Lake Orion resident Kelly Carroll, 50, started her eponymous handbag and accessories line in 2002, after she was let go from her job as a quality manager at a technical recruiting company, due to downsizing. Originally named Boutique to U Handbags, Carroll hosted fundraising trunk shows at various hospitals around the state, selling to patients and employees alike, and raising close to $1,000,000 in 16 years. Her initial success and business model change — from trunk shows to a wholesale business — led to the rename of her company, now K. Carroll Accessories, which has expanded to include customers in all 50 states. Carroll’s accessories have been featured in O magazine’s annual “Oprah’s Favorite Things” issue in 2016 and this past December, and can found in stores across the nation. Today, she and her team operate out of her headquarters in Auburn Hills, where we caught up with her to learn more about the line.
Hour Detroit: What prompted you to start your handbag company, K. Carroll Accessories?
Kelly Carroll: Sixteen years ago, I was displaced from my sales job. The company I was working for was bought out by an individual from Colorado. [Starting a handbag brand] was something I’ve always wanted to do and had the ability to get started. While I was at Hudson’s Macy’s, working in sales as well as a recruiter for the company, I developed a knowledge that played into designing my brand. My dream was always to get back into the accessories and retail industry, which is where I started my career. The loss of my job gave me the opportunity and push to start K. Carroll Accessories.
Why have you chosen to craft all of your K. Carroll handbags out of vegan leather?
The use of vegan leather is a movement that has picked up within the fashion industry in the last few years. We have always manufactured our products with manmade materials simply because genuine hide can be so thin that it tears and rips. Our vegan leather is much stronger, more durable, and less expensive. By offering our high-quality bags between $30 and $60, customers can buy a number of them in different colors and sizes, for different seasons, rather than having to splurge on one, say, $500 purse.
Products from Carroll K. Accessories have not been listed once, but twice in “Oprah’s Favorite Things” issue in just three years. How did that come to be?
As a wholesaler, we sell to gift shops throughout the country, and one of the stores that offers our line is located in Illinois. The owners of this shop were at a wholesale trade show in New York City, and they brought one of our cell phone carriers that comes with a strap. They ran into Adam Glassman, the creative director at O magazine, at the show, and wanted to take their picture with him. As they pulled out their cell phone camera, protected in our cell phone case, he said, “I’ve been looking for something like that for years.” Next thing you know I’m talking with Adam over the phone, while I’m at Cedar Pointe of all places — it’s hard to find a quiet place there. It was a real whirlwind because they had already picked their list that year, in December of 2016, so we were late to the game. But they loved the product and wanted to add it on.
This year, for “Oprah’s December Favorite Things” issue, our Harper cross body bag was chosen – it’s basically the new and improved cell phone case that was featured two years ago. I contacted Oprah’s group and said, “You liked it two years ago, and so I’ve made it bigger, better, and for all types of cell phones.” Being featured in “Oprah’s Favorite Things” issue is like winning the Oscars in the retail industry.
Before your brand became a national and online retail brand, you showed your line of K. Carroll Accessories at trunks shows that raised charity funds. Tell us about your journey to success?
My brand was originally named Boutique to U, and I would bring my bags to various hospitals, set up trunk shows for two days, and give a percentage back as a fundraiser. We raised nearly $1,000,000 for hospitals in the midwest and eventually, our products were in health center shops due to a rising demand, which led us to our wholesale program. Before Oprah, we had been in business for 16 years and people were unaware of my brand. The first day they launched Oprah’s Favorite Things two years ago; we sold four times as many in this year. K. Carroll Accessories is women-owned and operated, and our mission has always been to provide fashionable yet functional products.