The Rosa Pak: Q&A with Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design

The Rosa Pak: Q&A with Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design

Last month I was standing in the back of 5 x 5 Night, the West Michigan business pitch contest, chatting, eating and sipping when one presenter caught my attention.

Maybe it was because she was a parent working full time.

Maybe it was because she was pursuing an apparel business just like me.

Or maybe it was because she was suggesting her business was about more than just the product.

Probably that one.

Anyways, fast forward to the end and Taryn Kutches, co-founder of Parker Design didn’t win the $5,000 prize for her innovative Rosa Pak, a professional backpack designed for the modern woman. However, she impressed a lot of people, including me.

So I reached out and she impressed me even more.

If you are a working woman, fall 2017 can’t come quick enough. Enjoy!

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When did you come up with the idea for Parker Design?

I had a product idea before I had a company idea. The idea for a professional backpack for women, which we now call the Rosa Pak, came to me back in January. I was at a corporate event, and I started noticing majority of men carried backpacks, but majority of women either had large tote bags or carried their notebook and laptop in hand. Once I had the product idea, I pitched it to my now co-founder, Brian and we formed Parker Design. What started as a backpack transformed into a fashion brand on the mission to positively impact the world. It was a really fun experience because we went from a product, to a company name, to a real social mission around a company instead of the other way around.

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Why does the market need your company?

More and more jobs are becoming mobile and more and more people are traveling for work or have the capability to work outside the office. Most of these people are required to work or travel with a laptop. A backpack is definitely the most comfortable and ergonomic friendly, but as a woman there aren’t many options for a backpack that is functional and stylish. I realized I was sick of lugging around my laptop, notebooks, planner, etc. in a tote bag, but I didn’t use a backpack because I couldn’t find one with the right style for work. Workplaces are also shifting to a more casual setting so backpacks instead of briefcases are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace.

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Describe how your 5 x 5 Night experience helped your business.

It is very hard to get your name out there when you are just starting out. 5×5 Night allowed us to network with a broad group of people. Through 5×5 night I have continued to stay in touch with Start Garden who has introduced us to accounting services, and the accounting services then introduced us to legal services. It is so great because you never know how one connection might introduce you to another. I also met another entrepreneur at 5×5 night and we are planning on meeting up to discuss our success, struggles, and anything we can learn from one another.

You mention the #workingmom on a regular basis. How does that reality shape your business?

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My main motivation for starting Parker Design, is my daughter, Parker (Hence the company name ). I want to help people understand that you don’t have to sacrifice being a good mom to have a great career and vice versa. It is all about work-life balance. Since I am still working full time, most of my work for Parker Design comes in the early morning, late at night, or on the weekends. This allows me to still be engaged and spend quality time with Parker. It also allows me to be more focused on the tasks at hand with Parker Design because I know I do not have unlimited hours. It has been engraved in our minds that the more time we put into our work directly reflects the outcome, but I truly believe it is the quality of work and not quantity that allows you to be successful.

Anything else you would like to add that I didn’t ask you about?

I always get so inspired hearing about other people’s journeys. If you would have told me a year ago today that I would be co-founding a company making backpacks, I would have told you you were absolutely crazy. I knew I had always wanted to do something for myself and I was always trying to discover what my passion was, but I didn’t have an obvious skill like painting or cooking to pursue. I finally realized my passion was in entrepreneurship and cultivating a culture I could be proud to work in. I hope to inspire other’s like myself to take that chance and just go for it!

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Tulips & Juleps: Men, let’s taste bourbon, rock plaid, and watch the Derby – all for a great cause

Tulips & Juleps: Men, let’s taste bourbon, rock plaid, and watch the Derby – all for a great cause

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The newly-remodeled, yet-to-open bar at Coppercraft Distillery was covered in empty glasses – the clear, whiskey glass type – just aching to be filled with locally-distilled goodness.

We had already tried the Tulip Julep, a delightful mix of Coppercraft Applejack, vanilla simple syrup, blackberry shrub and mint leaves.

But now it was time for the extra-manly stuff, the beverages that were likely to make our throat burn a little: the bourbon tastings.

I was decked out in a sweet plaid suit coat from Tommy Hilfiger, thanks to the lovely people at Younkers of Holland, who sponsored me. And bright blue pants, of course. My man, Brad Preston, was rockin’ a white linen suit and a top hat, an awesome one, a hat that had traveled to the hallowed Kentucky Derby grounds – and had lived to tell about it.

It was go time.

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Paul Marantette

Paul Marantette, general manager of Coppercraft, began to pour the beautiful amber-colored beverages and you knew, immediately, this was an exclusive and different and educational and fun and kind-of-hipster experience.

