How a love for sewing became a thriving company and a platform for women’s empowerment
When Jenny Wecker was a teenager, she didn’t think she would amount to much. She remembers, at 17 or 18, being in the mall and thinking if she could just work at Urban Outfitters, she would be good.
“I really struggled in school, especially (with) math and all that kind of stuff, and so I definitely felt like I grew up just not feeling like I was very smart,” Wecker said.
Two semesters of college didn’t help and Wecker said she just felt lost. She met and married her husband and found work as a dental assistant in a pediatric dentist’s office, and that seemed like it would be enough.
But there’s one thing Wecker has always been good at, a talent she feels has always been a part of her: sewing.
Wecker learned to sew from her mother when she was just 5 years old. She always loved sewing and designing, but other than becoming a fashion designer, it didn’t seem like there was a viable career to be made out of sewing.
Around five and a half years ago, a friend of Wecker’s was expecting a child and telling Wecker she couldn’t find a diaper bag she liked. Naturally, Wecker’s response was to sew her one.
Wecker spent the next couple of months designing what would become the original Fawn Desig n bag.
“I work on prototypes and decided to do the faux leather and made her the bag, gave it to her as a baby gift, and she started having friends who (said), ‘I want one of those, how can I get one,’” Wecker said. “So then these people would reach out to me (and say), ’Hey I saw that bag you made, can you make me one?”
Initially, Wecker thought she would just make a few more bags, but more and more people kept reaching out to her. In fact, it was her husband at first who suggested the bags would become big — but Wecker insisted she liked the fact the bags were handmade, and besides, she had her job as a dental assistant.
That first year, Wecker made just under 100 bags. Each bag took four hours to make.
“I would go to work all day and come home at five or six at night and sew till three or four in the morning, then go to bed, get up at seven, and go to work and do it again and again,” Wecker said.
She began to feel burnt out and lost her love of sewing. At some points, she said, she would look at her sewing machine and want to cry.
So finally, at her husband’s urging, Wecker agreed to look into manufacturing the bags, only to be dismayed by the expense.
“We had barely any money, making the bags, because we just put it right back into buying more material and at the time we were living in my parent’s basement, because we could barely afford much.”
Wecker and her husband found a manufacturer they liked, but were told an order for 1,000 bags would cost $20,000. They applied for bank loans but were denied.
“Which I get,” Wecker said. “I wouldn’t have given me money either.”
Then, they heard about Kickstarter and decided to give it a shot. They set up the Kickstarter as a sort of pre-order, promising that if people paid for a bag, they would receive it in a few months.
The Kickstarter ran for 15 days with the goal of raising $25,000. By the end of it, they had raised $42,000.
“It was interesting because about halfway through our campaign we weren’t even halfway to our goal,” Wecker said. “I remember my husband and I kind of sitting down that day and being like, what’s our plan, if this doesn’t work? And I said, I think that if this doesn’t work, this tells us that we shouldn’t waste time, like this isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Hitting their fundraising goal and then surpassing it was all the validation Wecker needed to feel she was on the right path.
Wecker and her husband placed the first manufacturing order for 1,000 bags, and received the bags at their parents’ home. There were 400 orders made on the Kickstarter and they shipped them all from the house.
“We had called the post office to say, we have a pretty big pickup...and the guy shows up in just the regular mail truck and we open our garage and he’s like, ’Oh I’m gonna need the big truck,” Wecker said. “It was kind of funny. And it was kind of cool just building this relationship with our postman who would come every so often and just be like, what is happening.”
At the time of that first shipment, Wecker was also nine months pregnant and still working as a dental assistant. She gave birth to her first daughter, Georgia, just a few days later. She didn’t go back to work as a dental assistant, and the 600 bags leftover sold in just a few months, with the help of Wecker’s mom.
“It was just such a hectic time,” Wecker said. “My kids have known nothing else but mom does Fawn Design.”
Despite what seemed like overnight success, it was an uphill battle to become the thriving, successful company Fawn Design is today.
“You think that once you get to a certain point, it will get easier,” Wecker said, “But it just, it gets harder, because it’s just a new set of challenges.”
As CEO of her company, Wecker still designs all the products Fawn Design produces. In addition to the original diaper bag — which Wecker said is often used as a normal bag as well — there’s the “mini” of the original, the “Fawny” — a play on fanny pack, and the recently released “Weekender bag.” The whole process to release a new bag can take up to a year.
But for Wecker and her now 13-person team, they have a phrase they use frequently: “More than just a bag.”
“I noticed ... so many women were talking about how they felt so confident when they got our bag,” Wecker said. “As the person that created that, all I ever would want is (for) someone to feel a little bit better about themselves.”
She and her team began to realize, Wecker said, that the Fawn Design brand could be a platform for women to be empowered.
“There are so many women who are dealing with so much stuff and they don’t talk to anyone about it. They keep it to themselves and beat themselves up and they feel like they won’t amount to anything,” Wecker said. “We want to create a space where people feel like they can share those things and that we together can help them feel like they’re loved and they’re cared about and that they’re important and that they can do it.”
Whether women want to be stay-at-home moms, or become CEOs, or do both, like Wecker has — she wants women to feel like they can do anything.
“My own journey has been such a crazy ride of feeling super empowered with what I have, which, you think, oh I didn’t go to school, I didn’t do these things, but I was way more capable than I ever thought. And I think that is such a huge part of our brand and our message to other women in our communities of, you can be a mom and a CEO, you can do whatever you want and it doesn’t matter,” Wecker said. “We’re trying to be a platform where women can share their stories, their struggles, and that we’re listening, and that we tell them, you know what, you’re doing a great job, you’re cared about and loved.”
The platform has evolved into its own part of the brand, titled #WeAreWeCa n, where women can submit and share their stories. Women already featured have shared stories of struggling with postpartum depression, miscarriage, undergoing preventative surgery, and sexual abuse, to name a few.
This part of the brand is one of the things Wecker said she’s most proud of. As part of it, Wecker said Fawn Design will choose a charity or nonprofit organization every quarter to donate proceeds to, in an effort to not just “talk the talk,” but “walk the walk,” as Wecker put it.
“I just want people to feel not so alone and not so isolated because I know what that feels like,” Wecker said. “It’s kind of one of those things, when you start talking, you realize so many people are going through stuff. And even the same stuff as you. These things need to be talked about so people don’t feel so alone.”
Fawn Design bags and accessories can be purchased online, but will soon be available in Nordstrom stores as well.