Sherri Wolf: Second Chances Are Made in America

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Every fourth of July, Americans gather in backyards and beaches across the country to commemorate the day USA cut ties with the British Monarch and became a united, free and independent state.

For handbag designer Sherri Wolf, it’s an analogy for life.

Henry Dry Goods, the boutique handbag brand she founded at age 50, is Wolf’s personal Declaration of Independence and, like the fireworks that will paint the American skyline come Thursday night, her line blowing up.

Wolf’s story begins in the bluegrass state. A fifth generation Kentuckian, she married her high school sweetheart at age 20 and raised three boys in the same zip code where she grew up. It was a “lovely” and quintessentially all-American existence

“I lived kind of a sheltered life. My kids had the same math teacher that I did; they went to the same middle school, the same high school. I never really thought about whether I had a talent or dreamed about what I might accomplish. It just wasn’t on my radar,” she says. “But I always loved to create.”

In her mid-30s, the stay-at-home mom and tennis enthusiast had an idea for a “cool tennis bag,” and with it a latent entrepreneurial spirit that dates back generations in the Henry family was triggered.

“I come from a long line of people who worked with their hands. My father was a master craftsman; my grandfather was a blacksmith and a builder; my cousin is a best-selling author and another, an internationally renowned sculptor. Creating is in my blood,” says Wolf.

With no business experience but a keen eye for design, she started a company with two tennis bag designs—and it took off. Within four years, Wolf’s bags were in over 800 stores and featured in national magazines, including Modern Bride, Self, Cottage Life, and Oprah. She was president and CEO of her own American Dream.

Then, in the space of one devastating year, it all fell apart. Wolf’s mother died of cancer, her marriage ended and she lost both her life savings and her business.

“I had $52 in my bank account. I should have gone to Hollywood and been on The Price is Right and made the money back—I knew to the penny how much my groceries would cost when I got to the till!”

Faced with a new daunting reality at age 50, Wolf had a decision to make: Start over or seek out security.

“My brothers were like, ‘Be a realtor. Get your real estate license and sell houses.’ But I thought, I don’t want to be a realtor, I want to create,” said Wolf.

 “I asked myself, What’s the smart thing and what do I want to do?

The American Dream holds to the ethos that opportunity for prosperity and success exists for anyone willing to put in the hard work. For Wolf, that meant reinvesting in herself.

“When you lose everything, there’s a different level of faith that comes into play. You have to trust in yourself. I truly believe it’s in all of us to overcome whatever life throws at us if you never, never give up,” she says.

“I already knew how to create something women would love and buy. I had the hardest part figured out. The rest is black and white money and just needing more of it.”

With the support of her children, her two eldest now in college and her youngest son in high school, Wolf rebooted her handbag dreams. She moved to a loft where she could set up her sewing machines, employed two sewers, and founded Henry Dry Goods, a handcrafted accessories brand specializing in monogrammed canvas bags.

“I’d roll out of bed and trip over the sewing machines,” she smiled.

Now 54, Wolf is creating a new vision built on the lessons of her past.

“The biggest thing I learned from the first time around was to let the business tell you what it needs. I was so adamant last time that ‘this is direction we’re going in, this what were we’re doing’ that maybe there were different opportunities I didn’t see because I had blinders on.”

With Henry Dry Goods, she’s cultivating a Made in America brand that’s grown from her deep roots in Kentucky.

“There are so many options for the consumer now. You can go to Target and fall in love with everything there, but does it have a soul? I think it feels good to buy into an authentic story. Part of our story is that our retail, production, and offices are all in one room. We employ eight people on staff. Sometimes I take that for granted, but sometimes it hits me: they put a roof over their heads with what we are creating,” she says.

“The other part of our story is that we do all the production. We don’t need a six month time line. I can buy a bolt of fabric and we can start creating on the spot.”

Her immediate future includes a Henry Dry Goods x Horse Network collaboration. 

“When Horse Network approached me, we talked about equine looks on the bags, what was currently lacking on the market, and how to connect to the love of horses in a fresh manner,” says Wolf. “I’ve done bits, horse shoes, and horse silhouettes in past. With this line, I wanted to do something unique, something you don’t see everywhere.”

Her solution: the abstract designs of equine artist Donna Bernstein of Donna B Fine Art in Arizona.

“I fell in love with her work on Instagram,” she continues. “She’s really captures the movement of horses, her work is very fluid and has life to it. It’s amazing.”

The four piece core collection, available exclusively on Horse Network, features a Weekender bag, a Harry Feed bag, and small and large cosmetics bags. (Seasonal bags will be added over time.)

Each bag is made with a heavy, industrial canvas body and a waxed canvas base, customized with the illustration and trim of the buyer’s choice, and adorned with vegetable tanned, ethically sourced cowhide.

True to Wolf’s personal story, every bag also carries within an inspirational quote about happiness, dreaming big and never giving up.

“I’m loving that I have a second chance,” says Wolf, “I’m embracing the whole journey this time around. I’m just going to go with it and see where it takes me.”

Or where it “carries” her as the case may be.

Shop the Henry Dry Goods x Horse Network Collection, available exclusively in the HN Shop! (USA delivery only.)

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