Cara Benevenia Founder Cara Benevenia joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the origins of her designer handbag company and the obstacles she had to overcome when managing a small business through the pandemic.
- Welcome back to Yahoo Finance. Well it seems more like a Red Friday based on the volatility in markets, but it is actually Black Friday. And we want to take a look at the state of small business amid COVID-19. Joining us now is Cara Benevenia, she's a contemporary women's handbag designer with a line with her own name. They are handcrafted in the US using leathers imported from Florence, Italy.
Cara, thanks so much for your time today. I want to ask you after going through 20 months of COVID, I'm sure sales were impacted, how important is this holiday season to you?
CARA BENEVENIA: This holiday season is everything to Cara Benevenia. It's a very special product, as you mentioned, handcrafted here in New Jersey. And every order is so special to us, because it not only supports my small business, but it supports the lives of artisans right here in New Jersey who are also trying to have a very special time with their family for the holidays.
- Now Carrie, you're a small business here, but certainly experiencing a lot of the challenges I imagine that big retailers are right now, especially in trying to source supplies to get these bags out. Can you talk about what you're dealing with right now? And to what extent you've been able to navigate some of these road bumps, that are not necessarily in your control.
CARA BENEVENIA: You know, we've been very fortunate. We manufacture right here in New Jersey at a small leather goods factory with local artisans. And we've really not run into any production issues. The factory was actually experiencing low volume during the pandemic, and with our surge of orders following the launch of our best selling style, the baguette, we've been providing the factory with so much work.
And now in 2021, it's really hard to find a spot in production with them. So it's really special that we produce domestically, and we don't run into these issues that maybe big-box department stores and retailers do run into with sourcing materials and production.
- And then what about as far as shipping to your customers, have you had any issues with those?
CARA BENEVENIA: Not at all, we ship through UPS, and I personally hand pack all of the boxes, all of the orders, all the handbags, with a special handwritten note, and we've really not experienced any shipping issues, as of yet. Knock on wood.
- And we've heard so much about the enthusiasm around this shopping season. A lot of people just kind of eager to get into the shopping season largely because of what happened last year. How much of the demand have you seen pick up? What are you seeing so far in this holiday season?
CARA BENEVENIA: I've seen, especially through social media, a huge push to not just shopping small, but shopping fashion brands and companies that produce domestically. It is so important for our economy and for our local artisans to be supported. It's not just the company you're supporting, but you're supporting human hands that are making products.
So I'm personally so proud and happy to be a part of a company that is really changing the consumer mindset around shopping domestically. And I've seen such a huge push towards transparency in production, transparency in business practices, and so many consumers really being excited not just to buy a quality, beautiful product, but something that's made right here in the United States.
- And just if you could give us a little bit of insight into your business, how long has it been open, and then what prompted you to want to start your own business?
CARA BENEVENIA: Sure. I launched Cara Benevenia handbags in September 2019, actually just a few months before the onset of the pandemic. And I think it was a really hard, but special, time. Because it really helped me slow down, especially in an industry that is so fast paced, really take a step back, think about the values of the company, and hone in on who my customer is and what my customer wants. The second part of the question again?
- Is-- what made you want to get into this business?
CARA BENEVENIA: So I studied apparel design in college, so I was introduced into a very rigorous curriculum with handcrafting apparel items. I worked in the fashion industry for Zac Posen, which was a really special time. I worked in his atelier with his sample-- in his sample room with his artisans.
And I do have a special story with my ancestors. My great grandfather emigrated from Italy and worked as a tailor in Newark, New Jersey. So I feel my upbringing, my passion, and pride for my Italian-American roots here in New Jersey, all came together with my passion for art and passion for the fashion industry to create a company, that not only had a beautiful fashion forward product, but that really tried to make a difference in the lives of artisans that I worked with in the fashion industry with Zack, and that has a personal tie to my family roots.
- And Cara, to what extent have you been able to build back your business after the huge slowdown that we saw at the height of the pandemic? I'm wondering if you also had to tap into PPP loans as well to stay afloat.
CARA BENEVENIA: I'm so, so proud to continue to bootstrap Cara Benevenia with my personal savings. During the pandemic, I didn't sell a bag for eight months. But like I said before, it really helped me slow down, think about what my consumer truly, truly wants, the price point that they are attracted to, and that resulted in the launch of our infamous baguette bag that you had shown and was seen on Gab Union.
You know, it's a really beautiful, fashion forward, contemporary product at an incredible price point for being made from the leather that it is made from, and being produced domestically. So it's tough. We're growing slowly, but surely, but I'm still bootstrapping Cara Benevenia, and I'm very proud of that.
- And then I want to ask you really quickly, how do you go about advertising? Are you using social media and their particular platforms that you think work well for you?
CARA BENEVENIA: Primarily through Instagram. The last six months, I have built out a customer turned marketing platform through my website that has been incredibly helpful. I think social media is a very low cost-- you know, there's not a lot of barriers to entry there. And it's a great way to really connect with your consumers on a larger level through DM, through sharing on Instagram story.
It's very easy to be transparent about your business practices through social media. You can go to the factory and show them, these are the artisans making your bags. And you really get that FaceTime with the founder, with the owner and designer, that I think is very relevant and very important to consumers today.
- Cara it's great to have-- to hear more about the success of your company Cara Benevenia, the founder of the company in her name, I appreciate you joining us on this Black Friday.