'Pandemic passion project' turns into eco-friendly business

BiMi Bags Founder Jennifer Joan McKenzie joins the Yahoo Finance Live panel to discuss the origins of her small business.

Video Transcript

- Today's company is BiMi Bags. It's a maker of eco-friendly handbags that are selling its products in coffee stores on the East Coast. And it's not just handbags. They're also selling coffee beans on its site. The company is doing all this while spreading mental health awareness with every purchase.

So we want to bring in Jennifer Joan McKenzie, founder of BiMi Bags. And, Jennifer, it's good to see you. From my understanding, you launched this company during COVID. The company has been quite successful over the last several months. Just walk us through or tell us exactly how business is going.

JENNIFER JOAN MCKENZIE: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for having me. This started off as a pandemic passion project where I learned how to sew from being at home and displaced from my home in New York City. And my mother, really she just was like, you know, we need to get you more busy because we were all in such a place of what do we do with our life with things just being so uncertain.

So I took to sewing. And it didn't really take me long to learn how to sew in a straight line. So before I knew it, I had found this material of an old coffee bag in my garage. And I was, you know, breaking these needles left and right because it is a fairly thick and durable material.

And I ended up turning them into all different sizes, which I have now. And now they're all manufactured by a big production company that is all sustainable in the US in New York City. So it's definitely gone from the small scale to a lot larger.

- It has, and it's done so in a very short amount of time. Jennifer, we've been speaking to so many executives and so many small business owners simply saying that they can't get the products they need. They're having supply chain issues. It sounds like, though, you're actually able to get the product you need. Is that right?

JENNIFER JOAN MCKENZIE: Yes. So actually, it's really almost very family-oriented. My dad's best friend owns a coffee-distributing company. And all of the material-- I'll show you some here-- that I use, I'm basically taking the garbage of what they would otherwise throw away, or landscapers use them to plant trees. And so I'm really almost doing them a favor in a way and doing myself a favor by turning these into really eco-friendly, durable bags.

So all of the material, as long as they're in business and supplying coffee companies and shops all across the East Coast, I'm in business. So I have all different sizes that I've used with all eco-friendly interiors. And it's been really exciting.

- It certainly is very exciting. How are you getting the word out about your company? Are you relying mostly on social media?

JENNIFER JOAN MCKENZIE: I know that we all are in this day and age. . My strong suit is definitely not so much the marketing aspect. So a lot of my sales come from word of mouth. My company as a whole, BiMi Bags, it really just was almost thoughts coming out of my head of, what should I name it? What do I call it? So the Bi stands for two. The Mi stands for mindset. And it's this whole endeavor that I even began just so that I could donate money towards mental health awareness.

And I should say celebration because it wasn't an easy past two years for anyone. And I think mental health awareness in general and, again, mental health celebration is something that is so exciting. And it should be spoken about on a day-to-day basis. And so you know, starting my company, that was the whole reasoning behind it. And I've tried to spread the word, yes, using social media. And I just launched my website in July.

And then I notice a lot of my success comes from in-person pop-- pop-up events, so I'll partner with different coffee shops and different stores. I'm trying to break through into a couple of hotel chains in Manhattan. So it's been, you know, anything that I can get. I'm like the more power to me, the more I can talk about our mission because that's really why I'm continuing to do this is because we've seen people come back time and time again and say, oh, wow, I can bring this to the beach. I can carry all of my workout equipment, my groceries.

They're super, super durable. That's the one response I get constantly and just how unique and different they are. All the bags that I have here that I'm showing are-- are the plain material, but they all have different prints as well from all across the country.

- I think everyone likes a durable handbag. And I could say that as someone who really puts their handbags to work, I guess, as you could say. But Jennifer, what's your advice to other entrepreneurs? Because I think so many people out there, they have this idea of a company that they want to launch, but they just can't seem to get it off the ground. What would you say to them?

JENNIFER JOAN MCKENZIE: Absolutely. I find that to be such a compliment because I will tell all the entrepreneurs out there that, you know, I've never launched a business before. I still am learning. And you know, I don't know what I'm doing. I'm just going with it.

And I think that when you feel really passionate about something, it's just maintain that passion. And you're not going to feel passionate every single day. You're not going to be opening every single door. You're going to get like 50 doors shut in your face.

But I think that if you can really just remember why you began your company, and just continue going with it, that's-- that's the easiest piece of advice. Because like I said, this is my first endeavor. I care so much about the-- what I'm doing at the core and giving back to people and something that I really care about personally.

So finding something that you really admire in your own sense if that makes sense, finding something that you can maybe donate towards if that will give you passion towards going towards whatever goal you'll-- you'll receive. But really, just keep going. It's as simple as that. Because I'm learning every single day.

- Jennifer Joan McKenzie, founder of BiMi Bags, we wish you all the best. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us and sharing your story.

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