Ami Beck ’13 wasted no time putting her degree in Apparel Studies from Stephens College to work.
Within two weeks of graduating in December 2013, Beck bought a $2,000 heavy-duty sewing machine, a supply of scrap leather and set up shop in her grandmother’s basement. A month later, she had created the original Dolyn Tote, the first in her luxury line of bags that continues to be a bestseller.
Today, Beck has a popular studio in the West Bottoms of Kansas City, Mo., where she is constantly expanding her line of handbags, duffels and clutches. She recently returned from MAGIC Las Vegas, where she launched her first men’s and travel collection. This week, her bags will be featured in the finale runway show of Kansas City Fashion Week (KCFW), which runs from March 26-April 1, 2017; Beck made her first big splash at a KCFW show in 2015. (Read her designer spotlight on the KCFW website.)
Beck said her experience at Stephens helped prepare her for the hard work and dedication needed to compete in the design industry.
“The biggest resources I gained from Stephens—other than a foundation in patterning—was learning how to manage my late nights and heavy workload in an effective manner,” she said. “As a small business owner, there never seems to be enough time. I am wearing all the hats and juggling many projects at once, and I think Stephens helped prepare me for that.”
Before enrolling at Stephens, Beck earned a degree in psychology from Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, Mo., and worked several temporary jobs before landing a position as an administrative assistant in the legal department of a hospital in downtown Kansas City.
By the time she came to Stephens, Beck had her sights set on starting her own company.
“I was very specific in my intentions to learn about handbag construction and leather and to acquire a basic foundation in patterning while at Stephens,” she said.
As for the name of her company, Beck simply abbreviated her favorite name, Gwendolyn and branded it.
Beck’s advice for young designers who want to open a small business is to take business classes while in college.
“The finance side of business is definitely where the knowledge gap was for me, so any head start a student can grasp on that in school would be of utmost importance and benefit,” she said. “I would also advise seeking internships that are as close to your ideal job position as possible. Internships are so eye-opening and beneficial, and should definitely be taken advantage of.”
When running a small business, Beck believes every new experience is an opportunity to learn and get better.
“Every single thing you do in business will be a stepping-stone and a lesson,” she said. “You learn pretty quickly what works and what doesn’t—most of the time you learn the hard way. So, dive in!”
Beck’s bags are available on www.dolynbags.com, as well as at Webster House in Kansas City.
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