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        By Jennifer McKee 

        In Renee Scalzini’s case, form does follow function in crafting artisanal handbags. But so much more comes into play. Hers is a vision that pays homage to her immigrant roots. 

        “This isn’t just about selling handbags, it’s about solving a problem, making a difference and inspiring women of all ages to go for their dreams,” says Scalzini. “It was through the sacrifices of our ancestors that gave us the opportunities they didn’t have. I feel we owe it to them to do something meaningful with our lives, take a chance and go for it.”

        “I had expensive prescription sunglasses and wanted a safe place to store them in a handbag,” says Scalzini. “I couldn’t find any handbags with this option.  At the same time, my friends were struggling with organization with their own bags.  One of them said, ‘You’re a designer, why don’t you design a handbag?’”

        About a month later, Scalzini created a design for her bags, which stand apart thanks to their patented protective compartment for glasses and lipstick. Since she didn’t sew, Scalzini made a protype out of paper, and later taught herself how to sew from YouTube videos. She created a new prototype, tested it on a trip to Europe, and two years later, had her first set of leather handbags.

        “I thought of my ancestors. I wanted to create something that makes a difference,” she says.

        When Scalzini’s great grandfather came to the United States in 1914 to start a liqueur business, he didn’t know the language. He had a book of recipes he wrote in lemon juice, because he didn’t want them to get stolen when he arrived.

        “It looked like blank pages,” says Scalzini. “After he went through customs, he took the book and put it in the oven so the lemon juice would turn brown, and he could read the recipes in Italian.”

        But when Prohibition hit, Scalzini’s great-grandfather had to shift gears. He pulled her grandfather out of high school to work in the family business, painting and paper hanging.

        “My grandfather always said that America was the best country on the earth, to use the opportunities we have here to our advantage,” says Scalzini.

        She’s doing just that by helping create awareness about the inventing process.

        “Only 13 percent of patent holders today are women,” Scalzini says. “I hope to inspire young people, particularly young women, to go after their dreams. I want to set an example.”

        Scalzini is part of a women’s inventor’s club in which women help each other out in the inventor’s space.

        You can support innovation and help inventors get noticed at The Grommet (thegrommet.com), and also vote on and shop your favorite new products. Scalzini’s handbags are one of the newest products to be featured on the site; when you cast your free vote, you’ll get 20 percent off your purchase.

        Customer feedback is top of mind in creating new handbags — Scalzini listens to what women want, their likes and dislikes. “I want to create better products, to offer a greater variety,” she says. “I always want to create new bags, I have so many ideas.”

        Scalzini now uses silicone leather, which is an eco-friendly, soft and buttery material that is easy to clean and won’t deteriorate like vinyl for her versatile GIA mini totes, which can be easily converted into a crossbody or backpack.

        For spring, Scalzini recommends Blue-Ice, a light bluish gray that may just become your new neutral; White Frost, a soft, pearl white; and Buttercup, a yellow that’s a great accent for all seasons. She hopes to soon welcome UGA Bulldog Red to the lineup.

        You won’t have to worry about your light-colored handbags getting dirty — because they’re made of the same material used in the upholstery of luxury cars and boats, they can be cleaned with dish soap and water and can easily wash out marks from wine, ketchup and ink.

        And, because of the way the hooks are placed, the bags can be dressed up with any chain or strap, making it simple to change up your look.

        Photo Credits: Branden Adams Photography, CatMax Photography & Kathleen Trella-Newland Photography