December 1, 2022

Vera Bradley founders Pat & Barb look back at the past 40 years as they embark on a metaverse journey

Vera Bradley founders Pat & Barb look back at the past 40 years as they embark on a metaverse journey

“I was the one-person welcome committee,” Miller told CNN Business with a laugh. “Barbara responded to the wallpapered door—because it was their new home and she loves new wallpaper—and I said, ‘Hi.’ And that it was.”

Soon the women became inseparable. A few months later, upon returning home from a joint family trip to Florida for Barb’s mother’s birthday, a layover in Atlanta changed everything. The duo, known to friends as “Pat & Barb,” looked around the passengers’ luggage and noticed that it looked rather faded, in shades of beige and black.

The idea for Vera Bradley, named after Barb’s mother, now a $540 million women’s fashion brand that sells brightly patterned bags and other merchandise, was born there in Atlanta’s airport terminal.

“Growing up in Miami Beach, we had Lily Pulitzer and Laura Ashley. I was used to a lot of colors,” Beckgaard said in an interview. You can call it a flashlight [moment] Or the wink of God. I don’t know what it is, but we went back and started the company the next day.”

With a combined investment total of $500 of their own money, they purchased materials from their local drapery store and began work on creating the first duffel bag on a Baekgaard basement table tennis table.

It was this Several years before the dawn of the internet, not to mention social media – so they had no influencers. But they have two college-aged Beckgard daughters, and they sent the young women to Marymount College and Michigan State with their first Vera Bradley duffel shoes.

“Kappa [Kappa Gamma women’s sorority] home in Michigan, they kind of bragged that they started the company,” Beckgard said. They were our first test market, and it just grew from there. “

Because the bags were so visible — and bright — she said, they were “like a little bulletin board.” Soon, Baekgaard and Miller received so many orders for duffel bags that they could not keep up. To meet the demand, they hired local seamstresses who picked up kits containing the pattern and ingredients needed to produce each bag, then returned the finished products to Barb and Pat.

It was clear: this was a viable business. Any business needs a name.

“We searched all kinds of names, but Barb’s mother’s name was Vera Bradley. My mother’s name was Wilma Polito!” Miller laughed.

Colorful patterns and paisley prints took off almost immediately, with their brightly colored bags and suitcases strewn across college campuses and inside airport terminals. Over the next several decades, Vera Bradley expanded to include bedding, technology, and home accessories. On Thursday, the brand launched its first-ever shoe collection.

Last year, the company had sales of $540.5 million — a number the duo could hardly imagine.

“I remember at the Atlanta Gift Show they didn’t get it,” Beckgaard said. “I remember a woman who specifically said, ‘Do you think I carry bags with chickens on it?'” Well, it turned out to be a huge success.

Vera Bradley was launched in 1982 after co-founders felt women's luggage needed an overhaul.

Miller and Beekgaard served as co-chairs of the company from 1982 until the company debuted on the stock market in 2010. Miller retired in 2012, and Beckgaard took over in 2017.

Even as women look back at Vera Bradley’s 40 years, the brand is looking forward and pushing the boundaries of its duffel bag roots. The company revealed earlier this month The world of Vera Bradleywhich is a platform to educate women about Web3, and it also sells two NFT Digital artwork to raise funds for the Vera Bradley Breast Cancer Foundation.

“We weren’t imagining cell phones and what we’re doing now,” Beckgaard said. “Things come and go… I just hope we stay relevant and up to date, whatever that may be.”