Jennifer Smail has always considered herself an artist. She had a successful custom order leather bag company until 2020. The pandemic changed that.
“My family and I changed gears and made 1,000 masks in 6 weeks,” she explains. “I used that money and a couple of grants to create Cuddigan Leather.
Though Jennifer experienced rapid growth in the first three years, she calls the constant challenge to fill custom orders “soul-sucking” and says she didn’t understand the industry.
“I was buried in custom orders,” she says. “Other designers in the industry couldn’t believe I was making my own products.”
Her goal was to source, manufacture, and sell completely in the U.S. There were two things she would not sacrifice: quality and paying her sewers a fair wage.
As she grew, her husband helped with her taxes and basic accounting, but she had no resources for marketing, processes, and business etiquette.
“Never mind burning the candle at both ends,” she says. “The candle was almost out.”
“At the Lab, I could ask anything,” Jennifer says, relieved to finally find help.
“They understood that I was a serious business owner and wanted to grow. Conversations with other small business owners alleviated that sense of isolation you have as an entrepreneur. Having someone to bounce ideas off of and get counsel is huge,” she says.
She found manufacturing partners in St. Paul to help share the workload and complete the same high-quality pieces much faster. She reopened her storefront and is sticking to the roadmap she created at the Lab.
I’m so grateful for this experience,” she says. “Now I know the steps I have to take to grow but not have to do everything myself.”