Temple alumna and her daughter take handbags to QVC

J. Harris Designs will start selling homemade clutches on the network this month.

1980 social work alumna Dorothy Harris poses for a photo with her daughter Blair Armstrong. | DOROTHY HARRIS / COURTESY

On a cold February morning last year, Dorothy Harris was inside online shopping for a clutch, but couldn’t find one she liked. 

Having just retired from her AT&T job, the 70-year-old 1980 social work alumna decided to make her own clutch in her basement with no fashion or business experience. 

Less than a year later, designs from her handbag company, J. Harris Designs, are going to be featured on QVC, a television shopping channel, from mid- to late-January. 

Blair Armstrong, Harris’ daughter and business partner, submitted the handbags as a pitch for a product competition with QVC in June 2019. They didn’t win the competition, but QVC liked their business and offered to sell her designs.

“Every time I think about that, it just blows my mind,” Harris said. 

Before starting her company, Harris taught herself to sew and make purses by watching YouTube videos. Much of her search history includes questions like “How do I put a zipper in?” 

After making her first clutch, Harris continued designing purses, and eventually started J. Harris Designs. Now, she designs clutches, cross bodies and wristlets, and hopes they will expand to sell travel bags. Her products are primarily promoted on Instagram and sold on her website.

Harris spent two days at QVC’s headquarters in West Chester, Pennsylvania, last month learning how to package and ship their products and how to perfect on-air presentations with hosts. 

“It was a magical, magical experience,” Harris said. “They’re going to sell all those purses and ask for an even bigger order, that’s what our prayer is.” 

Each of Harris’ clutches has a reversible flap with two different designs. 

“You flip the flap from one side to another and you have a totally different design,” Harris said. “It can go from corporate to cocktail.”

“If I had enough money, I would probably own them all,” said Deborah Lockett, 59, an Etsy jewelry shop owner from Washington, D.C., who has purchased nine clutches.

Lockett said she likes Harris’ purses because of the reversible designs, the bold animal print patterns and the fact that Harris signs the inside of each bag.

“But I think a lot of it has to do with [Harris] and her personality,” Lockett said.  

Once, Lockett was interested in buying one of the clutches, but she was not sure about the pattern. Lockett reached out to Harris and was shocked when Harris sent her a video of the fabric so that she could see it more clearly.

Armstrong said her mother surprised her in starting a business, but the company’s success is “mind-blowing.”  

“I knew she had a great eye for design, but the fact that she built an entire business around it, I totally did not see that coming at all,” Armstrong said. “It’s been amazing to see this footprint she’s had in this little amount of time.”

Harris was ready to quit when her daughter joined. She was dismayed because at her age, she was not familiar with social media, and could not quite understand it. Armstrong decided to help, despite recently having a baby.

While Armstrong refers to J. Harris Designs as her mother’s business, Harris is adamant that it is a mother-daughter enterprise because Armstrong manages their social media and website and books their events.

“I owe it all to her and her millennial friends,” Harris said. “They were able to do things that I just wasn’t prepared to do.” 

Now, Harris is at the end of a long process with QVC. 

“At this point, I’m just filled with nerves to know that this is going to happen and I’m just waiting,” Harris said.

People have approached Harris, telling her she is an inspiration and asking to be her mentee.  However, Harris does not see herself that way.  

“If I had listened to my head, I wouldn’t be at this point, “Harris said. “But I listened to my heart, and I knew that I had something that I believed in, and I just wanted it to expand.  And it has. I just can’t believe the blessings I have gotten from this.”

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