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From Business School to Handbag Designer

Fairfax woman designs and creates elegant handbags.

For one Fairfax woman, success is in the bag.

Marin Graney has gone from college student unsure about her future to small-business owner in two short years, transforming an idea her mom offhandedly gave her into a successful handbag company.

“About a month before I graduated from the University of Virginia, my mom mentioned this idea for a line of handbags she had, made with beautiful, rich fabrics,” Graney said. The bags would be made in “classic styles with a home-décor feel to them.”

Graney wasn’t interested in the idea right away, after all she was a business major at U.Va.’s McIntire School of Commerce, but she didn’t want to follow the stock broker/banker paths of her colleagues.

“I knew there must be something else for me to do. I just didn’t know what that was,” Graney said.

AFTER GRADUATION, Graney moved back home while trying to determine a career path.

“I was watching this talk show with these women in their 20s who all started their own businesses and how much satisfaction it brought them,” she said. “I started thinking about the handbags and got so excited about it. I started doing research online and stayed at the computer for about six months."

Marin Rose Designs was born that day, and now, a year and a half later, Graney’s designs are coming to life.

After gathering information on fabrics, suppliers and patterns, Graney began to look for help in producing the bags.

“I can’t sew a button,” Graney said with a laugh. “It’s a matter of depending on other people, but I knew exactly what I wanted for my designs and fabrics, so it was just a matter of finding a manufacturer.”

Graney found a small company in Ohio. “Three little ladies hand sew all my bags,” she said. “The pride in their work is unbelievable, great details, and I know I can depend on them to be there for me,” she said.

“Her bags are more elegant than some similar-style bags,” said Judy Ryan, owner of a boutique of the same name in the Twinbrooke Shopping Center in Fairfax. “They have a unique, upscale look and excellent quality.”

Ryan said that Graney contacted her about carrying some of the bags, which range in price from $75 to $95, once she had some made.

“I really like to support a local artist, but I wouldn’t do it unless I didn’t think it was a good product,” Ryan said, who also owns one of Graney’s purses.

The bags have sold well in the store, Ryan said.

“We’re getting some next week. We don’t have that many in the store right now,” Ryan said, adding that customers seem to really enjoy the colors and fabrics.

“The bags offer such a wonderful mix, especially now when people seem to be dressing up more,” she said. “Fairfax is never going to be New York City, but we like to dress up, too,” Ryan said.

GRANEY OFFERS three different styles of bags: a large tote, a medium-sized circular bag, and a smaller “envelope” purse.

“The tote is intended for college students or work," Graney said. "You can fit everything in it you’d need." The circular purse is good for carrying “the essentials,” she said, things a woman would need and use every day, like a brush, phone, makeup, wallet and keys. The smaller “envelope” purse is for dressier occasions like weddings, proms or a night out.

The fabrics are “feminine, but not flowery,” Graney said, silky and brightly colored, “but nothing hot pink.”

Most of her products are being sold over the Internet from her Web site, MarinRoseDesigns.com, but she is currently carried in four stores locally, including Judy Ryan’s store. “I understand that people want to see the actual bags, but it’s easier to find online right now. The entire collection with descriptions are available,” she said.

Graney's designs have been featured in the Christian youth magazine Beautiful Girl, along with the trade magazine Fashion Manuscript and an issue of The Washington Post that focused on people and places in Fairfax.

She’s also enlisted a lifelong friend, Maggie Oufiero, to do some publicity work for her.

“We grew up together, and she’s always been one of those people that’s very self-driven,” Oufiero said. “I knew that whatever she decided to do, it would be a success."

Oufiero, who also works for Hillwood Museums and Gardens as a publicist, said she wasn’t surprised that Graney started her own business because of her indecision at U.Va. “It seemed like the next step for her [was] to start her own business, and when she asked me to help her out, I told her I’d be happy to,” Oufiero said. “We’re 24 years old and starting something new and fresh together, and it’s a great company to be a part of.”

Oufiero began writing up press releases and media lists, collected fashion database information, and sent them out to wherever she could. “The response was very good because the quality of the product is so great,” she said.

“People always ask me about my bag when I wear one of hers out,” she said. “My mom has one. Some people from work have bought them, as well.”

“If this is a small successful business, I’d enjoy it, but I’d love for it to be successful enough that I could do it full time,” Graney said. She took a job in advertising for the Red Cross in Washington to take her mind off the bags. “I was yelling about purses in my sleep.”