Inspired by her parents’ family business in Colombia, Claire Yali Higgins is now celebrating the 25th year of business for her handbag company, Clarita Accessories.
Her father, Gregorio Yali, designed high-fashion hats and owned a boutique in Bogota, Colombia. As she was growing up, her whole family pitched in, with her mother modeling hats and helping her father run the business.
“I think I inherited an entrepreneurial spirit from both of my parents,” Mrs. Higgins told GlobalAtlanta.
She started her own business in 1986 after researching designs at exhibitions and runway shows in the fashion meccas of France, Italy and Hong Kong.
Developing her own designs, she has used skilled craftsmen in her father’s homeland to make handbags, belts, shoes and gloves from high-end Italian leather and exotic skins. She also has broadened the manufacture of her goods, which range in price from $20 to $400 wholesale, to the Philippines, Hong Kong and Argentina.
Clarita Accessories marked its 25th anniversary July 16-17 at the AmericasMart in downtown Atlanta during a two-day celebration that coincided with the International Gift Market, a showcase of gifts, apparel, rugs and home accessories that attracts retailers from around the world.
Since starting her company with only a few items, Clarita Accessories now sells to boutiques throughout the Caribbean and North and South America. Her handbags and gloves have been worn by many celebrities, including Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall; and performing artists Heather Locklear, Whitney Houston and Paula Abdul.
Carrying on the family tradition, Mrs. Higgins has recruited her family to contribute to her business in more ways than one.
In 2010, she introduced the “VanGreg” line of couture handbags and shoes, named after her daughter, Vanessa Higgins, and her son, Gregory Higgins.
Vanessa works as Clarita’s marketing director. She has been helping out her mother since she was a little girl, but joined the company full-time two years ago.
After graduating from the University of Georgia with a degree in advertising and marketing, Vanessa pursued a marketing career in the corporate world until deciding to use her skills to grow the Clarita and VanGreg brands to a new level. She calls the VanGreg line the “Lexus of our brands.”
To maintain a sense of the company’s history while updating its vision, Claire Higgins also receives support from her son Gregory, who serves as her legal adviser, her husband Jeff, who assists with photography projects and her five-year-old grandson Marco, who posed as a model for the 25th anniversary marketing campaign.
Clarita Accessories has weathered economic downturns because it offers unique, quality products, Mrs. Higgins said.
“The secret of my staying in business in the middle of economic turmoil through the ’90s and now in the millennium is that we are ahead of the competition in terms of design and quality,” she said.
She added that as boutiques closed in 2009, she kept a look out for stronger markets. The mother and daughter have no plans to slow down and hope to expand their reach into Canada and the U.K.
For more information, visit www.claritabags.com.