Anita Thomas
Anita Thomas, founder of Lavāda Handbags. (Credit: Courtesy of Lavāda Handbags)

Anita Thomas had been toying with the idea of designing handbags long before starting up. But when she suddenly lost three family members in 2019, it was a “wake-up call.” Either she could keep thinking about doing something – or she could take the leap, leave the corporate world behind and pursue her passions. Thomas chose the latter, and launched her line, Lavāda Handbags, in 2021. Her business sells luxe bags made out of vegan cactus leather, and gives customers options for customizing each one. The Las Vegas entrepreneur is proud to run a sustainable fashion company – while following her dreams.

Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.

How is your business different from others in your industry?

Our product is the only one that combines sustainable materials with interchangeability and high-end design. Lavāda is about stewardship. It provides options for changing the look, repurposing the bag, and increasing a product’s life cycle. We ask ourselves how we can extend the usefulness of every item we own, thereby contributing to our eco-conscious goals.

Tell us about your biggest success so far. 

Lavāda filed design and utility patents, both domestically and internationally – and several of them have been issued. Getting through that painstaking legal process and seeing the hard work pay off is incredibly rewarding. 

What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?

Finding the right partner for manufacturing. The supply chain is obviously central to a manufactured product, and the importance of working with qualified partners you can trust cannot be understated. It requires tenacity, due diligence, tons of patience, and an unwavering commitment to remain true to your vision. We actually had to kiss a few frogs before we found a great agency to work with.

Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?

I lost three family members within six weeks of each other a few years ago. I also dealt with some health issues: a cancer scare, extreme fluctuations in my hormone levels, and a necessary break for my mental health. As painful as loss can be, it is also a reminder to live life to the fullest. 

What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs? 

Give yourself a bit more ramp-up time than you may have initially estimated needing. This is especially critical when you rely on partners to make your product.

How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?

I will get up and go for a walk to circulate the blood and clear my head. It’s incredibly effective. Or, sometimes I’ll step away from whatever I’m working on at the time and go listen to music, pray, meditate and be still. Over time, I’ve learned that I need to deal with the root cause of my stress, as opposed to just treating the symptom – otherwise I’m doing myself a complete disservice. 

What is your go-to song to get motivated on tough days? 

“Turning Around for Me” by VaShawn Mitchell. It’s a good reminder that things will turn around. Jazz and gospel music always soothe me, too.

Who is your most important role model?

My mom. In fact, my company was named in her honor. She personifies resilience, self-sufficiency and style. She knows how to follow rules – but has way more fun when she can make her own. And she is the master of reinvention. ◼

Instagram: @lavadahandbags

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