Anna Welsh of littlebags.bigimpact Always Wanted to Create Something
For as long as Anna Welsh can remember, she always wanted to create something. First, it was note cards and cupcake toppers that she sold to her parents and relatives. A few quickly turned into hundreds, but she had bigger dreams. “I wanted an online store and real customers,” Anna shares. “This was the beginning of my interest and drive in becoming an entrepreneur.”
Since she was 6, Anna had been taking needle arts and sewing classes. As a 12-year-old, her sewing teacher gave her a clutch bag pattern and funky fabric. Hours later, she had transformed it into three clutch bags. “My mom carried the bags and received many compliments from boutique owners,” she recalls. “I was flattered, but it wasn’t until a month later when I started an entrepreneurship program for students that I realized I could turn my sewing and creative passion into a business.”
As we approach the 2019 National Women’s Business Conference hosted by NAWBO on October 13-15 in Jacksonville, Florida, where Anna will share her story as part of the first-ever Next Gen Track for students with entrepreneurial dreams, we asked her for this sneak peek:
Did you have any entrepreneurial role models growing up?
One of my role models is Blake Mycoskie, the founder of TOMS. I was inspired by his compassion for others and for building a business model that helps a person in need with every product purchased. I read his biography and learned about his challenges and successes. I was motivated by learning how he took a simple idea and grew it into a global movement. Who knows…maybe one day I’ll have a chance to meet him in person and thank him for inspiring me.
Your business is built to make continual social impact. Why was this so important to you personally?
littlebags.bigimpact has a sustainable and social impact mission. While researching materials, I learned that nearly 100 percent of textiles and clothing are recyclable. However, only 26 percent of secondhand clothing is recycled. This does not account for textiles and waste produced from discarded upholstery samples used for furniture, window treatments and home décor. I was determined to reuse interior design textile samples and pieces to create littlebags. To date, I have rescued more than 2,200 pounds of fabric from entering a landfill. I am currently in the process of becoming a certified sustainable business by GreenCircle Certified.
Not only do we all have to nurture the planet, but we also have to nurture the next generation. My social impact mission encourages me to do even more for underserved children. I have a love for education, so when I learned that in Philadelphia, there is just one age-appropriate quality book in every 300 homes, I was astounded. Two-thirds of all Philadelphia third graders cannot read at grade level, a benchmark researchers say can be a make-or-break in determining if a child will succeed in school or even make it to 12th-grade graduation. After learning this, I knew I had to take action to help these children. I was determined to see a change in my own community, so I partnered with Tree House Books—a literacy center and giving library. I am proud to say that in two years, littlebags.bigimpact has touched the lives of more than 5,000 children—giving them new books to become readers, writers and thinkers. One book can change a child’s life. I plan to expand my social impact reach to other communities across the nation.
What unique hurdles have you faced being such a young businesswoman?
In the beginning, it was challenging to realize that I couldn’t do everything myself, especially as the business grew. I learned from a mentor to really think about and determine what I’m good at. Do those things for the business and then build a team of experts who can support me in what I’m not good at. This has probably been the most valuable lesson not only for the growth of littlebags.bigimpact, but also for my own personal growth.
What advice do you have for other teens with entrepreneurial dreams?
Find your passion and map out a path to success. That path may take unexpected turns along the way, but being the driver of your journey will allow you to achieve your dreams. Keep your vision and your end goal in focus because when it becomes a reality, it’s extremely rewarding.
What’s next for you and your business over the next few years?
When I was younger, I thought I wanted to become a classroom teacher. However, my entrepreneurial journey has shown me that I can be a teacher in many ways—as a mentor to other aspiring young entrepreneurs, to children in underserved communities and to the sustainable community to find solutions for textile waste.
So will I continue to be a businesswoman? Yes! I am currently in the process of becoming a certified sustainable business. I have two production employees, two college interns majoring in business and a director of transportation (my pop-pop), who picks up fabric donations. Now entering my third year in business, I will be expanding my production team again.
During an investor pitch competition, I concluded with “Even though I’m little, I know my business will be big.” I enjoy being a businesswoman and making thoughtful decisions that support my sustainable and social missions. I have visions of being in Oprah’s gift guide as an option for shoppers to “Give a Gift with Purpose.” I want to be on the Ellen DeGeneres show or the Today show to share with viewers the importance of childhood literacy in underserved urban and rural communities in the USA—and the need for us as a nation to do something about supporting the next generation.
These past two years have shown me that each and every one of us can be a changemaker. Watch out because I’m just getting started!
What are you most excited for thinking ahead to the NAWBO conference in Jacksonville and being part of the first track for young entrepreneurs?
The women’s business community has been so welcoming to me as a young entrepreneur. I have received invaluable insight into business ownership from a diverse group of women. These women are smart and have provided instrumental guidance to help me build a healthy and thriving business that contributes to our economy and generates a lasting social and sustainable impact. I look forward to listening to and learning from women across the country. I’m also honored to be part of the first track for young entrepreneurs at the NAWBO conference. I look forward to learning from them and sharing my experience. It’s cool to know that I’m a woman-owned business with a sustainable and social impact mission. There’s something very powerful in all of that. I hope my story helps empower the young entrepreneurs at the conference.
Click here to learn more about Anna and littlebags.bigimpact.
Watch an interview with Anna here