It’s been a month since New Jersey families have been in quarantine. Despite the hardships we’re all facing, each of us is doing our part to help healthcare and essential workers on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic. From staying home to helping healthcare workers by donating supplies, meals or money, this horrible time in our history is bringing out the best in us.
Small businesses have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, but are still finding ways to help those who need it most. Cartwright, a company that makes a lockable, chic privacy bag, is one of those companies. Founded by Chatham mom Janine Wallace, the company is on a mission to donate respirators and face masks to healthcare workers.
Wallace is a mom of three kids (ages 10, 7 and 5) who juggles homeschooling with her husband and running the company and doing her part to help during this crisis. We asked her how Cartwright has pivoted its mission during this trying time, how she’s managing her kids’ schedules with the demands of the business and what inspired her to start the company.
New Jersey Family: Having kids and privacy don’t exactly go hand-in-hand which led you to develop this concept—a privacy bag. What exactly is it and how did you come up with the idea?
Janine Wallace: Exactly. During this time of quarantine and stay at home orders, millions of moms are witnessing firsthand the utter lack of privacy we have as parents. The first time your toddler gets into your makeup, it’s cute. By the fifth or twelfth time, not so much. I developed Cartwright, a line of lockable privacy accessories, because as we like to say, some things aren’t meant to be shared. All our accessories are fitted with our patent-pending drop lock which is a 2-digit lock housed on the side of each bag. These bags are perfect to keep medicine, jewelry, makeup and more. We bring our customers peace of mind knowing that their things are private, discrete, and away from prying eyes and nosy fingers. This is now more important than ever.
NJF: In this unprecedented time of COVID-19, small businesses are being hit hard. How has this affected your business?
Wallace: This pandemic has caused us to sharpen our focus as a company. When we launched last year, we concentrated on spreading the importance of privacy, and that message has never been more relevant. The era of sharing, or over-sharing, is over. What you touch and what other people touch of yours matters now more than ever. Our product addresses so many issues in this new normal. With children home all day every day, they are getting into everything and our lockable pouches can be a lifesaver. At work, or when people return to work, you don’t want people touching your things. The Cartwright is a stylish and protected place to keep your things private.
NJF: How have you pivoted your business to adapt to this stressful and uncertain time?
Wallace: The first thing we did was to focus efforts on supplying personal protective equipment (PPE) to our front-liners. We were ahead of the game on this and inspired other brands to follow suit, we’re incredibly proud of that. We temporarily halted work on new styles and inventory restock and began supplying respirators to area hospitals. So far, we have supplied 10,000 masks and donated them to hospitals here in New Jersey and as far away as Arkansas. We are currently running a campaign to donate the next 10,000 respirators and we hope people will join our effort at cartwrightbag.com. It’s free to sign up and it makes a huge difference to the frontline healthcare workers.
NJF: How are you and your business giving back through this period?
Wallace: We have our respirator donation effort which is going strong. The need is still great, and we cannot emphasize that enough. Additionally, 100% of profits on sales at cartwrightbag.com through April 30th will go to this effort. We are also working hard to put hospital administrators directly in touch with suppliers of PPE. We are leveraging our supply chain so that the masks we donate are just a portion of what is able to be supplied.
NJF: Where does the name Cartwright come from?
Wallace: Cartwright is a name that has meaning to me on many levels. Firstly, a cartwright was an old profession for someone who built carriages for transporting, among other things, goods. As a handbag entrepreneur, I consider myself a modern-day cartwright. Secondly, it’s a family name on my husband’s side. The Cartwright family was a founding family on Nantucket, many centuries ago, along with the Macys and the Starbucks, and well…those other names were already taken!
NJF: How did you take your idea and actually develop a product? What was the design and manufacturing process like?
Wallace: There was a lot of research coupled with a healthy amount of trial and error. The first step was to see what was already out on the market, and that was very little. I already knew that because originally I was in the market for this as a consumer. In my former life as a patent attorney, I didn’t like the thought of fellow commuters or colleagues seeing what was in my work tote. I searched and spoke to people about the idea and all I kept hearing was, “That’s a great idea, why isn’t it out there already?” I realized that there is a generational interest in safety, e.g. video doorbells to protect packages, and electronic codes and passwords on all devices, coupled with the increased discussion around privacy and that there was a space in the market for an affordable luxury privacy accessory that you could take on the go.
NJF: The bags are so chic and stylish. What models do you offer and how do they differ?
Wallace: Thanks! We currently have 4 styles of the Cartwright, but endless designs with our recent launch of monogramming and customization! The Clam, designed as a cosmetic bag in size and shape is a favorite among our Instagram following. The Brick, our most versatile style, is great for the fellas, gym-goers, and travelers. And we have 2 styles of our Mini which fit anywhere, a diaper bag, jacket pocket, desk drawer — and they are super adorable. All styles are available in black and our Clam & Minis can now be personalized with hand-painted monogramming which makes for an extra special gift.
