Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Featured Exhibitor: Shoppy Chic


Cyndi Ritger makes trendy re-usable shopping bags from found materials, reducing waste while creating something useful and beautiful!

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Cyndi Ritger and my company is Shoppy Chic. I make Tote bags and purses from fabrics that I have saved from the landfill over the last 30 years. I also make purses out of one long piece of zipper in every color of the rainbow. I recently started making a small charm that can attach to any zipper pull on any of the bags.

How did you get started in your business?

The company started ten years ago when I decided to make grocery bags for my two daughters for Christmas. I had been hoarding fabric for 20 years (along with raising 4 kids) and had accumulated enough to make approximately 40,000 tote bags. (I'll get into that whole story next). My younger daughter Jen was living in California at the time and went home after Christmas with her new heavy duty attractive fabric grocery bags. On her first stop to the store someone wanted to buy them. She asked if I could make 50 more as all her friends wanted them and people she didn't even know stopped her to ask where they could get them. This was all happening just as the public was being told that plastic would be banned soon. The demand for our bags was growing fast. Jen was selling at farmers markets all over southern California and I was cranking them out as fast as I could. But I still had a full time job and two young boys at home. So needless to say my time was stretched very thin. She eventually married and now has three kids at home and two step children. So she is a very busy mother and has had little time to sell the bags. I kept Shoppy Chic alive here in River Falls, Wisconsin by selling to local shops and occasionally doing a show or two. But my main focus was my boys who were still in Middle School. Time passes quickly and my boys are now 17 and 18. I am finding time to get out there and sell my bags. I am doing a lot of shows this year and feel like this is just the beginning for Shoppy Chic. My daughter is also looking forward to all the kids getting back to school and is excited to help with Shoppy Chic.

What valuable experience / knowledge did you have before starting your business.

It is crucial to understand where all this scrap fabric came from and why I saved it. In 1987 my sister and I started a company called SIS Enterprises. We were two young mothers that were looking for something to do while our kids were at home. We knew how to sew and had a passion for fabrics. We were in the process of decorating our first homes and spent a lot of time shopping for just the right fabric to make curtains and bedspreads and pillows and everything else that one would need to have the perfect house. We also did custom sewing and met someone that asked if we could make a cover for this new type of furniture called a futon. This was just when futons were getting started. There weren't many companies making covers and there wasn't much of a selection. We recognized that there needed to be a variety of fabrics for covers and pillows, not just black, khaki and red. After contacting many different fabric mills we finally found one that would sell us three different patterns. We ordered one 50 yard roll of each pattern and started our little cut and sew operation in my basement in Eden Prairie. We made up Futon Covers and Pillows in these three awesome patterns. We named them Green Mist, Lost Paradise and California Cool. We took our first line to a trade show in Montreal Canada where we picked up our first four customers. Every year we double our sales. Our fabrics were always the latest trends and our displays at the shows were fantastic. Soon we moved out of my basement and into a bigger space. Then two more moves in the next seven years to accommodate our rapid growth. Our line grew to over 500 fabrics adding new patterns every season and they all have names. The one thing that we didn't ever really deal with was the amount of scrap that was accumulating as we grew. I started a plan with our cutting department to have them cut the scraps into either an 18" pillow or a 20" pillow. Then they would pack it in a box and put it in a back room. I was planning to sort it out and use the current fabrics for pillows but there just was never time to deal with it. So for 15 years it just accumulated. I eventually started taking it home rather than throw it in the dumpster. It was taking to much space at the factory and our new production supervisor was throwing it out. I eventually sold all my shares of that company but continued to take the scrap. As I look back it's pretty insane how much time and energy I spent on keeping it sorted and saved. But I did it and it's done and now it's time to make Tote Bags and sell them. So you see I have a warehouse full of cut pillows. All sorted by color and size. A small pillow is a small tote bag. A large pillow is a large tote bag. I don't ever have to cut the fabric as it was all done over the last 30 years. All I have to do is find the two pieces of fabric that coordinate. (one for the outside of the bag and one for the inside of the bag as they are all reversible). When a futon cover came off of the production line and the fabric was flawed I would have them rip the zipper out and salvage what they could of the fabric. But there was no use for the 5 yard piece of zipper. I saved a lot of it and eventually started using it for the handles on the totes. My sister and her husband still own that company and have done an amazing job with it. It's been a long slow process developing Shoppy Chic but rome wasn't built in a day. I have had to wear many hats, mainly mother. But I have never doubted (well maybe a couple of times) that this company can make it. I have to live by the motto I always taught my kids. Never Give Up.

Where did your business name come from?

The first bags I made were just for the grocery store with short handles just like a real grocery bag. The name is a take off on "Shabby Chic” but Shoppy Chic for shopping. Get it? It's a little dorky but it stuck. Now the line has morphed into so many more products than just grocery bags. I design and make crossbody purses, travel totes with pockets, beauty bags with wrap around pockets, small clutch with pockets, and many other ideas floating around in my head that are coming soon.

Where do you see your business in three years?

My main goal now is to get my products onto my Etsy Shop. I have started but it will be a process, if I can get that done in three years I will be thrilled. I am doing a show every weekend until mid December and that alone takes half my week. So finding time to sew enough product for all the shows and then take the time to photograph is a challenge. My new motto is: Wherever I am is exactly where I'm supposed to be.  

Be sure to stop by Cyndi's booth at the Minneapolis Gift & Art Expo, November 1-3, 2019 at the Minneapolis Convention Center!

Posted by Admin at 2:25 PM  ⁙  0 COMMENTS

CATEGORY:  Featured Exhibitors
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