by Shireen Khalil, news.com.au
WOMEN around the world can attest to struggling to find the perfect handbag for a specific outfit or occasion. So why not create your own?
That's exactly what Australia's Lana Hopkins did, and her simple idea led to a $30 million global empire.
"I realised that I simply spent far too many hours pounding the pavement, looking for the perfect handbag," Ms Hopkins said.
The 2017 Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist (World Retail Awards) launched her unique custom-made handbag brand Mon Purse just three years ago online, and now sells to more than 35 countries, partnering with Bloomingdales, Selfridges and Myer.
Her multimillion-dollar idea was inspired during an unusual light bulb moment - in a Build-A-Bear workshop at Westfield Bondi Junction - when making her nephew the perfect teddy.
"I was looking for a handbag at the time and couldn't find the right one," she said. "After an unforgettable experience building a bear, I was inspired."
Her mission to solve this personal problem led her to Europe. "I discovered that the best handbag-makers were based in Italy, Spain and Turkey. I travelled to Europe looking for the best tanneries and ateliers, we hand-selected quality leathers and raw materials, and employed incredibly skilled craftsmen. I also found some great software engineers to turn our (Mon Purse) vision into reality."
Before opening her flagship store in Sydney, Ms Hopkins launched her brand online with an initial $10,000 to $20,000 investment backing.
Despite being crammed into a two-room office with her team above the Mon Purse store in Paddington, the now 33-year-old was undeterred.
"What's important to remember is team culture is everything, as anything is possible with the right passionate and dedicated team to drive your vision," Ms Hopkins said.
Like any start-up founder, Ms Hopkins - who studied International Business and Marketing at UTS - experienced plenty of challenges and setbacks. "Evolving from start-up to scale-up and everything that entails," she said.
But, she added: "When you love what you do, it becomes your passion, mission and life."
And Mon Purse is now the little idea that has turned into a reputable global brand.
"In just over two years, we have built an authentic brand. Customers are now able to customise a handbag with over 10 billion design combinations and watch as their own handbag is created online in real time," she said.
After her brand grew at rapid speeds in Australia, retailing at Myer and exceeding $12 million in 2016, global domination began. Showrooms known as "Mon Galleries" sprang up at the iconic Selfridges in London and at Bloomingdale's in NYC and San Francisco.
Bloomingdale's boasts the largest store yet at 260 square metres, replacing Dior, right opposite Louis Vuitton.
Ms Hopkins told news.com.au she was proud to have "built a true cult millennial brand" and be partnering with Laura Brown, editor-in-chief of InStyle America and "absolute legendary powerhouse".
The bespoke, luxury handbag brand has attracted the likes of Kelly Rowland, Margot Robbie, Sienna Miller and Kourtney Kardashian. "It still feels incredibly surreal to have such inspiring women support the brand - celebrity or not," Ms Hopkins said. "I feel incredibly humbled whenever I see a woman like Margot Robbie toting one of our bags, but it is equally inspiring to see all of customers posting via Instagram posts and engaging with their products on a personal level.
"At the heart of it all for Mon Purse are its customers, and delivering on what they want. It's all about listening, understanding and delivering on what our customers want."
There's no end in sight for this entrepreneur, who only last month opened another store and her first boutique in New Jersey's Short Hills Shopping Mall. And it doesn't stop there - she just announced that she is bringing it back home - with another store to open (this month) where it all began - at Bondi Westfield.
From a design perspective, she will be adding new features and developing an artificial intelligence platform.
Ms Hopkins' advice for anyone wanting to start a business? "Never stop innovating and pushing through new ideas."