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Upcycled bags, empowered youth

Rachel Hestmark outside of her workspaceRachel Hestmark designs and sews upcycled bags from upholstery material that would otherwise be landfill-bound. She’s also passionate about fostering young entrepreneurs, through her newly created Ignite Youth program. 

Rachel’s fourteen years of experience making upcycled bags began when she made a “mom bag” shortly after her first son was born. At her mother-in-law’s urging, Rachel got a small upholstery machine and started making bags out of upholstery fabric and selling them at holiday fairs, bazaars and art walks. 

When Rachel realized that she wanted to make her bags full time, she enrolled in a three year program with Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO). MESO connected Rachel to a Portland State University class that helped her write a business plan. Rachel also took classes on marketing 101 and trademarks, and got a grant through MESO to buy equipment in her early stages. “Everything they offered, I took advantage of.”

Rachel holding a flower print bag Rachel holding a bag Rachel at her sewing machine

An acquaintance suggested Rachel contact the 42nd Street Business Association, who was looking to offer retail and workshop space to local small business. It was a great fit, and she’s using the space for her youth entrepreneurship program, and to get a feel for what kind of space she really needs for her business.

Rachel buys leftover upholstery fabric from Layton-Newport, a furniture manufacturer in St. Johns, and turns it into different styles of bags and pillows. Because the fabric “ends” are small, she often has only enough of a particular print to make a few bags. This means all of her products are limited edition; a quality her customers love.

As Rachel designs new bags, she keeps an eye out for other creative re-use opportunities, sourcing fabrics and other materials from SCRAP and the Rebuilding Center.

“People love kid’s art!”

Rachel is passionate about developing young entrepreneurs, and recently created Ignite Youth, a 12-week summer program. Rachel coaches the kids on how to package, price, market and sell the crafts they already make. The youth then sell their crafts at their own booth at Cully Farmer’s Market. She teaches the kids about profit and loss, and how to keep up their materials and inventory. At the Cully Farmer’s Market, the kids do their own selling; Rachel is there just to supervise. 

Youth BoothYouth selling crafts at the Cully Farmer’s Market Youth Booth. 

Rachel models the program after her relationship with her own kids. Rachel’s son and daughter both make crafts – her daughter makes a variety of things including wallets, bracelets and headbands – and Rachel has been helping them sell them for years.

“I will teach your children what I taught mine.”

Participating youth are welcome to work on their crafts in Rachel’s workshop on Tuesdays from 11-4. She and other parent volunteers supervise the kids while letting them be the drivers of their own creation. "It's a great way for kids to have something to do all summer, to stay out of trouble, and make a little money to buy the things that they want." Rachel also works with the kid’s parents so they have support at home, including introducing them to places like SCRAP, for affordable re-use craft supplies.

“It’s also about teaching kids how to feel comfortable with themselves and what they make.”

Youth entrepreneurship is about more than selling a product; it’s also about teaching kids how to feel comfortable with themselves and what they make. Rachel is working to get more youth selling their own crafts at the school bazaars that she frequently sells her own goods at. She hopes this will be contagious and that those participating will “start infecting their friends with the possibilities of their own success.” Rachel is instilling in these kids that you “do a good job, present well, and people will appreciate your work.”

Follow @hestmarkdesigns on twitter and visit her Facebook page for more info about Hestmark Designs and Ignite Youth.