Equip /ih-kwip/ (verb): to supply with the necessary items for a particular purpose.
When Anthony Nota and Baylen Edwards-Miller met the first week of college, they couldn’t have imagined the journey they’d take to become entrepreneurs and co-owners of IHKWIP, where they “blend fashion and function to create bags with city style and suburban sensibility.”
Fast forward to 2020, Anthony and Baylen were both building successful careers with world-renowned fashion brands in public relations and marketing (Anthony) and product development and design (Baylen). “We were in the thick of it,” recalls Anthony.
When the pandemic started, Anthony and Baylen recognized that it was changing the way people had to organize and carry their personal belongings, including adding items like hand sanitizer and face masks.
“Our bags started as an idea to keep our minds active during the pandemic lockdown, but also that helped alleviate a problem for people,” said Baylen. “We were holed up in our New York City apartment, working remotely. I have an uncle in the suburbs who had extra space in his four-bedroom home for us to move into. We jumped at the chance. Within a month, I was furloughed, and with a laptop and no definitive plan, we got to work.”
Their plan quickly came into focus as Anthony and Baylen drew on their experience in the industry, expertise and passion for handbags. “We were both always drawn to handbag design, it was always in our orbit,” said Anthony.
“And we knew the business side of the industry too,” said Baylen. “We had the secret sauce to give this idea a real go.”
Anthony and Baylen started with their design of a small bag that was fashionable but smart and practical.
Then, they drew on the bag’s purpose for their new product and brand’s name, landing on IHKWIP, the phonetic spelling and pronunciation of the word “equip,” perfectly describing their vision and purpose of their new design.
“It was a very organic process for us,” said Anthony. “Baylen’s family and our fashion industry friends and colleagues were our sounding board, we were showing off something new to them seemingly every night, from design ideas to our logo and website. We got to a point to where it was like ‘Okay, we have this part done now, what’s next?’ And we kept going.”
What happened next became the turning point in their journey; Baylen was un-furloughed the same day Anthony was laid off.
“We struggled with the decision for me to go back from furlough but decided to try to keep making IHKWIP a reality while both working,” said Baylen. “But now it was ‘Okay Anthony, you’re driving.’”
Little did they know, IHKWIP was on the verge of a breakthrough. After mainly marketing IHKWIP on social media and word of mouth through family and friends, their bag caught the eye of QVC.
“We placed our first manufacturing order and were making strides selling our bags through our website and even partnered with several organizations on their corporate gifting initiatives,” said Baylen. “We started with a simple idea that quickly transformed into a labor of love that we got to share with others. Then, QVC called.”
After launching on QVC on January 19, 2021, they quickly sold out and QVC placed another order. Anthony and Baylen realized IHKWIP was not a one-hit wonder and began developing a full line of bags.
Between their success on QVC, a successful launch of their e-commerce business and continued customer demand for new products, they realized this exponential growth needed funding.
After speaking to a fellow entrepreneur who recommended WSFS Bank to them, Anthony and Baylen connected with Greg Bula, Vice President, SBA Relationship Manager for WSFS Bank.
“We value the concept of banking locally and feel it is important that businesses try to lift each other up,” said Baylen. “It was apparent that Greg and WSFS really embraced our story and understood the needs of small businesses. We quickly secured the funding needed to keep manufacturing on pace with purchase orders. We’re looking to continue growing and are excited that WSFS is on board as our partner.”
Recently, Anthony and Baylen were walking in New York City and saw a woman wearing one of their bags. Those are the ‘pinch me’ moments for Anthony and Baylen. “It’s the thing we’re most proud of, to see our bags reaching people broadly,” said Baylen. “It is heartwarming to see that someone bought a product we made because they loved it!”
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