Sherrill Mosee is not your typical inventor. Observing a need for working women and moms with “overload bag syndrome” as she calls it, Sherrill came up with one amazing solution. She invented and designed MinkeeBlue fashionable and functional handbags with no training whatsoever in that field.
I didn’t allow anybody to say that you can’t do it. All of the decisions I’ve made, I’ve made on my own or with the help of people who have helped building the business. Sherrill Mosee
This talented entrepreneur just won the premiere episode of the USA Network’s America’s Big Deal and a contract valued at $100,000 with Macy’s. I wanted to know more about the fascinating woman behind these beautiful handbags whose website says simply: “Your day is in the bag!”
EYE: I am intrigued about what makes the perfect handbag as I’ve been searching for one for years. What makes your handbags so unique?
SHERRILL: MinkeeBlue bags are organizational travel and work bags. It’s all about organizing and separating items in the bag. What really separates MinkeeBlue from everything else on the market is this folding panel in the middle of the bag, which, by the way, has two utility patents on it.
That panel creates a shelf so that you can have compartments and carry different items like your shoes or your lunch or workout gear and separate them from your purse essentials and your laptop. I engineered it so the shelf could hold the items without collapsing and stay intact when it’s in use or not.
EYE: You have two engineering degrees and had a career as an electrical engineer. How on earth did the idea hit you to invent an ingenious handbag for women?
SHERRILL: For a number of years, I worked at GE, which eventually merged with Lockheed Martin. After the Lockheed plant closed, I was working as an engineer consultant and started a non-profit organization called Family Care Solutions, which raised money to help low income single moms in college pay for child care.
While I was working with the moms, I would see them coming in with and balancing their handbag, diaper bag and their book bag. And I also thought, Wait a minute, I’m going to work. I’m taking the train in the city and I’m carrying two or three bags.
I had my lunch bag, my purse and my laptop on some days. Looking around on the train, I noticed other women carrying two or three bags.
EYE: So you wanted to solve this problem of too many bags.
SHERRILL: We’re all carrying a lot of stuff in our bags. Overload. I wanted one bag that I could organize and separate my lunch from my purse essentials so I wouldn’t have to carry a lunch bag or my shoes. When I couldn’t find anything, I decided maybe I could make a bag.
Then fear set in because I thought You don’t know anything about manufacturing. You don’t know anything about fashion design. You can’t do this. So I pulled back and I told myself, Yep, you’re right. I pulled back.
EYE: How did you beat back that fear?
SHERRILL: I didn’t pursue the idea for a month, and it just kept nagging me and nagging me. I woke up one day. I was actually sick, and I was laying in the bed and couldn’t really do anything.
I was just thinking about this idea and thought I don’t want to wake up one day and look back and say, I wish I could have, should have. You know what? I’m just going to give this a try. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how it’s going to work, but I’m going to give this a try.
EYE: How did you know where to start?
SHERRILL: I asked myself what’s the one thing I could do right now that doesn’t take any money, any experience or anything like that? I can start researching this thing, and that’s what I did. I got over that fear of starting this business by breaking it down to this little bite size of information.
That’s something that I could do at that moment. And so instead of looking at this big mountain of things that I knew I couldn’t do, I pulled back and looked at what could I do right now and today.
EYE: Is that how you also managed to pull together not only your idea, but the whole execution of it because you are an engineer by training, but not a finance or marketing guru on any level?
SHERRILL: Right. I think sometimes when we think about the big picture of everything that we have to do like we just mentioned, the marketing, the finance and all of this stuff, that it just becomes overwhelming. And again, fear sets in.
I decided to pull back and figure out what I could do and then connect with people that knew more than I did, who could help me along the journey.
EYE: What’s been your biggest hurdle?
SHERRILL: There have been a lot of hurdles. It’s been a very challenging journey. My biggest hurdle was actually when I first started the business, I had figured out the structure of the bag, how I was going to manufacture it, and I had to find a manufacturer.
My first manufacturer had never made a bag with a shelf inside. They were used to making fashion bags. So in the first batch of bags, 30 percent were defective. And that was devastating because that meant I couldn’t sell the bag, and I lost a lot of money.
EYE: But you didn’t give up?
SHERRILL: I had to make a decision to either stop because I didn’t have any money or I was going to keep going. I fundraised on Kickstarter. I decided I needed to take a pause. I needed to slow down to go back and figure out how this manufacturing process really worked.
A year went by and I decided to go overseas; meet with the manufacturer; and build the relationship so they understood the product how to make the product the way I had envisioned it.
EYE: What has surprised you most about the industry that you’re now in?
