Bloomington Entrepreneur Reaches Global Marketplace through Amazon
Inspire International owner Kristin Rae has sold thousands of her travel-inspired products to customers around the globe. Rae doesn’t have an upscale design firm in New York or LA, though. The mother of two works from her rural Bloomington home as a third-party seller on Amazon.
Rae is one of a growing number of small-business owners using Amazon Marketplace, a platform that allows them to market and sell their products on Amazon.com. According to reports by Amazon, more than half of the company’s sales now come from third-party sellers like Rae.
A 2007 graduate of Illinois State University’s fashion and merchandising program, Rae was inspired by a shampoo explosion in her suitcase to design her own leak-proof toiletry bag. When Rae had no luck getting big-name sellers like Target to support her idea, she decided it was time to tap into the booming e-commerce market.
Rae started Inspire International in 2013 to sell her bag, The Traveler, exclusively through Amazon Marketplace. She sold thousands of units of the original design. Using the skills she picked up along the way, Rae later launched a second brand, Runway Robe, a form-fitting, kimono-style nightgown.
With Amazon Marketplace, sellers don’t need a brick-and-mortar shop to connect their products with buyers. That flexibility was important to Rae in starting her business.
“I didn’t want to be a storefront. I’ve never had one. That’s the great thing about working with a platform like Amazon Marketplace: I can tap into what is already created.”
Rae uses Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), a service through the Marketplace to sell directly to her customers. While Rae is in charge of her own manufacturing and production, Amazon takes care of warehousing and shipping her products to buyers around the world.
In a recent interview with GeekWire, Vice President of FBA Business and Operations Cynthia Williams explained why she sees women business owners and Amazon as natural partners.
“Women have always worked hard. Entrepreneurship gives them the opportunity to work hard and to control their destiny and their families’ destiny,” said Williams. “And yet, hard work in and of itself isn’t always enough. You need help—access to capital, access to information and access to customers.”
Amazon has featured Rae numerous times in press releases, blog posts and YouTube spots (below) as an example of how women can use Amazon Marketplace to find success outside of traditional work. In less than a decade Rae went from working administrative positions earning little more than minimum wage to making a living working from home.
Joining the new “gig economy” of digital work was a way for Rae to gain financial independence using the skills she already had.
“I got into something I really enjoy and I’m passionate about, something I went to school for and trained for, and now I’m able to monetize all those things. That’s pretty cool,” she said.
Rae says women continue to face unique challenges that make remote work more attractive.
“Women don’t make as much money in the general marketplace as they should. So they go to work and make a little bit less and have to do more with less.” The cost of childcare, too, is a barrier for mothers entering and advancing in the workforce. “You could pay thousands of dollars a month and not be able to bring anything home,” she said.
Rae has also become an ambassador for Amazon Marketplace to other businesses and brands. She’s currently partnering with Bloomington’s own Beer Nuts, helping the company translate its success as a traditional business to the digital world on Amazon.
The designer plans to launch her redesigned collection of travel luggage later this year on Kickstarter, with a campaign video starring ISU PD as they investigate a shampoo explosion.
“I think it defines my motivation for this entire brand: to have fun and enjoy what I’m doing. I hope everybody at some point in their life can have some sort of hobby or side hustle. I feel lucky that I get to do it for a living.”