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Meet Jenny Nemlekar of Jenny N. in Murphy/Wylie

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenny Nemlekar.

Jenny, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve always loved making things.  When I was six, my grandmother visited us from Vietnam. She didn’t understand English and I couldn’t speak Vietnamese, so her visit turned out to be an extended game of charades.  I would say we were pretty successful because she ended up teaching me how to knit.  I made a small magenta rectangle that I folded in half and made into a pouch.  Wanting to strengthen the design, I asked my mom for help.  My mom took out a vintage Singer sewing machine, some scrap fabric, and taught me to sew a simple bag lining and a strap to turn my pouch into a bag.

It didn’t surprise anyone that I started Jenny N. while studying Biomedical Engineering at UT Austin as an outlet for the pent up creativity.  I used all of the money I had saved up to buy a Singer sewing machine, some fabric, and a camera.  Soon, I was building handbag prototypes and posting them online to sell.  What started as an exciting distraction from my studies soon became a business.  Jenny N. was then, and still is my labor of love.

11 years in, I take great pride in operating my entire business out of a small office in our home, where I still make every bag meticulously from start to finish and give it a goodbye hug before shipping it to its loving owner. Jenny N. might not fit the prevailing narrative of our mass-produced world, but that’s several thousand bag-hugs ya’ll!

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I graduated with my Biomedical Engineering degree in 2009.  Graduating into the Great Recession was a blessing in disguise because, after a few dead-end interviews, my decision to go full-time with Jenny N. seemed like a pragmatic move to my parents (who always imagined their daughter would be a doctor or engineer…or both).

The real challenge was scaling labor of love into a bonafide business.  I had to teach myself to be my own devil’s advocate and to balance my creative tendencies with the realities of sustaining a livelihood. After 11 years, I’ve had plenty of internal monologues between my “business side” and my “artistic side” –prioritizing pricing, margins, and inventory optimization can hinder my ability to take artistic risks.  It’s an enthralling balancing act and a job description that I would never be able to find in industry.

Now, in my 30s with a 2-year old (who easily surpasses my zeal for life), there’s another layer of balance that needs to be struck between business, art, and family. It’s a challenge that I wouldn’t have seen coming in my dorm room at UT Austin, but one that I couldn’t live without.

Please tell us about Jenny N. – what should we know?
I’m a one-woman operation, where I design, sew, “manufacture”, package, and ship my handmade bags. I also photograph/model most of my products, answer all emails and inquiries, and everything else associated with running a business. Talk about “small business”!

What sets my business apart from the market is that each one of my bags can be customized to fit your exact needs and style. From colors of the leather, canvas, hardware, zipper, thread, and monogram to utility factors like closure style, adding an internal laptop sleeve, luggage sleeve on the back to slide over a roller bag, backpack straps (for crossbody bags), crossbody straps (for backpacks), credit card pockets, etc. Because I hand make each bag, I can offer a wide array of customizable options to make sure the bag meets the needs of its user!

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Even with the temptation to hire, grow, and expand, I’ve always decided to stay small as a one-person operation. Staying small has allowed me to focus entirely on what I find to be key to the success of my business –having one-on-one interactions with each of my customers to ensure they receive the best customer service and highest quality product!

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