NJF: What has been your best seller so far?
Wallace: Originally it was The Clam, but The Brick sold exceptionally well. We completely sold out of one of the 2 mini models and had to re-stock those. All told The Mini is our frontrunner, which isn’t too surprising since we have 2 versions of it and it’s under $50.
NJF: What were you doing before launching the Cartwright (and how did your background help you get it off the ground)?
Wallace: My background is in engineering and I’ve been a patent attorney for 15 years. I did quite a bit of work with the As Seen on TV industry so I knew a bit about what it takes to develop a product and bring it to market. However, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the amount of pure grit it takes to launch your own product.
NJF: What was your most exciting (hey look Ma, I made it) moment since launching?
Wallace: This year it’s a toss-up between when we were mentioned by People magazine in the same sentence as Apple, or when we were mentioned by Extra TV in the same sentence as Christian Soriano. That floored me. We are a start-up and to get grouped with those power brands was definitely a moment. Last year I would say that getting a recommendation as “Best Gift” by Forbes was the highlight.
NJF: When did the bag officially come out and how long did it take, from start to finish, to get it out on the market?
Wallace: We launched in November 2019, and while it’s only been a matter of months, what a wild ride I’ve been on. From the “a-ha” moment to launch it took about six months, which consisted mostly of market research, design and engineering, and sourcing.
NJF: Where can you buy it?
Wallace: All of our privacy accessories can be purchased at cartwrightbag.com and through April 30th all profits go to our Cartwright Cares respirator donation effort. Learn more at cartwrightbag.com.
NJF: The packaging is so pretty. What inspired it?
Wallace: There is nothing more satisfying than opening a new handbag beautifully packaged! I wanted every customer to smile and relish in the unboxing of their new gift! This meant the packaging had to compliment the beauty and luxury of the bag. Since I am obsessed with packaging, this was the most fun part of the product development process for me. Our packaging screams beauty, luxury, craftsmanship and elegance.
NJF: What has it been like jugging this business with three kids?
Wallace: Busy! Actually, it’s been a great learning experience for everyone including the kiddos. They get to see Mom drawing with designers, creating Instagram ads, and even hauling boxes. They are asking really insightful questions about what it takes to run a successful business and the importance of giving back, and I’m happy to show them every step.
NJF: What are your favorite things to do with the kids in Chatham and in NJ?
Wallace: Under the stay-at-home order our favorite things have changed a little bit. It used to be doing seasonal activities like skiing, going to the beach, and apple picking. Now its bike rides, scootering, and baking. Our lives are smaller in some ways, but so much larger in others. We’ve used this time to teach our kids life-skills like doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, and gardening, while at the same time teaching them about the importance of giving back to the community when possible. It’s been incredibly enriching for all of us.
NJF: What are some of your favorite NJ-Based mom-owned businesses?
Wallace: Oh, there are so many it’s hard to choose just a few. Art with Heart is an amazing store in Chatham and Sugar & Script is a wonderful mom-owned business. I’m also a big fan of women-owned publications — The Vault…A Love Note (Katye Kane Stanzak), Yes It Really Happened (Colleen Markley), and the moms of The Pickup Line.
NJF: What’s your best piece of advice for moms who have a product idea?
Wallace: Well the patent attorney inside me shouts “Get a Patent!” But really, I think it’s about finding meaning. Many people talk about passion, but that can ebb and flow. Meaning is constant and can be relied on to drive things forward. Once you find that meaning the next important step is to develop a strong support network. Positive support in business is so important for success. These are the people who can help you source, help you network, help you market. They can be business partners, family members, mentors, investors, or one of the many wonderful local Women’s groups in the area. Starting and growing a business can be difficult, especially for mompreneurs, and it can easily get overwhelming. Having a network, or at least one supportive person, to turn to who understands your journey can make a world of difference.
NJF: What can we expect from you this year?
Wallace: In addition to refocusing on our new line, we’re planning on continuing our CartwrightCares philanthropic efforts. We also just launched our Nantucket Collection which we will be promoting this summer. Several specialty retailers have approached us about carrying Cartwright as well, so it’s going to be a full year to say the least.
NJF: How can readers get involved with CartwrightCares?
Wallace: Visit cartwrightbag.com and all purchases directly support #cartwrightcares—100% of our profits through April 30th go directly to supporting the supply of respirators to frontline healthcare workers. Follow us on social media @cartwrightbag—for every new follower we will donate another mask. Share, repost or retweet this story and use the hashtag #cartwrightcares.
NJF: What will be the first thing you do as a business when this is behind us?
Wallace: Take a day off! We have been working non-stop since this pandemic began and helping can be addictive. We get requests daily from across the country from hospital workers telling us about how they’ve been re-using the same respirator for days. We personally respond to every request and do everything we can to help. Sometimes that involves adding them to our donation list, but the need clearly overwhelms what we are capable of, so the work we do with hospital administrators to put them in touch with suppliers is just as important.