Tea Towels Sold
Lisa Wiley, a bedding designer in California, hit an unexpected road block in her career in 2008 that brought her back to Michigan. Instead of letting her situation set her back, Lisa decided to open her own business in Southeast Michigan and use her designer skills to create handmade, quality clothing with hand-printed designs. She taught herself how to screen print and started her business soon after.
How the SBDC helped
Lisa started ellembee by selling at Arts and Crafts Festivals and online through Etsy, and once her business began to grow, she sought out the help of the SBDC to manage her business’ expansion. Her consultant helped her to transition her business from solely women’s clothing to tea towels, coasters, and more after conducting extensive market research.
2018 was ellembee’s best year yet, with sales reaching over 1 million for the first time in the 11 years of operation. Lisa’s designs can now be found in over 800 stores nationwide, an increase from the 600 stores previously, and her business has transitioned its products to offer more variety than clothing. Her high quality and fun product line, made fully in Michigan, is a continuing success story.
When hit with an unexpected lay off, bedding designer Lisa Wiley moved back to Michigan from Southern California in search of her next step. She didn’t let her situation set her back and took the opportunity to teach herself to screen print. Soon she was selling her hand-made clothing designs online and at craft sales.
As her business grew, Lisa opened a shop in Wixom, Michigan and hired a team to help keep up with sales. But her sales weren’t the only thing growing, the product line was also expanding as she continued to innovate her designs. What started as a women's clothing and onesie line now primarily consists of home and gift items, including coasters, zipper pouches, and her most popular product: tea towels.
"I think what sets [ellembee] apart is the fun product line. All of the designs are hand printed and are sure to get you laughing" says Lisa.
Tea towels now make up about 90% of ellembee’s business even though they were introduced just a few years ago. In late 2017 Lisa was looking for new markets to continue her growth, so she visited with the SBDC for help and recommendations. Her consultant, Jodie Beckley, assisted in conducting market research and to open her new product line.
"[The SBDC] has been a great resource, Jodie has been so helpful. I call her my 'business coach' because she really has guided me with the [product] transitions" says Lisa.
Since Lisa has started working with the SBDC her sales hit 1 million annually for the first time ever. She has also been able to build a successful website and continues to plan for future expansion with the SBDC’s help.
All ellembee designs are hand-printed using an eco-friendly, water-based ink to provide better quality and softer fabric and that uses less chemicals. The tea towels are fully made in Michigan and are now sold at over 800 locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, an increase from the 600 locations in 2017.
Lisa plans to introduce a line of journals in the summer of 2019, and has a few more ideas up her sleeve for 2020 and beyond.