SALT LAKE CITY — Among the thousands of manufacturers ramping up to meet holiday production orders, there is a relatively small shop in Salt Lake that designs and sells handbags.
The shop's employee headcount is just four: three people new to the United States and a young entrepreneur who quit a good job just months ago to make it happen.
"I hadn't used any patterns ever in making any of the bags," said Sarah Burroughs, the founder and designer of Anne B Designs.
Turns out Burroughs may have something of a gift for bags. Friends in college noticed. They kept asking her to design one for them.
“I made things to fit me, and then I saw that other people liked what I did, that didn't have pink or glitz or glam,” Burroughs said.
While design might have come naturally, Burroughs said she taught herself how to stitch it all together.
"How leather works is tough. How to put on a zipper, using rivets — I taught myself. And I asked a lot of questions to a lot of people on how to do these steps,” Burroughs said.
Burroughs took a big step this past summer. The 28-year-old bagged her marketing career, along with a secure paycheck, to set up shop in an old pickle factory in Salt Lake's Granary Row.
I think it really comes down to the person that's making it, and there's a story behind every piece.
She's now putting those marketing skills to work as she designs and markets bags for her own company, and she's getting attention.
"Harper's Bazaar U.K. Edition contacted me to have an ad printed in their magazine,” said Burroughs. “I had to do a double take in the email, make sure. I didn't know this was real."
It was real. And that exposure, coupled with a successful crowdfunding campaign, allowed Burroughs to start a sewing school where she trains and hire Utah refugees to help turn her handbag vision into reality.
Burroughs said she want to give them the "opportunity to use their skills to do what they love to do, instead of just working in the kitchen or cleaning.
She said the spark for that mission came from a recent journey to Uganda, Africa, where she volunteered to teach women and children how to sew and how to market their own creations.
"They were really good, and they caught on really quick. It’s just, they didn't have anyone to teach them,” said Burroughs. "That’s why I wanted to tap into the refugee organization here in Salt Lake.”
Right now, Burroughs employs three refugees, all natives of war-torn Afghanistan.
Mohammad Mosseni first learned to sew in Turkey.
"The company was making men’s suits, that was a good experience until I came to the United States,” said Mosseni.
Burroughs said she hopes Anne B will eventually allow the refugees to design new paths for themselves.
"They’ve said they wanted to open up their own boutique business, and I hope this is the experience for them to see all the steps they can take,” Burroughs said. "I think it really comes down to the person that's making it, and there's a story behind every piece.”
To see more of Sara Burrough's work, visit the Anne B website.