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They give new life to used materials

By KERRY FELTNER - 2/28/2014

Since its inception in 2009, EvenOdd LLC has been scrappy.

Co-founders and Rochester natives Ashley Cellura, 29, and Eliza Sullivan, 33, have made a retail accessory manufacturing business from the unwanted materials of other companies. Their business expects to grow 60 to 70 percent this year.

“We started making bags and experimenting on materials of anything that we didn’t have to pay for,” Cellura, far right, says. “We’re pretty much like a waste management company for a lot of companies. It’s sitting there and they want to get rid of it, so we become a service (and) go pick it up.”

The company sells 15 products made from materials such as bicycle inner tubes, vinyl billboards, sailcloth and waxed canvas. Tote bags, clutches, wristbands, wallets, money holders and messenger bags are among the company’s accessories. A backpack and briefcase are slated to be added to the product line this year.

Nylon and wool are commonly used for the interiors of the bags, with antique brass hardware pieces as clasps or accents. The products are upcycled, meaning the materials remain in their current states but are used for new purposes. The method differs from the process of recycling, which converts materials into new physical states.

The pair started building the company’s inventory in 2009 with a 14-by-48-foot billboard bought on Craigslist. With that one purchase they were able to make 80 to 100 small messenger bags.

“I’m a very impatient person, so this process has really taught me to be patient, and we have to practice and try until we really get what we really want,” Cellura says. “That’s really been our goal—really making things exactly how we want them—and it’s going to be a continuing evolution of always wanting more and learning.”

Cellura graduated from SUNY College at Brockport in 2007 with a business administration degree and a marketing concentration. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2008 and enrolled in the school’s accessory program. The program helped her gain the confidence to venture into accessories as a career move.

Sullivan took courses at Monroe Community College in visual communications from 1999 to 2000 while working a full-time corporate design job.

The business began as a side project for the duo. Cellura currently is the creative director for Global Health Products Inc., and Sullivan is the creative director for Henrietta-based Pyramont North America Inc. Each hopes to switch over to EvenOdd full time. Whenever they are not at their other jobs, Cellura and Sullivan work on advancing the business.

The company also employs four additional part-time employees. This year they plan to expand by adding hours to their current staff.

Though the partners have always been frugal, originally the eco-friendly approach was not their main focus. Reusing products in a thoughtful way has become vital to business and an element that attracts conscientious clients.

“It’s a bonus for us because it didn’t start off that way (with that mindset) but now it has definitely become that way,” Sullivan said. “We’ve just kind of branched out of anything that we can find and that we can use to upcycle.”

The process of creating a bag takes four to six hours. Once the material is secured, it is cut, cleaned, conditioned with a spray, taped together and then sewn with double stitching to ensure durability. The accessories are tear- and water-resistant.

“There’s no guidebook to make inner tube bags,” Sullivan said. “That’s why developing our system was a big hurdle.”

Shops around the area supply them with free materials that would otherwise cost money to dispose of. EvenOdd schedules pickups each month. More than 30 local companies have donated supplies, including 5Linx Enterprises Inc., Rochester Yacht Club, Tryon Bike LLC and the Park Avenue Bike Shop.

After five years in operation, the shape of the business is becoming clearer, Cellura says.

“I think the biggest challenge … for us, at least in the last year or two, is expanding and becoming a ‘real’ business, learning how to implement systems that you can have other people do,” she says. “(It is) letting people be themselves and work … as long as things are getting done how you expected them to be. There (are) lots of little (details) to put these bags together.”

Social media, EvenOdd’s only marketing outlet, has led to business with retailers across the country. The company recently secured a retailer in Australia.

Rochester has given the company the time it has needed to establish itself, Sullivan says. Approximately 50 percent of its business is local.

“You get time to fail,” Sullivan says. “I think if we were in New York (City) or some large place, if we were not making a ton of money right away, we would have been done in six months. (In Rochester) it’s really nice to be able to learn and grow.”

EvenOdd sells most of its products online, but local customers can shop on Friday afternoons at the studio in the Hungerford Building on East Main Street.

As their business grows, fear is receding.

“It’s just setting attainable goals, ones that maybe are a little scary,” Cellura says. “But (as) things are starting to grow, we feel more confident, and as your confidence builds, I think so can your business.”

2/28/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.