Shah, creator of BluSalt handbags, holds one of
her bags at her home in Upper St. Clair, Pa.
Shah’s first startup — a line of organic cotton
children’s clothing that featured Indian-inspired
colors and designs — was barely out of the gate in
2008 when global financial markets crashed.
business was just getting traction, she said, when
consumers stopped spending, retailers faced a liquidity
crunch, and many of the independent boutique owners who
had enthusiastically placed orders called her in tears
to say they could no longer carry the clothes.
and her partners ended up dissolving the business, but
she doesn’t regret the experience.
wouldn’t have gotten here and I got to learn because
of things that went wrong (in the economy)," said
Shah, who launched her second venture, Blu Salt, in
time around she’s marketing a line of handbags made
from organic and recyclable materials. The bags are
targeted primarily to women who want a luxury look
combined with durability for daily use and travel.
the economy is in a better place than seven years ago,
Shah is frank about her entrepreneurial challenges. She
manages what she calls her "far-flung" team
— including a product designer in California, material
suppliers and production workers in Asia, and a
marketing firm in London — from her home base in Upper
there’s financing. To date, she’s self-funded the
enterprise because trying to convince the male-dominated
venture capital sector to invest in a woman-owned
business peddling products for women "doesn’t
to a study released in May by American Express, the
number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. totaled
just over 9 million, up 74 percent since 1997.
firms generated almost $1.5 trillion in revenues and
employed about 8 million people, Amex said.
while they are increasing in number, the size of
women-owned businesses remains smaller than the average
firm so their total share of the U.S. workforce is only
6 percent, Amex said.
tend not to hire," said Rebecca Harris, director of
Chatham’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship.
of these women-owned firms are self-proprietors, not
employee-owned. And a sole proprietor can only do so
much, so their average revenue is pretty low."
the funding needed to grow their businesses is one
factor inhibiting growth, said Harris. "Access to
capital continues to challenge women-owned
her first company flopped during the recession, Shah
took a position with management consulting firm A.T.
Kearney and typically traveled five days a week for
when she noticed that women’s handbags and briefcases
were crammed with laptops, paper files and personal
items but many — even high-priced upscale brands —
weren’t strong and flexible enough to sustain all the
she left that job to focus on raising her son, Shah
started thinking about bags that would be simple and
stylish with a "utility perspective."
Salt’s line, called the Peaceful Professional,
includes a wallet and clutch introduced last year and
three larger bags that just became available on its