The Instagram Rise of Handcraftedby C
When Cindy Nguyen graduated from Pace University in 2017 with a degree in Advertising and Marketing Communications she felt she had accomplished more than most at her age. After starting Pace University’s fashion club in 2015, the fashion mogul began interning in the offices of Prada, Christian Louboutin, Valentino, Fendi, and before snagging her diploma, she accepted a job offer from Chanel. After about a year at Chanel she left and entered the doors of Dolce and Gabbana where she currently plans events.
Eleven months ago, after working in corporate since her freshman year of college, the 24 year old got the idea to create a brand. She knew she wanted to create a brand that she swore by and would wear everyday. Handcrafted by C was born. It would be a line of handbags that she would hand make and sell. Cindy’s bags range in price from $150 to $475. In just eleven months, Cindy has made $510K in sales. That’s about 2.5K bags. How did she do it? With a little help from Instagram.
Nguyen grew up with parents who built a small business form the ground up, but times have changed. “Instagram is definitely a strong catalyst to word of mouth,” says Nguyen. Before she dove into Instagram and its algorithms, she started on Etsy in search of a certain customer. “I used Etsy because their marketplace style really supported a new artisan-like brand like me,” says Nguyen.
Just placing her bags on Etsy was not enough. She was not reaching a wide audience. Instagram’s visual and digital aspect allowed Cindy to be creative with her posts and put her marketing degree to the test. Being digitally savvy allowed her to create a cult of supporters.
“I don’t do any advertising at all and never have — very proud of that for such a small business to blow up just by word of mouth,” says Nguyen. 75–80% of Handcrafted by C’s sales happen through Instagram, some of this is with the help of influencers.“It sure helps when your bags are favorites of some mega social media personalities like Jenny Mollen or Stacey Bendet of Alice&Olivia.
“One time, when Jenny Mollen posted that she was in my showroom, I made $10k in sales within five hours just from her followers! The power of Instagram!”
Influencer Julie Vigorito has followed Cindy for years now. She’s watched the brand grow and supported Cindy’s work through Instagram comments in hopes that Cindy would notice, and she eventually did. “I’ve been influencing for three years now. I wouldn’t work with a brand if I don’t genuinely love the product.”
Vigorito has been able to make a profit off of posts, stories, and IGTV collabs with a number of brands. After endless attempts to catch Nguyen’s attention, Vigorito finally got the bag she wanted. “A lot of people have reached out for Cindy’s bags. Wearing her bags has gotten me the most engagements I’ve ever received from posting a brand,” says Vigorito.
Working with influencers does not always result in revenue. “I think the influencer world is a bit grey so it requires a lot of trial and error. I’m thankful that all of the influencers just enjoy my bags and wear them all the time. I don’t always measure the “success” of an influencer partnership on sales; I gain beautifully styled photos from these opportunities too,” says Nguyen.
Instagram success led to Cindy renting out her first showroom in January of this year. There, she can interact with clients face-to-face. “The hard part about buying online (for any brand) is that you can’t see the item in person, touch & feel etc,” says Nguyen. The showroom allows her to see clients’ real time reaction to her handbags, something she can not get digitally.
The overwhelming success in such a short period of time led to Nguyen’s burnout. She is currently on a hiatus after only sleeping three nights out of the week during the holiday season. “For a 24 year old, sure I can handle, but there would have come a point where it would just wear me out and I would lose the passion,” says Nguyen. The Handcrafted by C Instagram is shut down, leaving customers with Cindy’s personal sewing page for now.
With the help of Nguyen’s personal sewing page and an occasional Mailchimp newsletter with updates on the brand, she’s confident that she will not lose her cult of followers.
“This break has really allowed me to just let loose and enjoy the success of the brand,” says Nguyen. “I still have loyal customers shopping so I gladly make things here and there since I have time but otherwise, I’m getting ready to get back to business within the next month!”