Grace Design: Globally inspired accessories made in Canada
While each Grace Design bag is handmade on Vancouver Island, there’s a unique story behind each one: every bag incorporates a textile from Alison Gledhill’s travels around the globe.
Gledhill started making handbags as a creative outlet when she was 14 years old, and has been running Grace Design full-time since 2010.
“Traveling and buying textiles is passion of mine,” said Gledhill, who has traveled extensively, including to India, Japan, Guatemala, Morocco and Peru. “I find remnants, and try to repurpose and immortalize them by incorporating them into a bag.”
The resulting products are sold through her website, gracedesign.ca, as well as to stores across Canada, and a few in the U.S. Each product listing has a detailed description that explains its origins. “I want to educate my audience on the place that the materials came from and how the product was made,” said Gledhill.
Description of Grace Design’s Strathcona Backpack made with a wave print textile from Japan
Her website describes her products as “a celebration of diversity and it is with great reverence for and awareness of the cultures we draw inspiration from that we bring our designs to you.”
Running an online business
The early days of the web
The Grace Design website has evolved along with technology over the years, but Gledhill knew she wanted her online brand to be Canadian.
“When I registered the domain, gracedesign.ca, there weren’t too many options for top-level domains. But I liked the idea of having a Canadian URL, being a Canadian company, so I chose .CA,” said Gledhill. She mentioned that she has been focusing on the Canadian market in the past few years, as people like to support Canadian-made and prefer to purchase items in CAD.
A screen shot of gracedesign.ca circa 2002 (Source: Internet Archive Wayback Machine). It’s changed a bit since then!
Behind the brand name: Grace Design
“The name just kind of came to me. When I was younger, I was very inspired by fashion and culture from the 1920s to 1940s, and admired the style of women from that era, like Grace Kelly. Now the meaning has shifted for me; I think of grace as a spiritual principle. It's a connection to the essence of who we are…a place of coming back to your true self through your own journey,” said Gledhill.
Success in the early days of Etsy
In 2007, Gledhill began selling on Etsy, which was a tremendous boost to her business. In 2012, Gledhill was a featured artist at the first-ever Etsy pop-up event in New York City.
“Etsy was a game changer for creators like myself,” said Gledhill. “Before, I was only able to sell my wares at markets or by going into stores and introducing myself to set up retail and wholesale accounts. Etsy enabled me to sell online directly to consumers all over, at a time when developing your own e-commerce website was challenging.”
Despite her success on Etsy, Gledhill kept her .ca domain and a website as a portfolio of her designs; a visual storybook.
Running an ecommerce store with Shopify
In 2006, the gracedesign.ca website transformed once more - this time into its own e-commerce store, with the help of Shopify.
“Back in the day, I had to hire a company to create my website. As time went on there, there became so many more resources to create and manage a website on your own. And eventually, Shopify came along, which is pretty intuitive and easy to use on the back end,” said Gledhill.
Gledhill built her ecommerce store using Shopify.
“I still have an Etsy store, because it brings in a certain type of traffic. But I try to focus my time on my website,” said Gledhill.
Where do customers find out about Grace Design?
While Grace Design has gained quite a following on Facebook and Instagram, Gledhill said there’s one platform that works best - Pinterest.
“Pinterest seems like an underutilized promotion tool for small business. For me, Pinterest works like compound interest, because each post gains traction as time goes on. Whereas, unfortunately, Facebook posts seem to get old after a couple of hours, and Instagram’s algorithm limits exposure even though I have a lot of followers.”
Advice for Canadian entrepreneurs
“There have never been more resources online to teach you how to run your own small business. It is a tremendous amount of work and requires a lot of patience and tenacity, but if you're resourceful and persistent, then the rewards are great.”
Ready to bring your great idea online?
Start by finding your .CA domain.
Learn more about
Have your .CA story featured by CIRA