The third-floor bathroom of Evan and Cynthia Welsh’s Wynnewood home is hardly recognizable for its original purpose. The tub is disguised by two tables covered in an assortment of elegant fabrics, zippers and scissors. Elsewhere in the room are tassels, needles and a Janome sewing machine. Outside the bathroom, fabric in an array of sizes is piled high, the floor lightly scattered with thread.
The space serves as the sewing studio for Anna, the Welshes’ 13-year-old daughter. It’s where she runs her business, Little Bags.Big Impact, which officially launched in early 2017. She makes clutches, mini clutches and sunglass cases from fabric that would otherwise be thrown out.
Anna’s predilection for the arts began early. She took up sewing at the Narberth-based Handwork Studio at age 6 and has continued ever since, working her way from hand sewing to machine sewing and designing. Anna has made everything from stuffed animals to skirts, but what really struck her was a clutch design from a Handwork camp counselor. She created her first bags in the summer of 2015, before adding her own twist. “[The counselor] gave me this really funky pattern, and so I made these three clutches for my mom, and that was how the whole clutch pattern started,” says Anna, who exudes quiet confidence.
Not long after, the Welshes took a trip to Detroit, and Anna’s mom had one of the bags in tow. As they shopped there, Cynthia kept receiving compliments on the clutch. “It was cool that people noticed it,” says Anna, who initially shrugged it off. “I just thought they were being nice.”
But something clicked, and soon Anna would be selected for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, where she began developing a business plan. “I knew it had to be something with sewing, and that’s when I knew the clutch bags would come about,” she says.
Throughout the eight-month program, Anna sat down with lawyers, marketers and mentors to help mold her plan. The program culminated with a Shark Tank-style presentation to a panel of investors. They ultimately named Anna the winner and awarded her nearly double what she asked for. “It was crazy because Anna had a sample of bags, and every woman there wanted to buy one,” recalls Cynthia.
“That’s when we knew this was a real idea and business,” adds Evan.
As much as Little Bags.Big Impact is Anna’s brainchild, the business is a labor of love for the whole family. Anna is too young to drive, much less have her own business bank account, so her parents’ help has been invaluable. Her grandfather also pitches in by picking up fabric and bringing it to their home.
Love is also the drive behind the “big impact” part of Anna’s business. She donates 15 percent of each bag’s proceeds to Philadelphia’s Tree House Books, which provides books for children who would normally go without. In 2017, Tree House distributed approximately 75,000 books. Anna, who wants to be an English or social studies teacher someday, is passionate about the Tree House mission. “I was looking for the perfect charity, which would be local and not working overseas, so I could see the impact alive in our community,” she says.
Tree House seems equally enthused, having named Anna the recipient of its inaugural Champions of Literacy in 2017. “Anna is trailblazing, in terms of donors at that age,” says June Bretz, executive director of Tree House.
Bretz also hopes Anna will inspire other teenagers. “We often have teens that don’t know what they want to do and are looking for examples like Anna,” says Bretz.
Anna’s connection with Tree House even extended to her social studies class at Welsh Valley Middle School, where they ran a book drive for the organization late last year. “Her teacher was supportive and thinks it’s very important for the kids to learn about the social impact and giving back,” says Cynthia.
Anna is also thoughtful in the design process, says Laura Kelly, owner of the Handwork Studio. “When she’s designing the bags, she has the environment in mind,” says Kelly.
Anna’s cute, practical bags have sold so successfully that she’s had to hire two part-time manufacturers to keep up with demand. As she looks to the future, she hopes to continue evolving. Ideas seem to be always percolating for her, from bags for men to laptop cases to crossbody bags.
While growth potential seems infinite, the Welshes are keeping things in perspective. “You’re tempted to sell as much as you can,” says Evan. “We’re trying to hold it back a little bit, so it’s enjoyable. If it’s meant to grow, it’ll happen, and we’ll be ready for it. It’s OK to take it slow.”
That’s something his daughter believes, too. “I don’t think we’ve talked about how far I want to take it,” says Anna. “Until it becomes not fun anymore. Until it’s something I have to do, not want to do.”