A Brainerd area businesswoman started her business to raise airfare to Ethiopia, but the trip created an inspiration to do even more.
The end result created a business model based on reuse.
Doretta Busbey started creating felted wool handbags as a way to pay for the plane ticket to Ethiopia to pick up the daughter she adopted with her husband. The couple has three adopted children, two daughters and a son, from Ethiopia.
Remnants of a suit coat became a handbag complete with leather pocket from a pair of pants, buttons and a polka-dot lining. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
It was Busbey's first trip to Ethiopia. She didn't know what to expect, but she was impressed by the people. And she brought a lesson learned there back home.
"They absolutely utilize everything," Busbey said, adding the people had very little but were rich in their outlook on life.
With three young children, ages 3, 7 and 9, Busbey was shopping at thrift stores to save money. At the Salvation Army's Thrift Store in Brainerd, Busbey was impressed by the fabric of the outdated men's suit coats. The fabric included Harris Tweed with its virgin wool handwoven by the islanders of Scotland. So she began experimenting with them and turning them into handbags.
Examples of the bags sat in a bundle at a dining table in her rock and wood appointed cottage home south of Brainerd.
The collars, pockets and buttons of the suit coats are still visible through the transformation from suit coat to purse. Belts become shoulder straps. Sheets, pillow shams or curtains are used for the purse's interior lining.
The handbag Busbey carries has a polka-dot lining, exterior buttons and a pocket from a pair of leather pants.
"You can be creative with little bits of things," Busbey said.
The young Busbey children help pick out coats on regular Thursday outings to the thrift store. Store employees started saving web belts for Busbey's shopping trips. Support came from the entrepreneur's extended family and friends.
Doretta Busbey's sewing area is tucked away in a corner of her cottage home with plenty of natural light. Busbey is finding a new use for outdated suit coats by turning them into handbags. She's now selling the handbags in two stores and online. Brainerd Dispatch/Renee Richardson » Purchase reprints of this photo.
So the stay-at-home mom put her handbags and other items online at etsy.com, where handmade and vintage items have found an Internet home. Busbey named her Web presence "onourway.etsy.com" as a nod to the goal of being on the way to Ethiopia.
Patina's Shoppe Local store in South Minneapolis contacted Busbey after seeing her work on etsy.com. Now Busbey sells her handbags there and at The Flour Sack in Pequot Lakes.
Ann Seehof, Patina manager, said they were attracted by Busbey's one-of-a-kind bags and then were excited to hear her story behind the work.
"We had just a really great reaction," Seehof said of customer interest. "We just ordered more from her."
Busbey said the response to her work is encouraging. "My little idea is starting to happen."
Busbey said the coat fabric is so beautiful she can't part with the remnants leftover after making a handbag. So she's experimenting with creating neck warmers with the leftover jacket sleeves. And she's looking at making mittens.
"I try to use every part of the coat I can," she said.
One of her purses was once a wool skirt. On a good day, Busbey is able to create four handbags. She sells them for about $36.
Busbey said she hopes more people will be inspired to look through their closets and donate the outdated jackets to the Salvation Army. The dated jackets may no longer be fashionable, but Busbey said those same materials make pretty handbags. She also works with custom orders for people who may want a handbag keepsake of a treasured coat or fabric.
Down the road, Busbey said she'd love to open up a little shop that may include other crafters. A building created for just such a purpose already sits on her family's property a short distance from her home.
It was her late sister-in-law's dream to open an antique store in the building. Opening a craft store there would allow the family to keep that dream alive.
The Busbeys were empty nesters, with Doretta's two adult sons, when they decided to adopt. The children they brought home were resilient, strong and happy, Busbey said, particularly remarkable after all the hardships experienced in their young lives.
"We learn as much every day from these kids as we can teach them," Busbey said.
And there was that lasting lesson from Ethiopia about making full use of what is here.
Busbey said: "I just think with the economy and the times, we can do a better job of using what we have and trying to help each other."
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5852.
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