SHERRILL: The way bags have been made, especially fashion bags. The fashion bag is one big open tote bag with pockets or a bag with the zipper in the middle and a pocket.
No one, as far as I have seen, has looked at a fashion bag to solve problems that we deal with every day: our lifestyles, how we carry bags, what we carry in the bags.
I’m looking at how we use bags in our everyday life and not just for travel and work, but for our everyday life. What I’m doing is a new category.
I’m looking at the functionality and utility of a bag, but still have it be a fashion bag. I don’t think the industry was really looking at it that way.
EYE: I love the name MinkeeBlue. Can you explain the meaning behind it and all the different names of all your bags?
SHERRILL: When I was running my non-profit organization, working with student moms, I originally started off making diaper bags and travel bags. I wanted the domain “Pinky Blue” because I was doing diaper bags and that made sense. The domain was taken.
But I liked the sound and so I literally went through the alphabet and “m”…..”MinkeeBlue”, I like this!” The names of my bags are named after the women in my life: my daughter, my sister, my mom who passed away years ago, my college roommate, my nieces, my cousins, my intern and even a customer.
EYE: Now, in this entrepreneurial field that you are currently in, have you also found a way to help aspiring entrepreneurs and inventors?
SHERRILL: I do. I teach an online course called “How to bring a Product Idea to Market.” Because I went through so much with building the business and I have the experience and the knowledge, I now share that with other entrepreneurs.
I also have a platform called “StartUp with Sherrill” and I teach and coach women on how to bring their product idea to market. Oftentimes we have an idea, but we just don’t know what to do next. Instead of taking three to five years to figure things out like I have, I can teach all of those steps in a matter of a few months.
Then I coach you through the process to help you to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that I encountered and also to save you money because of those pitfalls.
EYE: Is there any one thing that you have learned that is most important in executing an idea?
SHERRILL: I am the one executing an idea. The one thing I learned is not to jump and have someone else make your idea. I always start with my own prototype. I will sit down and I’ll sketch it out the best way I can. Then I will get materials from around the house or maybe go to the dollar store or the craft store, and I’ll just pull things together.
That doesn’t cost much. Having made my own prototype, I can visually see it come to life. Your prototype doesn’t have to look pretty; it just has to be functional. It’s very important that you be the first one to see it and to come to life before passing that idea onto someone else to make it for you.
EYE: What kinds of “issues” are you addressing at this point?
SHERRILL: With Covid, I was trying to figure out when we stopped traveling and we stopped really going to work every day, what was needed besides the big bags that I often make? I started turning to casual bags because we were still going to the grocery store, running errands, etc. I have the crossbody bag now that converts to a backpack so you can use it very casually.
SHERRILL: Then, there’s the beach bag. When we started becoming vaccinated and started traveling in the summer, we would need to hold and keep a bottle of water cool plus snacks. I put a detachable cooler on the beach bag. That will come out next year. It’s really cool, bright and colorful, so that’s different from my normal working bag.
EYE: So what have you learned about yourself and your career as an engineer, founder of a nonprofit and an inventor entrepreneur?
SHERRILL: When I was a little girl, I always wanted to tinker and try to figure out things. I love challenges, problem solving, to figure things out. I get in my zone. I get so giggly. When I come up with something, I say, Oh my God, I got it and I’ll start dancing!
EYE: Is there anyone you feel that was or is a role model for your ingenuity and creativity as well as your kind of stick-to-it, keep-going energy to make it so successful?
SHERRILL: My mom who was a single mom. There were times that I would go to bed with my coat on because the heat, gas and electric were cut. So it was very different and difficult, too. But I looked at how hard my mom worked and how much she encouraged us.
She would tell me, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” You can do anything that you put your mind to. You just stay with it. You stick with it. Keep going.
She would just encourage me all the time, and I would just see how hard she would work to care for her kids. And, by the way, she was also a very fashionable person. She loved to dress.
EYE: You are certainly a role model for so many in a number of arenas. Looking at the younger generation and inspiring adventures, what do you want them to take away from your experience?
SHERRILL: Nothing beats a failure, but try. That’s what my mom would tell me is that you have to give it a try. You have to take that first step. If you don’t try, nothing will happen. If you say no, then if you tell yourself no, then nothing is going to happen.
EYE: And, final question: Is there a perfect handbag?
SHERRILL: My MinkeeBlue bag, of course.
EYE: Thank you, Sherrill for sharing your insights and making a difference not only for working moms and women but entrepreneurs-to-be! Continued success in all you imagine and solve!
Top Photo: Abdullah Elias
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