Bags with Benefits: How one Alabama company crafts beautiful bags and helps the community
photo of Bags with Benefits: How one Alabama company crafts beautiful bags and helps the community
Bags with Benefits: How one Alabama company crafts beautiful bags and helps the community : At Biscuit Leather Company, making bags and helping others go hand-in-hand.
By Christiana Roussel
Photos by Rob Culpepper
This story appears in Birmingham magazine's February 2017 issue. Subscribe today!
Three years ago, when she did a photoshoot for a woman who taught her to craft her first leather bag, Stayner had no idea her new hobby would evolve in the way it has. Friends took notice of her new bag and wanted one of their own. Others had ideas for tweaks they wanted to make to existing bags on the market. Stayner was willing to take on the task, but there was one major obstacle: time. And maybe hands. Hoping to grow her business in a thoughtful and intentional way, Stayner turned to Alabama businesswoman Natalie Chanin for direction.
Based in Florence, Ala., Chanin and her company Alabama Chanin have received worldwide acclaim for not only a modern approach to the age-old art of hand-stitchery, but for their duplicable business model with independent contractors. The business lessons that Chanin learned are taught at small workshops in her North Alabama headquarters.
Chanin's approach of using independent contractors to complete custom, detail-oriented work is not uncommon in the fashion world. To delineate the difference between traditional employees and independent contractors, the IRS has a prescribed set of rules that apply to these individuals. Among the many criteria, workers must own their own tools; must have access to other work; must have some sort of investment in the equipment or materials used; they may not work on-site; and they must be hired already-skilled.
Stayner knew that if she wanted to design and create more leather goods, she needed more hands on deck, and she found that through the hands of independent contractors. It was out of this initiative that Stayner's non-profit, BLC Workshop, came about. The goals of the workshop are two-fold. The first goal is to develop a cadre of skilled stitchers to assemble and finish Biscuit Leather Company designs, and the second is to empower community members with meaningful work that enables them to spend more time with their families, while earning an income. To ensure the proper execution of her vision, Stayner assembled a board: an accountant, a financial advisor, an attorney, and a leadership consultant, rounded out by a few creative types.
Stayner says she wants more for and from her workshop participants than just the products they can contribute to her business.
"It is not just 'Stitch a bag and here's twenty bucks,'" Stayner says. "We want to help get them to independence and possibly to have their own businesses. We are starting out with what we know: stitching. But the goal is to get them over that hump of not having enough money each month and help them to still be available to their children while developing business skills; to be entrepreneurs."
She already has three independent contractors--Shorne, a single dad to four children who works as a janitor by day and stitches in the evenings; Vicki, a grandmother raising her daughter and grandchild at home; and Cindy, a stitcher who also serves on the BLC Workshop board.
Each workshop member is paired with a financial sponsor, who provides them with a microloan of $500. Part of the independent contracting business model requires that stitchers purchase kits of raw materials to be assembled into a final product. These microloans provide funding for longer terms and at lower rates than from traditional sources. The financial sponsors also provide the workshop members with a mentor and a personal cheerleader. Stayner adds, "There is a real accountability factor here. We feel like you are more likely to be responsible to someone you know versus someone you do not have a relationship with. We already have four sponsors signed up!"
As the company grows, Stayner will continue to help independent contractors flourish. The result of their hard work, paired with Stayner's creative eye, is a collection of beautiful, hand-crafted bags that benefit the community in more ways than one.
How to Get Involved
Sign up to be a sponsorContact Becky Stayner at email@example.com if you are interested in providing a microloan to a BLC Workshop stitcher.
Come to an upcoming Sip & Sew Fundraiser Scheduled for February 2, from 6 p.m.-8 p.m., participants will have the chance to learn a new skill and make a bag of their own, all with proceeds going to the BLC Workshop.
Buy a bag...or a belt or a wallet or a journal. More products sold means more work for more stitchers. Stayner uses only the finest leathers in her goods, which are meant to last a lifetime and only improve with age and use. Splurge on a custom creation or get gameday-ready with the Two-Bite Bag, which meets SEC stadium size restrictions. See more products at BiscuitLeatherCompany.com.
This story was updated on Feb. 14, 2017 at 9:55 a.m. to remove incorrect facts about Natalie Chanin filing for bankruptcy.
related Bags with Benefits: How one Alabama company crafts beautiful bags and helps the community
Patricia Cotter's comedy, developed as part of Centenary Stage Company's Women Playwrights Series, takes an unexpected path
The dog bested 2,798 others to take the title. An Irish setter from Ocean City was runner-up.
Who will be top dog? The consistent German shepherd? The Pekingese with a family history of best in show? We follow all the doggie action here.
This ripped-from-the-headlines work dives eagerly into contemporary conflicts between police and black youth.
One N.J. dog took first place honors in obedience for the second year in a row
Here are N.J.'s 10 most romantic places for Valentine's Day - or any day of the year.
Here's a roundup of recent home sales in Cumberland, Salem and Gloucester counties.
Time to recall baseball's good old days, and a time to look ahead
A disgraced retired Jersey City police officer at the center of a federal probe of the city's off-duty jobs program may lose his current $74,334-a-year pension after a state
The Jersey City mayoral and City Council races are still months away, but the campaigns are already heating up.
A man was found slumped over the hood of an SUV on Martin Luther King Drive with a serious injury to his stomach early Saturday morning, police said.
The left lanes on Route 495 West and the entrance to the New Jersey Turnpike will be closed overnight tonight and tomorrow, state Department of Transportation (DOT) officials
Three people at Bayonne High School were taken to the hospital yesterday afternoon after a student used pepper spray in the school's cafeteria, the school's principal said.
Skipping a $15 toll at the Holland Tunnel apparently is going to cost a Long Island man a lot more.
Two Jersey City felons have been charged with weapons offenses related to a pair of handguns, including one who was arrested in 2015 after shooting himself in the leg with what he
A 41-year-old man has been accused of punching a woman and stealing her purse before he was chased down by the woman's son on Monday.
In the first major endorsement of the 2017 Jersey City mayor's race, state Sen. and Union City Mayor Brian Stack is backing Mayor Steve Fulop, with a rally planned for outside
OUR LADY OF MT. CARMEL Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Seniors will meet on Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 12:30 p.m. At this meeting the club will celebrate Presidents' Day. All are welcome. Our
Do you agree with banning traveling shows and circuses on Hudson County property?Jersey City and Bergen County already have laws on the books prohibiting traveling shows and
The annual Health & Wellness Fair is set to take place all day Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Flemington.
Two Hunterdon County elementary schools have lead in their water that is above the level where action is required to be taken, according to letters released on Feb. 14, 2017.
We asked New Jersey kids to describe something their parents have rules about. Here's what they told us, even the ones they don't mind following.
The project, launched in 2011 by Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer) provides affordable prom dresses for local young women.
Public Service Electric & Gas Company (PSE&G) will be working in New Providence to replace 3.7 miles of old gas pipes with new piping - ensuring a continued safe, clean and
North Brunswick police arrested a burglar who promised to strike again if he's let go