By Lindley Estes The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.
Stafford County native Anna Johnson was working in Manhattan's garment district designing tops for department stores when she grew increasingly bored with the run-of-the-mill clothes available.
New York wasn't her scene. The pay was poor and she needed a break from the big city.
So Johnson packed up her shears and sewing machine and headed back to Stafford County where she founded her own atelier, SACKdress by Anna, creating affordable, convertible dresses that are custom-hemmed and can fit any occasion.
She founded the business a year ago with a $100 loan from her parents for fabric. Now the 24-year-old is supporting herself with income from her dress shop.
Johnson's workshop in her parents' house is abuzz every day with activity as her online Etsy shop gains traction with women around the world.
She got the idea for a customizable convertible dress after trying on a similar product from American Apparel. It was expensive, didn't fit right, was limited in color and the length was all wrong, she said.
"I thought I could do this so much better," she said.
Johnson began producing SACKdress, a one-size-fits-all dress that can be hemmed to any length and created in a variety of fabrics, and uses customizable straps to create multiple styles.
Her products aren't just limited to dresses. Johnson is a proponent of "eco-style" and doesn't let fabric scraps go to waste. She uses them to make head wraps and is beginning to make swim cover-ups that double as towels and blankets.
"I'm pushing it to be something versatile and eco-friendly," she said.
Johnson has built a following online through social media site such as Facebook and Instagram.
She actually sold her first dress through Instagram after posting a picture and receiving a message asking how to get one.
Her online presence has garnered a following around the world, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, where she said the environmentally conscious avenue of her business is important to consumers.
"Being online is great," she said. "I can literally go on the road with my business. I have my phone to process orders. All I need is a post office to send out the dresses."
Bridesmaid's dresses have been a popular product and she has shipped orders overseas for multiple weddings.
Virginia Bride Magazine and the Virginia Wedding Locations website have both featured her bridesmaid's dresses this year.
So far, she's sold about 300 dresses and is in talks with a local store about wholesaling her products.
Johnson said fashion design is the only thing she's ever pictured herself doing, and it was from her parents' couch in Stafford during the summers that she started sketching ideas.
She watched the Style channel during fashion week and began learning on her own that way.
She has since graduated from VCU with a degree in fashion design and hopes to inspire other girls like herself in Stafford to do what they love. She wants them to know that they can do what they love from Stafford, too.
"There's a really great climate right now around small businesses," she said. "People are really supportive of them right now and I'm lucky for that."