Emily Gimmel says she hasn’t really changed careers, even though her long workdays now consist of fretting over product shipments from China and hanging out at her Butchertown Market office with Harper, an 11-month-old puppy.
“I design, sell and manufacture designer laptop bags and briefcases for women,” says Gimmel, who previously worked in broadcast journalism:
The idea came when I was traveling for television and I needed to work on the road and couldn’t find a computer bag. They were too masculine or too sporty. I wanted something fashionable and functional, and there didn’t seem to be a product like that on the market.
That’s a long way from interviewing Kardashians in Las Vegas. Gimmel’s 2-year-old business, Graceship, is a self-financed juggernaut selling designer bags to on-the-go women for $189. Sales come from places such as Australia, Canada and the UK, she says, with just 70 percent from the United States. She recently sold one to Megan McCain, Sen. John McCain’s daughter.
But how is the new business similar to her old job?
“I consider Graceship to be my media company now,” she said. “The whole model of content vs. advertising is quickly becoming obsolete. I think brands can also be very powerful media companies. You see some of the biggest brands in the world becoming sources of information and content. It instills trust with your audience. If you’re a source of knowledge, you are valuable to them.”
Gimmel’s website includes video and other content, using her experience with media to promote her business.
Gimmel once seemed destined for Diane Sawyer’s job. She was at least on track for a career in national media. An intern at WDRB-TV at age 15, she was hired as a TV morning show host at WKYT in Lexington before her first class as a freshman at UK. After graduation, she worked at an Indianapolis TV station. When she moved to Las Vegas, it seemed like a stepping stone to the national spotlight.
“I had offers from L.A. and New York; it was my dream,” she said. “But the media landscape was changing before my eyes. I didn’t want to be laid off and didn’t want to have to answer to the man anymore. I wanted freedom. I was maturing as a person.
“Once you’ve interviewed everyone, the business seemed superficial. I was more interested in CEOs and business.”
During the 11-episode run, Gimmel spent much of her screen time figuring out how to tell her parents she was moving to Vegas.
Her father, Rich, a former WAVE-TV executive, is the top exec at Atlas Machine & Supply Inc., a successful family business. Gimmel was in for some criticism, though, along with national fame as a reality TV personality.
“It’s what you sign yourself up for,” she said. “I met some amazing people. It was a lot of work. But if you sign up for a reality show, I think you’re asking for it. It’s all in good fun.”
She parlayed her “Belles” fame into the move to Vegas, where she was an entertainment reporter for Greenspun Media, an offshoot of the Las Vegas Sun. But Gimmel said she realized the type of media career she had envisioned may no longer exist. She was afraid she’d get fired. And she may have been more wired for entrepreneurism than entertainment reporting.
In 2011, she sold her Vegas possessions and moved home.
She lived with her parents for a summer and prepared a business plan for Graceship. Investing $65,000 of her own money (life savings, plus a bank loan), Gimmel made her first Graceship sale in May 2012. She says the company has generated revenues of more than $100,000 since, with a major surge this fall, selling around $10,000 in $189 bags in the last month.
Most all of her sales are online, through her own site, Amazon, Etsy and others. While she has a retail display at Work the Metal in the Butchertown Market, there’s no plan to market the bags in stores. She keeps warehouse space in southern Kentucky. She spent two weeks in China meeting with manufacturers there. She’s made sales in Australia, Canada and the UK.
“It was a huge decision to walk away. I followed my gut,” she said.
Where are They Now?
The stars of Southern Belles:
Julie Smith — moved to Los Angeles, where she works in the television industry.
Shea Johnson — lives in Louisville, where she and Gimmel remain close friends.
Kellie Frey — Gimmel says Kellie is in Hawaii, promoting healthy living.
Hadley Hartz — Gimmel says Hadley recently got married. According to Facebook, she’s teaching and living in Louisville.