Soon a whirlwind of flavors hit my taste buds as I tipped back the glasses. First, the Straight Bourbon Whiskey, barrel aged for over two years, it offers hints of vanilla and caramel that finishes with a spicy citrus snap. Then the award-winning Rye Malt Whiskey, highlighting dried cocoa, rye, and peppercorn spice. It has noticeable sweetness, making it easily my favorite, and the favorite of many others.

“Rye is immensely popular,” Marantette said as he played the role of part-bartender, part-company historian and part-spirits evangelist. “We wish we could go back three years and make more of it.”

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 And finally, the High Wheat Whiskey, a mix of caramel, vanilla bean, fresh baked grains and baking spice, with a surprising finish, at least for us.

“This is almost citrusy,” Preston said, holding his glass in the air, almost questioning whether that’s what he actually tasted. He did taste it. And Marantette confirmed it. “That’s cool.”

After one cocktail and three bourbon samples, the tasting was over.

But our appetite for Coppercraft was only warming up.

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Your turn to taste

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Thankfully, for us and for men across West Michigan, another opportunity to taste incredible bourbon, one open to the public, not just bloggers with sponsored outfits, is just around the corner.

Bourbon tasting is a featured activity at the first-ever Tulips & Juleps, a tulip-themed Derby party from 4 – 7 p.m. on Saturday, May 6 at Boatwerks, 216 Van Raalte Ave. in Holland. 

Created by Tulip Time and Holland Young Professionals (HYP), Tulips & Juleps is a fundraiser for both organizations –  proceeds will go to future Tulip Time programming and to The HYP Fund, an endowment fund that supports leadership development throughout Holland. Tickets are $40 a person.

This is the second year Tulip Time has opened up its charity partner program to any local nonprofit, said Hannah Rogers, Tulip Time business development and group manager. Four local nonprofit organizations submitted exciting event proposals and fundraising ideas, but only one could be chosen based on Tulip Time’s staff capacity.

Organizers said the creativity surrounding Tulip & Juleps and its appeal to the under-40 crowd, were strong considerations. The Kentucky Derby dates naturally align with the opening weekend of the Tulip Time Festival, so it was a great opportunity to partner with another local nonprofit.

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Hannah Rogers

“We are thrilled to be offering a new event that appeals to not only the demographic attending Tulip Time, but also to the 40 and under local audience,” Rogers said. “Much of our other programming is focused on the group travel market and families, so offering something for this age group is exciting.”

For Coppercraft, teaming up with Tulip Time for Tuleps & Juleps was a no-brainer.

“Just being able to reach a new audience is incredibly helpful to us,” Marantette said.

Beyond the manly tastings from Coppercraft, which will be paired with appetizers, there will be the Derby on the big screen, a silent auction with substantial prizes, yard games, a photo booth, and, of course, plenty of dressing up.

Building a confident Derby look

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Photo Credit: Kentucky Derby

Now fellas, I know being “fashionable” may be out of your comfort zone, but it doesn’t have to be. You can attend this event AND look good.

Cue the experts.

Stacy Mulder, owner of Slate, a men’s clothing store in downtown Grand Rapids and online, helps guys improve their look every day. She encourages men to update their wardrobe with little tweaks, not massive overhauls, that are reflective of upcoming trends.

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Stacy Mulder

“For example, if you’re typically comfortable wearing a checkered button down, we recommend a new, fun print in a short sleeve style for a breath of fresh air to your spring and summer looks, or in this case, your Derby look,” Mulder said. “Trying these simple wardrobe refreshers will elevate your look without forcing you to step too far outside of your comfort zone or break the bank with a whole new look.”

The Kentucky Derby says its race offers the perfect excuse for “men to get just as dressed up and decked out as the ladies.”

“The modern Derby man possesses an unparalleled color palette,” it writes in the Throwing a Derby Party page. “Sun-drenched, tropical colors in bold stripes or busy plaid and bright pastels steal the limelight. Although, if you want a more polished look, a classic navy or pinstripe blazer is always in style.”

In other words, I nailed it. Thank you mannequins at Younkers of Holland for triggering the look in the first place.

But don’t feel pressured to wear a plaid suit coat because I did. Find something that fits well and then rock it. Don’t waver. Don’t second guess yourself.

“Remember, gentlemen: The secret to looking great is confidence,” the Kentucky Derby writes.  “Whatever you wear, wear it proud!”

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Slate: Masculine, modern and exactly what Grand Rapids men need

Slate: Masculine, modern and exactly what Grand Rapids men need

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Walking south down Ionia Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids has been remarkably familiar for a while.

Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Buffalo Wild Wings. Hopcat.

All great places, but all familiar, offering familiar pub food, familiar beer, and familiar decor.

