliable.

The bags have multiple pockets to keep wet and dry items separated, and the canvas is easily packable.

It took her two years to put the vision into something tangible.

"Mothers always ask how we did it," said Kea. "The bottom line is, if you have something you really want to do, if it's that important to you, just make it happen."

Both Kea and Amy have each other's bags.

Starting a business from nothing was a difficult process for each of them, but it was made that much easier by going through it with a friend. "It was kind of a handholding experience the whole way," said Amy. Their businesses launched only months apart in 2008. "We've certainly made mistakes and learned a ton. That's what makes it fun in the end," said Amy.

Merin Designs is found exclusively online, and Libby Green is sprinkled throughout markets, but also sold predominately online.

Although there's always the nagging fear that it may end at any moment, both women continue to trust in the value of their product. "Stop thinking about the fear and just do it," said Kea. "You do it because you believe in it."


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