When they first met, in December 2010, neither Julie nor Amanda had any experience whatsoever in retail, fashion, design or manufacturing. Amanda's career had gone from finance, to construction, to real estate. Julie was and continues to be a practicing attorney, primarily focused on construction claims and contracting. This is their story of how today they co-own a fashion-focused retail business and are making great strides to manufacture their goods in the USA.
The "Cancelled" Trip That Sparked a Fire
Julie: I was scheduled to give a presentation at a legal conference in Monaco in April 2012. I had asked Amanda if she wanted to meet me after the conference in Portugal, where my mother is from and where she owns property. With her real estate and finance background, I wanted Amanda's opinion about renting or selling the property there. Well, she said no. And then, at literally the last minute, the entire conference was cancelled. So the business trip was off, but since I had already purchased my plane tickets, about a week later, I decided I would go to Portugal anyway to check on my mom's property.
Amanda: At the time Julie first asked me to go with her to Portugal, I was struggling to re-establish my business in New Orleans. So I declined the invitation on the basis that it was not the right time for me to take off. But I admit that I immediately regretted that decision. When Julie decided she would go even though her conference was cancelled, some little voice in my head said: opportunity is knocking, don't miss it! So when she asked me again, I jumped on the chance to go and off we went.
Julie: On the last day of our trip, we were walking around Lisbon and I dragged Amanda into a souvenir shop to pick up some gifts to bring home. In a small section of that shop, there were various items made of cork fabric--hats, aprons, notebooks, purses. Being Portuguese, cork (which is a huge industry in Portugal) was instantly recognizable to me. I bought myself a cork belt. After we left the shop, we were having espresso at one of main squares in Lisbon but Amanda was utterly lost in her own thoughts.
Amanda: While we sat at the square, I read a little brochure that I had picked in the souvenir shop that explained where cork came from and the inherent qualities of it. It blew my mind away. I have never known anything about cork other than it was the one thing the stood between me and my wine. The brochure explained that it was light-weight, water-resistant, mold and mildew-resistant. My first thought was this would make a perfect dog collar for my giant Bernese Mountain Dog, Wally, whose collars would start to stink after a few months of wear. My second thought was: why don't we have this stuff in the US?
Can I get a Dog Collar... or Five Hundred?
Amanda: When we returned to the US, I went on a quest to buy Wally a cork collar. I found an article on the internet that said that a Portuguese cork company had gifted the Obama's family dog, Bo, a custom cork dog collar. But other than that, no cork dog collar or any other product was to be found for sale in the US. So I started to inquire into how I could get one made for me. What I learned was that I couldn't get just one made, but I could get a minimum quantity of 500 made.
Julie: So, Amanda, being the serial entrepreneur that she is, decided that she would get 500 dog collars made and then sell the other 499.
Amanda: But it wasn't just dog collars. I was so taken and impressed by the look, the feel, and the qualities of cork fabric, I couldn't stop thinking of other products that could be made.
Julie: I mean, she literally, could not stop thinking and obsessing over cork! So I dubbed her the Queen of Cork. From that was born the name Queork. We learned later that the scientific name for the particular species of oak trees from which cork is harvested is Quercus Suber. Some people think that is where the name Queork was derived but it was just serendipity.
Is the Universe Trying to Tell Us Something?
Amanda: Maybe it was serendipity or chance. But I honestly believe it's been a series of fateful events that has brought us here. I have always felt like the mission of Queork is not merely to sell products but to tell the story of cork. To educate and enlighten people who have never given it a second thought, like I had, that cork is like a mystical, magical unicorn. It has all the fantastic qualities we already discussed AND its natural material that is truly good for the environment. Most people are delighted to learn that the process of harvesting cork from the cork oak trees happens entirely my manual labor and does not kill the trees. In fact, the harvesting is necessary, like a molting process, to allow the trees to grow. The cork forests in just Portugal alone are huge and are credited with removal of almost 30% of the carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Whether we sell products or not, we feel compelled to tell this story.
Julie: A couple years after our initial trip to Portugal, we went back again to meet with some of our suppliers. We were in Lisbon and I said to Amanda, "let's go back to the souvenir shop where it all began." I kid you not, minutes later as we were walking to the shop, a woman was walking in the opposite direction towards us. Amanda spotted the cork purse she was carrying and screamed at her, "YOUR PURSE! WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR PURSE???"
Amanda: I'll admit I was a little excited...
Julie: The woman thought we were asking where in Lisbon had she bought her purse so she immediately explained that she had not bought it there but had, instead, bought in a tiny little store in New Orleans, Louisiana. And Amanda said...
Amanda: I said, "I KNOW! THAT'S OUR STORE! THAT'S OUR PURSE DESIGN!!" In a very calm and collected manner. Julie and I both had goosebumps.
Julie: So "fate," "coincidence," "serendipity," whatever you want to call it, we knew then that we were on the right path to something meant to be.
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