Three months ago, however, a new business entered the neighborhood and familiar is the last word used to describe it.

Open the door to Slate, 44 Ionia Ave SW Suite #2, and you are suddenly transported to somewhere far from West Michigan. Think Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Toronto, downtown Charleston, South Carolina, or wait for it, maybe, just maybe New York City. I know bold, lofty comparisons, but I have visited those epic shopping districts in my day and the store stacks up.

It’s tough and modern and edgy and chill and most notably, an escape, a breath of  fresh air for men who want to make a lasting first impression, yet cringe when they think of settling for the mall – again.

In other words, exactly what Slate owner Stacy Mulder set out to create with her contractor.

I wanted a refined, masculine feel and they totally delivered. Seeing all the inventory in the space was so fun and was definitely a “pinch-me” type of moment.

Right away you notice the shiny floors. Wood displays hung on white walls. Rugs. Couch. Exposed duct work.

And, of course, Mulder, dressed to the T, sporting fancy shoes and a bright smile, ready to provide personalized service, you know, what you have to beg for anywhere else. Slate is the best of both worlds: big-city style mixed with a dash of small-city hospitality.

Why it’s about time

Don’t worry it’s not a suit store. It’s bursting at the seams with gear you can wear to the brewpub, The Lumineers concert, or Sunday brunch with the family.

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We’re talking T-shirts, jeans, sweaters, hats and accessories. And not from brands your eyes glaze over when you read them. Express has its place, just not in Slate. What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas, thankfully. That’s where Mulder discovered plenty of brands she couldn’t live without.

Zadig & Voltaire.

J Lindeberg.

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And that Grand Rapids hadn’t even lived with.

“My goal was to bring in brands that weren’t already in Grand Rapids,” she said.

Fashion-conscious men in West Michigan are searching for something different, according to Jenny Van Veen, an experienced retailer who owns Frances Jaye in downtown Holland, an independent store that offers stylish men’s and women’s clothing.

A lot of men who come into the store tell us that it’s hard to find unique and high quality men’s products in the area. I think they’re looking for clothes that are modern, comfortable, and cool but casual. We try to cultivate a collection that is trendy without being flashy, and has options for men who want the preppy look or guys with a more rustic style. We have some men’s clothes that could be worn in a job interview, and other styles that are perfect for a day on the beach or a hike in the woods.

Online reviews, which have already started to appear for Slate, seem to confirm the need and suggest Slate is succeeding at filling it.

“I’ve made several visits and attended the grand opening,” one Facebook review reads. “The staff goes above and beyond to help you out. The selection is perfect- there’s everything from tailed topcoats, to the softest jeans you’ll ever feel.”

 

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How Slate was born

Like most great things, Slate didn’t happen overnight and it certainly didn’t result from a straight, easy path.

After high school, Mulder studied interiors, collaborative design and jewelry design at Kendall College in Grand Rapids. Those studies didn’t seem promising so she tried a more traditional approach, switching to a marketing major at Grand Valley State University.

I wasn’t a big fan of “real” school, so within the first few weeks I applied to FIDM (the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in downtown LA, got accepted and dropped the classes that wouldn’t transfer. I studied fashion merchandise marketing for about a year.

Then Mulder made another tough decision: she moved back home to Grand Rapids.

I was ready to just start working. I was able to do marketing for my dad (Snap Fitness franchisee). I definitely was ready to leave LA. I just needed to figure out what I wanted to do for a career long term besides just working for my dad.

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Mulder chose to live downtown when she returned and noticed many men who worked or live downtown as well. Then a routine activity – walking her dog – sparked an interesting thought.

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“It just dawned on me that we need a store specifically for men’s casual, everyday clothing,” she said. “I have always loved shopping so it seemed like it was totally up my alley.”

And her friends and family didn’t think she was crazy. In fact, they were supportive, just like they’ve always been, Mulder said.

Slate held its grand opening on Dec. 3. It was a big deal, with Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss in attendance. Bliss said she was encouraged by what she saw.

Slate is an important part of the continued growth of our city and a great addition to our local economy. As a community, we support the entrepreneurial spirit – and we thank Stacy for joining the growing list of small businesses that call Grand Rapids home and playing a key role in the vibrancy of our downtown.

Like her friends and family, the neighborhood businesses have also been supportive, enjoying the foot traffic the store is bringing to the area.

Moving ahead, Slate is focusing on its recently launched online store and hosting events, such as Sip & Shop, where men can come after hours and shop, at a discount, with refreshments.

Mulder is thankful for Slate, the opportunity, the next step, and the clarity she feels right now, right here.

“It was fun out in California,” she said. “But there’s no place like home.”
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