Out on the golf course one afternoon, advertising executive Amye Kurson noticed something. Obviously, the golf course is where you find the Preppy Chic Woman in her natural environment. But, glancing around, Kurson noticed that, while the women around her were dressed impeccably, their boring golf gear was, well, boring. And with that little birdie of an idea, Kurson began Ame & Lulu, an accessories company for those with an active lifestyle. I spoke to Kurson, Principal of Ame & Lulu, about starting her business and what's behind all those peppy, preppy prints.
How did Ame & Lulu get started? I was in advertising; I loved my career. I also always had this entrepreneurial gene. I started playing golf, and was with my mom at a golf tournament. I saw all these carts in front of me, with preppy, stylish women, and none of their clubs had head covers on them. This was 2003 and women's golf accessories was nothing. I thought, "If I were to make cute golf head covers, I bet all these women would like them". So the concept began only as an idea for golf head covers.
The first prototype I created looked like an oven mitt! I had no idea how to source fabric, I had no clue how to run a business. But I knew I wanted to get a prototype made. It looked like a toile oven mitt, but it was cuter than non-existant head covers! I went to a couple golf shows and my suspicion was confirmed - no one was making women's golf accessories. I knew there was a need for it. So I tweaked my design and fabric and started making head covers. Right off the bat, people loved it.
What was your distribution method? I started selling to a few local shops and online. Then, right away, we were in InStyle Magazine. That really catapulted us and gave us credibility. Tournaments started reaching out to us to create gifts for their guests, so we needed to expand our product offering. So we created a shoe bag and a number of other golf items. Then tennis players started reaching out. I reached out to a designer and we went back and forth for two years over a tennis backpack. That backpack eventually made Oprah's O List. Thirteen years later that backpack is still our number one item and tennis is our biggest market.
How do you design the products? The products themselves, at the beginning, were very simple - it was the patterns that made them. Now our items are sturdy, water-repellent and very well made. The lining, the pockets; we try to anticipate our customers' needs and answer them with our products.
You have a niche in sports accessories - but you're also well known for tote bags. Again, it came from tournaments! They had ordered from us four or five years in a row and had purchased all of our golf items - they were asking for something new. So we thought a tote bag would make sense - and suddenly we were a sports and resort brand! We evolved with what our customers were wanting.
Were you always attracted to bright patterns, or was it what you felt was right for your audience? Everything we carry, I would carry! It's my taste. There is no product we have I would not use myself.
Where do you source your fabrics? We design and print all our fabrics. I'm not a designer or pattern maker by any means, but I work with our in-house designer. We look for geometric patterns that are simple and sophisticated, and, of course, colorful. I am inspired by many different things - a carpet, wallpaper, even basic circles. The pop of color on the border of our bags is equally important as the pattern. We usually do six new patterns each year. Sometimes, we'll bring back a big hit from the year before, often with a new border color.
You update patterns a lot - how about the products? We get a lot of feedback from our customers - and we listen. Every year we update our classic pieces. People love the duffel, for example. We recently added a new feature to the popular tennis backpack (a snap closure). And we do have a few new surprises for this year!
What would tell other entrepreneurs? Having your own business is a lot of work. You never stop! I am constantly emailing myself with ideas. But if you are passionate about it, you will love it!
If you could say one sentence to your customer, what would it be? You are getting what you pay for. You are paying for a high-quality, well-made, beautiful bag, and that is what we deliver.
You can find Ame & Lulu at tennis and golf specialty stores, in the Town Pool Boston pop-up (899 Boylston Street in the Back Bay) and online at www.ameandlulu.com.
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