BELLEVILLE — A pair of lost cell phones led to a new career for Tami Lange.
Lange, who lives in Edwardsville, is the designer and founder of Save the Girls Touch Screen Purses, a Belleville-based company which started in 2017.
The rapidly growing company sells purses that feature a one-size-fit-all pocket that accommodates both small and “plus” phones, even when in a regular case. The pocket allows the user to have full access to the phone while it’s inside the purse.
Lange officially launched the business out of her basement in Edwardsville on Sept. 1, 2017, and it quickly took off.
“We had our own little shipping department down there, but we grew so fast,” Lange said. “Right after we started, I flew to China by myself and visited factories and interviewed the people there. We found a women-dominated purse factory that I wanted to use, and we got our first purses in October.
“My first retail customer was Namely Yours in O’Fallon, Ill., and they sold 19 the first week. We sold $590 worth of purses in October, then went to $22,000 in November and $44,000 in December. By January 2018, we were up to $90,000, so our track has been very quick.”
Lange’s inspiration for the touch screen phones came in July 2017, when both of her daughters lost or ruined their cell phones within a week.
“One lost her phone on a trail at Pere Marquette (State Park) and the other washed her phone in her jeans. Losing two iPhones in one week, I was not a happy mama,” Lange said, laughing.
“That weekend, we were at a family reunion in Branson (Mo.) and I was telling my sister-in-law, who is a breast cancer survivor, about the lost phones. She said she never had any problems losing her phone, and she pulled her iPhone out of her bra.”
Mindful of medical reports that advised against keeping cell phones in bras due to radiation concerns, Lange got to thinking about solutions for the cell phone dilemma.
Lange searched online for a functional and protective cell phone holder, but she couldn’t find anything she liked. That, in turn, led to a brainstorming session after a canoeing trip that weekend.
“I used a waterproof bag for my phone, and I was texting from the back of the canoe and I thought ‘Why can’t we use that material on the back side of a purse?’ That’s how Save the Girls touch screen purses came to be.”
Lange submitted her initial purse designs to an international bid website called Alibaba.com. Within 24 hours, while she was still in Branson, 16 factories had bid for the right to make her purse.
Before starting her own business, Lange had a background in prepackaged sandwiches. She was part owner of the Landshire Sandwich company, which was founded by her father, Jody Trover, in 1964. It was originally located in the building where Save The Girls now operates.
“I sold my dad’s sandwiches in different areas of the country during the summer while I was going to school (at Valparaiso University) and I kept doing it through grad school (at St. Louis University),” Lange said. “I graduated with a master’s in marketing and then I worked in marketing for Landshire for 25 years.
“About six weeks after we introduced our new packing, Walmart called us, and we became a national brand in 2002. We grew to over $70 million (in annual sales) and we eventually ended up selling the company and now Tyson owns Landshire. We kept half the company, the distribution side, and I kept doing sales for that. I ended selling my share of the business to my brother, who still has the building next to us in Belleville.”
Lange’s marketing background paid off as she started her new company. It didn’t take long for Lange to realize that Save the Girls had unlimited potential, and she is not surprised by its rapid growth.
After earning $65,000 in sales during the last few months of 2017, the number jumped to $1.1 million in 2018. The company expects to have $3 million in sales this year.
“I hoped it would eventually be like this, but it’s gone better than planned,” Lange said. “The whole time, I keep pinching myself and wondering why somebody didn’t think of this before.”
Save the Girls purses are available in more than 2,000 retail locations throughout the U.S., with local retailers including the Chef’s Shoppe in Edwardsville. What to Wear in Edwardsville and several locations of Jan’s Hallmark.
The purses are also available on the company’s website at savethegirls.com.
Save the Girls is also making an impact on television, as it sold out of 30,000 purses on the QVC shopping channel on Oct. 11. The company, which has sold more than 40,000 purses in three appearances on QVC, was scheduled to appear again on Friday afternoon.
In addition to retail sales, Save the Girls purses have become a hit on the celebrity circuit.
Last week, Lange attended Gladys Knight’s birthday party in Los Angeles, where she distributed about 125 purses to guests.
“I have pictures of Gladys with her purse, which is super cool,” said Lange, who has also provided handbags for Taylor Swift, Madonna, Mariah Carey and many other celebrities. “In February we went to the Oscars, where they gave the purses in gift bags, and we did the same thing at the Billboard awards in May. People keep asking for them at these events.”
Save the Girls currently features 16 different styles of touch screen purses, all of which are featured in its latest catalog. The company donates 10 percent of its profits to breast cancer research.
“Retail prices range from $28 up to $50 for RFID-protected purses, where your credit cards can’t be skimmed,” Lange said. “They all come with an adjustable strap inside and all of them are touch screen on the back, so you can always have full access to your phone no matter where you are.”
The Save the Girls facility in Belleville handles all aspects of the business except for the manufacturing of the purses, which are still made in China. The Belleville location includes a warehouse, which has 75,000 purses, with 50 to 60 packages being shipped every day, mostly to wholesale customers.
The company, which has already sold more than 225,000 purses, has room for expansion at the Belleville facility.
The plans for expansion are tied directly to the ongoing tariff war between the United States and China. The continual rise in tariffs has forced Lange to consider moving the company’s factory source from China to a different country.
As a new business, Save the Girls has applied for a one-year grace period from the tariffs. She has yet to hear any word on the status of her application.
“The tariff is absolutely terrifying me,” said Lange, who has already visited Indiana and is also considering Cambodia as a potential replacement factory source. “When I launched, there was no tariff, but I was at an 8 percent duty for my fabric materials. I changed some of my materials and now I’m at a 16 percent normal duty.
“Then we got hit with the tariff, which at first was 10 percent, which was a hard hit but manageable. Within 30 days, it went from 10 percent to 25 percent and I had a major shipment on the water on the way here. With tariffs, you need to have the money up front and it really limits how fast you can grow or the way that you can grow. We’ve also looked locally, but most of the purse manufacturers in the U.S. have dried up because it all went offshore. Only 3 percent of purses are made in the U.S.”
Lange credits another local business, Town and Country Bank of Edwardsville, for playing a key role in her company’s expansion.
“I have a new woman-owned business that had been open for less than two years, and it can be really hard to get a loan when you’re less than two years old,” Lange said. “I was struggling because I had been growing at 300 percent a month since the first year.
“Town and Country Bank was able to help me with an inventory loan and that’s how I was able to pull the QVC sale. Their partnership with taking a risk on a new business and seeing the growth opportunity really made a difference.”
Lange’s goals for the company include reaching 3,000 retail locations by the end of 2020. The company is also launching initiatives to increase its sales in other markets.
“We have some retail locations in Canada, and we’d like to increase that amount,” said Lange, who currently has nine employees. “You can’t go international in the snap of a finger. First, I want to solidify my customer base in the U.S., and we can grow a lot more than even 3,000 stores.”