Nancy Lawrence – ‘It’s been a great almost-35 years’

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Nearly 35 years ago, Nancy Lawrence opened a small storefront on Wharf Street focusing on handmade canvas goods.

Today, she’s still crafting items from scratch, but she’s broadened her repertoire to include capes, cloaks and jackets of felted wool trimmed with leather and velvet; as well as a variety of canvas and tapestry bags, duffels, cases, clutches, satchels, wallets and briefcases that change with the seasons.

And, more than three decades in, she still finds her work – creating durable handmade items – endlessly fulfilling.

Q

What were your most important needs in getting started with your business?

A

Getting the word out, establishing a presence, financing a startup – those were the biggest needs for back then and today.

Q

What factors from your upbringing gave you the courage to venture out on your own?

A

I grew up sewing. The idea of the transformation of an idea and materials into a product is compelling. I thought when I was younger that I wanted to be in fine art. But I’m a designer, not a fine artist. Being a designer is almost something that you can’t get away from, whether you do it in your personal life, or as your profession. It’s less about your upbringing and more about how your brain is wired.

Q

What do you think are the advantages of being a female entrepreneur?

A

The ability to orchestrate and integrate, rather than be really linear about things is a feminine characteristic that suits how I do my business. I can do some design, some sewing, some social media, some advertising, wait on customers, scope out where I need to be six months from now and do the planning, do my books, and juggle numbers until they tell me where we’ve been and where we need to be going.

Q

What advice would you give an aspiring woman entrepreneur?

A

You need to calculate how long term anything you start could possibly be. Starting a business that can be scaled up and can be let go of sometime in the future is a smart move, rather than one that is so personal and so hands on. Think about scalability and saleability.

Q

If you knew then what you know now, would you have done anything differently?

A

It’s been a great almost-35 years, and certainly learning to ride the ups and downs of the economy has made me glad that my business is that old. I learn those lessons every business cycle, and I have the skills to be where I am now. I’m glad that I started in a down economy. Starting out like that, it’s sort of like pumping weights – you have to push so hard at the start, build up good strong muscles to get through the good times and the bad times.

-– Taryn Plumb

Nancy Lawrence of Portmanteau shows examples of her Casco Bay line.
The Personnel File:Portmanteau3 Wharf St., Portland774-7276www.portmanteauonline.com