Sewing is a tradition in Madeline Woods's family. Her grandmother sews. Her mom sews. And since she was 5, Woods has sewed, graduating from doing it by hand to using a machine, from stitching bean bags to crafting stuffed animals.
But it wasn't until high school that the idea dawned on Woods that her sewing could be something more than a hobby.
"I made a purse for sewing class, and one of the girls said, 'I'd totally buy that. You should sell that to me,' " said Woods, who has lived in Frankfort since she was 9. "When she said that, it kind of opened my eyes. Maybe I could sell them. Maybe other people would feel the same way."
When she turned 18, Woods began selling her purses through Etsy, a website that lets artisans and crafters sell their wares. Now 21, Woods has her own home-based business--Madeline Woods Chicago--selling her purses on her own website and on consignment at Frankfort's
"I've always enjoyed doing my own thing, following my own thoughts and schedules," Woods said about starting her own business. "Just knowing that people enjoy my products and look forward to seeing my new products gives me the drive to keep going and designing new purses and accessories. I'm really organized, too, which makes it easier to run my own business instead of dealing with someone else's."
"It takes a lot more time to do the business aspect, and I'd rather just focus on designing and sewing," she added. "But at the same time, I'd rather do it all myself because I'm kind of a perfectionist, and I won't trust anyone else to do the business side."
An original purse by Woods starts out with a design sketch, coming up with the dimensions she'll need for a pattern. Then Woods buys the fabric and materials; she uses a lot of faux-suedes and vinyls. Finally, she sews the exterior and the lining and puts the two together. It takes Woods about three to four hours to create a purse.
Although she designs and sews all the purses herself, customers can order them in different colors. Woods will even create a custom bag for customers who have an idea or want the purse to match a dress. And she tries not to stick to one style for the purses.
"They keep getting better and better each year," Woods said. "I keep looking at the first ones now and wonder how I even sold them compared to the ones I'm making lately. But the designs are getting more detailed and better constructed."
Woods wasn't always confident that selling her handmade purses was the right career choice. After high school, she went to Joliet Junior College and earned her associate's degree in earlier childhood learning. In fact, Woods's love of working with children is why she's still a part-time nanny for a family of four.
"At first, I was contemplating whether or not to continue going through with (the business), if I should stay in school and get my bachelor's degree," she said. "But after it started progressing so much, it was more apparent this was what I'd really rather do. It's what I was more passionate about. ... I always figured I'd be a teacher or do something with children. As I got older, this became more enjoyable."
Woods has been pleased with her success so far. Last year, she branched out into baby clothes and accessories, selling her handmade bibs, scratch mitts, onesies, booties and diaper covers through . Her goals this year are to get her purses into two more stores and even have them used in a magazine photo shoot.
"Business has been picking up each year," Woods said. "As long as I can keep making bigger strides each year, I should have a really good company."
"Probably my highest goal is to be a household name," she added. "Whether it's for the town of Frankfort or the whole United States, people know my name and know my brand. That's how I'll know if I've hit it big."
Since Day 1, Woods hasn't kept her financial success all to herself. She donates 10 percent of her sales equally to the Polycystic Kidney Disease Foundation and Autism Speaks, an organization that increases awareness for autism spectrum disorders.
Woods has donated purses to fundraising auctions for these organizations
"I just wanted to give back basically," she said. "Polycystic kidney disease runs through my family. I really want to help find a cure for it. So anything I can do to do that I feel like it's the right thing to do."
Giving back is a value her parents instilled in her, Woods said, and it's also something that her customers can feel good about when they buy any of her items.
I Love My Fans Contest
Woods is holding a contest through Feb. 14 that people can enter to win a Madeline Woods Chicago purse. Go to her website for details and a contest entry form.