It’s one of the most common business-launch stories around: someone can’t find exactly what she’s looking for, so she makes her own—and other people can’t get enough of the original. That was the experience of Dani’ Dealey and Christie Luft of Pekin, who now own a booming handbag design business called Designs by Dani’.

The seven-month-old business owes its creation to a not-quite-right handbag Dealey came across. “I had seen a bag on TV that caught my eye—except I wanted it to have a shoulder strap rather than a wrist strap, and I would have preferred a different trim, etc.,” said Dealey. “I didn’t want to spend any more money on a purse that wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I decided I would attempt to create my own purse.”

She bought a tapestry she liked, and with her own design in mind, she sat down at her sewing machine. “Before I finished the first seam, my machine broke, and I ended up finishing the entire bag by hand,” Dealey said.

Others quickly took note of the hand-sewn purse. “I was wearing my crudely finished handbag on a trip to the feed store in Manito. The owner of the store, a friend of mine, noticed it and asked me where I got it. I told her I made it, and she asked if I would make her a bag just like it in return for a few bags of dog food. After that, word spread about my handbags and the fact that I would custom make them. I needed help keeping up with filling orders, and my mother agreed to a partnership.”

Fortunately, her mother, Luft, also has a strong creative side. “I really enjoy designing and sewing the handbags. I like the entire creative process of seeing my designs through to completion. We both have different tastes, and our designs reflect our own individual style, but we also have fun collaborating on designs and trying to come up with styles we think our customers will have fun wearing,” Luft said.

Dealey agreed the arrangement is pretty ideal. “We do have fun working together, and it’s an equal partnership. I’m in charge of the marketing, and I enjoy that end of the business just as much as designing,” she said.

“I like being in the studio and leave the marketing to Dani’,” Luft added.

Dealey said because all of the bags are handmade, they’re all original. “Sometimes we’ll make one design in different textiles, but we don’t use patterns, so no two bags can ever be truly alike.”

Except, of course, for the “Designs By Dani’” marker signed onto each handbag.

Luft and Dealey said the materials they use in their designs include tapestries, silks, and various other textiles. “The textile itself seems to dictate the size and style of the handbag,” Dealey said.

She said inspiration for the work comes from different sources. “Sometimes I’ll see a beautiful material, or we’ll have a client who wants us to complement a particular outfit. Or someone describes to us what her idea of the perfect handbag is, and we try our best to create it.”

The Peoria Art Guild is one retailer that seems to appreciate the duo’s designs. “Several of our clients suggested we show our bags to the Peoria Art Guild. We took six handbags to show them, and they took all six to put in the Art Guild Gift Shop. The following day they called to tell us we had gone global because they had just sold one of our handbags to a tourist from Australia,” Luft said.

Displaying and selling their work at the Peoria Art Guild is a great beginning to what these designing women hope is a long, prosperous, and diverse career. “Naturally, we hope to continue expanding our business and add to our line of designs. Our spring collection includes tapestry portfolio-style bags, totes, backpacks, evening bags, fun theme-type bags, animal prints, overnight totes, gemstone, and beaded bags. Several of our beaded bags include matching earrings, and we’re working on adding other accessories to our line as well,” Dealey said.

For more information, call 241-0693 or e-mail [email protected]. AA!