Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential Pittsburgher: What was it like for you in the beginning?

Wendy Downs

Owner,  Moop,
Live: Mt. Lebanon
Work: Downtown
How Long: 10 Years

What projects have you worked on in the past?  I am a formally trained artist and photographer. When I finished graduate school, I had moved to western Massachusetts where the landscape is incredible, the space I was living/working from was inspiring, the area is fiercely independent & very academic…but there were no jobs. I had moved there at a time when I was unsure of what my life direction would be and had to find a way to define and create that for myself. I worked odd jobs while trying to get my footing, all the while continuing my practice as an artist. I made it a point to work in my studio (which was in my house) every day.

This was over ten years ago, when the climate of e-commerce was gaining a lot of traction, especially for independent makers of things. There were several tools in place that would allow you to make and sell things with very little overhead…and they were new and exciting. I had made bags for myself in the past but, they were strictly utilitarian. I had never really considered that I could also sell them…let alone build a brand out of them…until I did. In early 2007 I tried out Etsy, a new fledgling website for people who make things, to sell things. And, it was amazing! So amazing that I began to see the potential of what I was building and wanted to hone it to be something specific. So, I set up my own site within my first year and have been building it ever since.

What struggles have you faced in creating and growing Moop Bags?  Building a business is full of challenges, exciting ones and ones that remind you there is always more to learn. I did not have a background in business when I was starting Moop. I learned everything as I went, very transparently online as I was growing and selling and making and learning. But, my biggest challenge to date has been a failed manufacturing experiment. I had wanted to grow our production by shifting from an in-house team to a team of like-minded manufacturers in another part of the country. It turned into a very expensive endeavor…one that led to many cross country trips, visiting, troubleshooting, moving equipment back and forth.  Ultimately I found the bags could not come close to the quality of what we make in-house. It was an expensive lesson to learn but one that has helped me to re-focus on the value of making our product in house.

We recently moved to a new location right in downtown Pittsburgh. My goal with setting up a storefront space, which lives right in our manufacturing space, is to make manufacture visible. Everything around us is handmade…but, more often than not those things are made by hands that are underserved, overworked and underpaid. We are trying to create a new model of visible production within our studio.

What personality traits must someone possess in order to launch a company like Moop and be successful?  Building a business takes a lot of perseverance and patience. A willingness to look at failures as learning opportunities. And, a willingness to put a lot of sweat equity into your business…long hours are a given! But, I find a lot of satisfaction in succeeding when I’ve put the right amount of work into something. I love what I do and feel proud of where I began and where I am now. Lots of good things happening here!

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what 3 words describe how you might have felt?  How about four...hard work pays off!

And the hard work has paid off for Wendy.  Her bags have landed her in publications such as The Atlantic, Cool Hunting, Refinery 29 and more.  Make sure to check out her shop and bags Downtown in 2017.

429 First Ave
Suite 100
Pittsburgh, PA 15219