MERIDIAN, Miss. – Some people say behind every successful woman is a fabulous handbag.
For Meridian, Mississippi-raised friends and business partners Jamey Sharman Gresham and Margaret Cady Boyce, the two successful women behind the J. Lowery line of handbags, the statement couldn’t be more true.
The story of these two entrepreneurs began when they attended Lamar Elementary School in Meridian and continued on to their time as Chi Omega sisters at the University of Mississippi.
Gresham majored in journalism with an emphasis in public relations; Boyce received her hospitality management degree with a minor in business. After graduation, though, they realized there was a gap in the contemporary handbag market.
“There are very few handbag lines based in our region, and we wanted to start a brand that the South could be proud of,” Gresham said, remembering the start of their venture.
Boyce began sketching ideas for versatile handbags.
“We wanted to create bags that you can wear from season to season," Boyce said. "Our goal was and is to consider the inspiring woman we are creating (the bags) for. Where is she going? Can she carry it into the next season? How can we make her life easier?”
Gresham and Boyce flew to New York with a folder filled with sketches to meet with manufacturers. And with that, J. Lowery began.
“It took almost a full year to find our suppliers and manufacturers and fine-tune designs and samples to get our bags to where they are now,” Gresham said.
The two friends created the name of their business using Gresham’s first initial, J, and combining it with Boyce’s middle name, Lowery.
“We knew we wanted our name to be something personal to us, something that felt timeless, and that could give us a lot of options,” Boyce said.
Even the names of the bags themselves are personal and intentional.
“Our first design, the Max, was after Margaret’s beautiful niece," Gresham said. "Our Scott backpacks, another family name, are named for my husband, Scott, and Margaret’s middle name. It’s a special way for us to keep each design personal.”
Boyce’s mother, Amy Cady, said her daughter has always had great taste in purses and clothes.
“I wasn’t surprised when she started this venture with her childhood friend," Cady said. "It’s always great to know they can achieve their dreams.”
Gina Sharman, Gresham’s mother, agreed.
“For Jamey and her friend growing up, they had parents who loved them, saw their potential and sought every opportunity to spark excitement and creativity,” Sharman said.
J. Lowery bags are sold in eight retail locations across the Southeast.
As small business owners, Gresham and Boyce manage every aspect of their company.
“It is impossible to be hands-off in any area," Gresham said. "Daily, we are jumping from accounting to manufacturing to design, and you have to be educated on every aspect to make sound decisions.”
Boyce focuses on operational and manufacturing departments, while Gresham works closely with the marketing and customer service departments.
Both agree, when it comes to being creative, their designs, brand, vision and messaging, it’s completely 50/50.
“I think our most unique factor is that we are our own customers,” Gresham said. “We have a clear understanding of what our customer is looking for because, in many ways, we walk in her shoes. We understand her day-to-day. We’re able to relate to our customers on such a personal level, and that, to us, is incredibly unique.”
J. Lowery has faced challenges, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, we had pop-ups planned every weekend in March and April," Boyce said. "To prepare for these events, we invested in a lot of inventory.”
When COVID-19 hit, many events were canceled, and brick and mortar stores were not taking any more orders.
“We were sitting on more product than ever before, and we had to reassess quickly,” Gresham said.
The two focused their marketing on working with other brands and small businesses to support each other and cross-promote.
Whether it was giving away a gift card to a small business with each purchase, or combined Instagram giveaways, Gresham and Boyce have tried their best to be supportive of each other and their fellow business owners.
“The pandemic proved just how valuable small businesses are to their communities, and we plan to continue supporting them when we can,” Boyce said.
Both Gresham and Boyce turn 29 in March (their birthdays are just two days apart), and as J. Lowery approaches its first anniversary in August, they continue to focus on adding a variety of designs to their collection.
“It is not always easy to grow a business from the ground up; it takes time and patience," Boyce said. "It can be a slow climb, but it is the smartest way to achieve your end goal, which is to build a lasting impression within our region.”