By AML Publisher
Photography courtesy of Bernadette Uzcategui Photography
If there are two idioms that ring true when describing a successful entrepreneurial business model in 2009 it is the following: 1) Necessity is the mother of invention. 2) Timing is everything. With so many Americans astutely aware of reducing their carbon footprint, the green industry is thriving with creative concepts that speak to the nation’s environmentally-cautious consumer. Despite a down economy, all signs point positively towards a growing demand for socially responsible business models.
In the case of Main Line entrepreneurs Tyra Hodges, 45, and Melissa Parker, 40, their invention-fashion forward reusable bags made from recycled materials-was inspired by some timely conversations they had with their children. Hodges was unpacking her groceries one evening in her kitchen last spring when her (then 11-year-old) daughter, Natalie, commented on the amount of plastic and paper she was wasting. Parker had received similar feedback from one of her daughters a few weeks earlier after she completed a school project on the importance of recycling.
Fast forward a month later when the pair (best friends since 2000 when they met through a social organization) met up for lunch and, in a matter of minutes, a business was born. “There was this very palpable ‘aha’ moment for us for sure that afternoon. We have creative backgrounds and there was this synergy that happened in our conversation. It was almost as if our children had been giving us this innovative idea and it took a lunch date to talk it through. We are both very driven and after that, we were off and running,” explained Hodges.
So Hodges and Parker started ironing out the details of their business model-searching for eco-friendly, fashionable fabrics to use to design a line of hip, preppy reusable bags. And, thus, Tymel Style (a kitschy take on their first names) came to life in August of 2008. “Since ‘green’ does not always mean fashion forward, there were not a lot of attractive fabrics constructed from recycled materials available to make our handbags. It took us quite some time to find a fabric we could work with. But, it was important for us to start there before we ventured into making Tymel bags chic,” said Parker.
Before their roles as co-principals with Tymel Style, LLC, the duo boasted strong corporate backgrounds. Parker, a Duke grad, Manhattan native and mother of three to John William Parker II, 12, nine-year-old Avery and six-year-old Peyton, spearheaded a successful interior design business. While Hodges, originally from St. Louis, holds an accounting degree and an interior design certificate from Temple. The mother of three to 14-year old Danielle and twelve-year-old twins Natalie and Grant, Hodges previously worked as a top pharmaceutical sales rep and ran a prosperous custom invitation company out her home.
Tymel’s stylish reusable bags are environmentally friendly, durable, water-resistant and machine washable. “With our design experience, we appreciate texture, color and fabric. These bags offer Main Liners a way to ‘go green’ without sacrificing taste and budget which we carefully constructed based on our research,” explained Parker.
Part of that research included a number of female focus groups invited to their respective homes for an introduction to the line this fall. The participants, who were friendly acquaintances but not close friends, were asked to be frank about their feedback and first impressions. “That was a key part of our business and what we learned from those groups, among many things, is that they expected the size and style of our bags to mimic an actual grocery bag. Having that one-on-one feedback was essential to starting off on the right foot,” explained Hodges.
There are two divisions of Tymel Style—the designer line which will be sold in Main Line boutiques and specialty shops as ideal gifts for baby showers, fashion forward shopping bags or a reusable, pretty tailgating tote. And then there is the exciting corporate side of the business—which will focus on (wedding) hotel guests, fundraisers, trade shows, law firms, pharmaceutical companies and supermarkets. “We will continue to expand our designs and collection with seasonal designs. Children’s lunch bags are an area of growth we will be focusing on and feel that we can develop and really run with,” explained Parker.
Their designs (including a brown and green bamboo graphic and a bright paisley print) are fun, bold and fashionable-think Lilly Pulitzer meets Vera Bradley. And, Tymel’s custom, high quality and stylish reusable bags can carry up to fifty pounds of groceries or shopping items. “We constructed the main design to mimic an actual paper shopping bag-it made sense. So, it’s lean and easy to transport. We’ve put a tremendous amount of time and research into our business because it can’t just be a good-looking product, it has to do the job and hold up,” explained Hodges.
Hodges serves on the board of Cradles to Crayons, a nonprofit based in Boston, with a local chapter in Horsham. The charity’s mission is to connect communities in need by providing basic essentials to disadvantaged children from birth to twelve years of age, filtered through social service agencies (shelters, hospitals). “We connected with Tyra last November with our fundraiser on National Family Philanthropy Day. We were looking to have in-kind donations for the 500 guests and Tyra and Melissa worked together for a generous donation. They are very giving with their time and resources–all donated items were packaged in beautiful Tymel bags,” Kelly Clarke, executive director of Cradles to Crayons, explained. Civic responsibility is a part of Tymel Style that both Parker and Hodges believe very strongly in. “This business is bigger than us and its very important for us to give back. So, a portion of the proceeds of each and every bag benefits Cradles to Crayons,” explained Hodges.
The duo has been busy networking not only with Philadelphia-based businesses and charities but also major environmental movers and shakers. Hodges and Parker attended the 2009 Good Jobs, Green Jobs Conference in Washington, D.C. in February, where they met with New York Times best selling author Van Jones. Jones is best known for his book “The Green Collar Economy.” An activist and think tank fellow, Jones joined the Obama administration in March as a special adviser on green jobs. And, Tymel Style was recently accepted into the Green For All Business Protégé Program-an incubation program focused on mentoring start-up, minority owned businesses.
Close to nine months into their business venture and with a wave of socially conscious consumerism backing up their concept, Hodges and Parker are looking towards a greener future, in more ways than one. “There are so many creative, meaningful concepts Tymel Style can offer, especially within the supermarket industry. Reusable bags are not new, but what we are offering is an entire model based around a marketing philosophy. We can work with the grocery stores on individual campaigns in which, when they carry our bags, we will give back to a charity or cause of their choice. We’re a small company, so everything is customized to work with each project and goal that is suitable for Tymel and our business partners. And last but not least, in addition to reducing your carbon footprint, we are making ‘green’ stylish! Our prints are fashion-forward and attractive so you can certainly be proud to shop on the Main Line with a beautiful Tymel bag over your shoulder,” enthused Parker.
Tymel Style LLC is based in Villanova, PA. The company can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org; for order and product inquiries call: 215-653-7339. Check out their website at: www.tymelstyle.com.