Female Founder of the Week (FFoW) is a weekly celebration of the women who are building business in Boston. Lindsay Tia founder Lindsay Reilly and her mother, Phyllis Speen, have been chosen for not only their contributions to such special causes as Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, but also to the the greater startup community in Boston.
By SHELAGH BRALEY
BOSTON—Lindsay Reilly perches behind the counter in her bright shop on West First Street in South Boston, a colorful, modern space full of signature handbags and charm.
Across the room in an upholstered chair sits her mother, Phyllis Speen—known in Boston startup circles as a MassChallenge advisor, judge and mentor, one of Babson College’s guest instructors, and a Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses coach.
But her most valuable role right now is as “momanger”—part brand manager, part cheerleader at LindsayTia.com, her daughter’s fashion and accessory startup.
Reilly, 25, learned to sew at the age of 6, taking classes at In Stitches on Franklin Street in Quincy. “I didn’t know how to make anything else,” she says. “So I just kept making bags, because I didn’t have to fit anyone.”
Despite no one in her family having any inclination to either sewing or fashion, Reilly persevered. “My generation, we didn’t want to sew, because that meant it was a typical woman thing,” says Speen, who had built a career in management and sales.
It was not the craft but the hustle that was handed down to Reilly. “I love designing. And even more, I love building the business. Meeting the people, having a voice, having the power to do something—it all comes down to how hard you are willing to work, and how bad you want it,” Reilly says.
The Lindsay Tia collection includes a mix of luxury leather handbags with high-quality details and the more casual carry-alls that are current, cute, and classically designed.
Building a fashion and lifestyle brand for a new generation is as much social strategy as it is art, something Reilly has built into her model. But what matters most to her are her company values: heart, bringing people together and giving back.
“Kids can build a following on Instagram, make a product and sell it,” Reilly says, “so we need to understand that. What I have is meaning. You’re buying this bag to support each other, to support the community.”
She’s speaking specifically of her Bravery line of bags (made in Fall River, Everett and Haverhill), originally commissioned for the Boston Medical Center’s Catwalk for Cancer. “I made an American flag bag because to me that represents bravery for men, women, everyone. After I made them, people started sending me stories and photos of themselves with their bags at finish lines, at races, raising money for their mothers, or going to college, whatever they were doing.”
Stories of buyers’ bravery took on even more significance in the next iteration. “With the next order, every time I sold a bag, I included a postcard, and people would send me back their stories of bravery. I have hundreds of them,” she says, pulling out a thick stack of hand-written notes from customers. Their contents reveal anonymous moments of bravery, from fighting through disease, poverty and domestic violence, to flouting convention, graduating school or taking a road less traveled.
From one perspective, it’s a collection of brand advocates uniting around a common concept of bravery, and on a human level, it’s meant to give voice to anyone who may feel alienated or alone, Reilly says.
“I always talk to people who buy, and to the women who always talk about bravery within their business lives, I always say, ‘Why do you want to work so hard?’ (One customer’s) drive was for her daughter who has epilepsy. But that’s something we would miss, that she feels inside, because she would never share that. She wouldn’t want people to think she’s weak.”
“I think everyone has a bravery story,” Reilly says after a customer has come in and purchased a Bravery bag during our interview. “You can’t share what you’ve gone through with everyone, but at least you have a voice somewhere so you’re not alone and you’re not weird. Once you get to the point of being able to point to your bravery, to the point of being proud, then you can help someone else.”
“I always knew she was really smart,” Speen says. “She has tenacity. The difference between someone who wants to be an entrepreneur and someone who’s going to make it is tenacity. And it’s so nice for me as a parent, to see people really believe in her. Sometimes I think, jeez, I’d have thrown in the towel, but she just keeps going.”
Lindsay Tia (so named because her parents met at Tia’s in Boston), was on an early path to entrepreneurship, selling her first fashion accessories at age 14. “Her best friend’s mom had a hair salon (Aura Salon) in Quincy, and Lindsay would make bows and headbands to sell there. When she started getting into handbags, she was sewing them and then selling them in the salon,” Speen says. “They sold, too!”
Around that same time, Speen was starting to see the startup renaissance happening in Greater Boston, and supporting Reilly’s fledgling interest in entrepreneurship.
“I was her Uber,” Speen laughs. “It’s really important to support your children and their interests and passion, giving them the time. I had to drive her to sales calls, and then to the store to buy her materials, and I’d find the sourcing for the fabric,” she recalls.
While Reilly was working toward her degree in fashion merchandising at Lasell College, Speen was offering business mentorship through the Enterprise Center in Salem. By the time Reilly was ready to launch, Speen had begun bringing her passion for sales to the MIT Sloan Sales Club. Not long after that, she was mentoring at MassChallenge, Boston’s flagship global incubator.
Reilly has grown up in the midst of Boston’s entrepreneurship evolution—and now she has a brand poised to make its own mark.
“This was her, how she evolved. It has been very self-generated, the giving back part of the Lindsay Tia story,” Speen says proudly. “She can have a platform to do good, and her fashion is the megaphone, that’s what she wants.”
Reilly envisions a community where fashion and bravery create empowerment. “With Michael Kors or Kate Spade, they have the models, and women feel like they have to be that type of person to carry that bag—where I show that the story is more than a person. I’m the brand that brings women together, so the Louis Vuittons can talk to the Vera Bradleys.
“This is just who I am, what I believe in,” Reilly says. “Brands are a lot more than just making clothes.”
Lindsay Tia will be featured during Patriot Week at the “Where Bravery Meets Fashion” fashion show at Coppersmith, honoring Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, May 24, 7 p.m. Find more information and tickets here.