When most 17-year-olds desire some downtime, they watch TV or play video games. Not Hannah Helton. Helton “got bored” one day during her senior year of high school and unintentionally started a business.
“We had a day off school, and I couldn’t leave my house because we were snowed in,” said the Gatlinburg native. “I saw some of my mom’s fabric and said, ‘Hey, why not make a purse?’ and it just started from there.”
The bag was made of blue toile and had a beaded glass handle that was formed using some of her dad’s wire.
The aptly named “hannahbags” began to grow even more after a family friend saw one of her half-finished bags at her house while visiting.
“My mom’s friend saw one and started gushing about how she wanted one. I guess it grew from there,” Helton, sophomore in interior design, said. “After that, I got a logo made and set up an e-mail address so people could contact me for orders. It was so much fun.”
Although she had an order and a desire to make more, she didn’t even think about making it into a full-scale venture until she saw the attention her designs garnered from classmates at Gatlinburg-Pittman High School. Helton’s friends began clamoring for hannahbags, but she was reluctant to make them for everyone for fear of them becoming too common.
Upon entering UT, Helton was known as “Hannah the handbag girl” to her Alpha Omicron Pi sorority sisters, many of whom knew of her purses before they actually knew her.
“I had a few girls tell me to check them out because they were really unique and fun to carry,” Mibbie Majors, sophomore in advertising and Helton’s roommate, said.
Majors owns the cherry-print hannahbag, complete with glass beaded handle and ribbon tie.
“I bought one of Hannah’s purses because I wanted to have something that no one else had. Her bags are unique in that they are one of a kind,” Majors said.
The bags, made in both small and large sizes, are either square or rectangular in form and feature fun fabrics and prints. Many of the purses have beaded glass handles which Helton strings and forms herself with pliers and medium gauge wire. Current pieces are made of white pique fabric with pineapples stitched in yellow and cherries on a grosgrain plaid background. The bags range in price from $20 to $35, depending on the cost of the materials and time spent making each piece.
Considering that each bag takes around four hours to produce, the price is extremely reasonable, said Majors, who also noted how durable the hannahbags are.
Helton said the inspiration for her line of bags stems from her creative background.
“I’m an interior design major, so obviously I love anything to do with design and creativity.”
Helton favors the classic designs of Coach and Kate Spade handbags, but calls her own style “classic with a kick.” For instance, her latest prototype is the “messy bag.” The bag features pieces of fabric or ribbon tied together to make the handles. Helton said this is her current favorite because “it’s a little more hippie, which is my personal style right now.” She also favors strong color palettes and busy patterns and enjoys using different fabrics for their textural value.
No matter the style of the bag, Helton has fun making them and has enjoyed being the CEO of her very own company.
“I would really like to see the business grow to where I could eventually open my own shop and do interior design on the side.”
As for now, business has slowed down considerably since entering what she refers to as the “hard part” of her major.
“I practically live at the Art and Architecture Building,” she said. “Lately when I get home at night, I want to relax and not think about anything relating to design … including making purses, which I normally love.”
Helton may have only made 30 hannahbags and banked several hundred dollars profit, yet she has gained an insider’s view of the business world, including what she would have changed and improved upon.
“Not many people know about hannahbags, which obviously isn’t good for business,” Helton said, recalling her lack of advertisement. “I would have liked to have taken them to shops in Knoxville to sell. Gatlinburg isn’t the biggest market.”
Although she has temporarily put production on hold due to school projects, Helton has advice for college students who want to begin their own such venture.
“Just make sure you have time for everything and be flexible. Market the business to people, but don’t expect things to skyrocket. Just have fun with it. That’s the most important thing.”
Student turns hobby into business
Published: Wed Mar 09, 2005