They had never met before. But that did not stop JoAnn Wund from throwing a great big bear hug around Joan Bradley Reedy inside Morristown’s 23 South boutique on Wednesday.
Joan gets that kind of response wherever she goes.
Not bad for a bag lady.
“It’s a happy business,” said Joan, traveling ambassador for the Vera Bradley line of ladies handbags and accessories.
She’s got extra reason to be upbeat: She has been a breast cancer survivor for 15 years, and her family company has raised more than $18 million for the Vera Bradley Foundation for Breast Cancer.
Which explains the embrace from JoAnn Wund, a breast cancer survivor from Tennessee who was visiting her sister in Morristown. Well, it’s only a partial explanation. JoAnn was showering a double-dose of love on Joan.
“I love the products,” JoAnn said, as her sister Barbara Liguori nodded enthusiastically. “I’ve had a Vera Bradley bag for more than 20 years. I put it through the wash and it just gets better. It’s like fine wine.”
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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Vera Bradley marks the occasion each year by creating a special line of pink-themed bags and donating a portion of sale proceeds to research.
Barry and Marilyn Goffin, owners of 23 South, celebrated Wednesday’s visit with pink lemonade, pink bubblegum and pink cupcakes from C’est Cheese– and they donated 10 percent from sales of all pink items in the shop to the cause. Free breast cancer awareness pins will be distributed to shoppers while supplies last.
Joan is optimistic that breast cancer’s days are numbered.
“We’ve got the beast cornered, and we’re closing in on him,” she said. The company chose this charity to honor Mary Sloan, a family friend and co-worker who succumbed to the disease.
Vera Bradley is named for Joan’s late mom, a former model who served as Florida sales rep until she was 82. The company was started by Joan’s sister Barbara and another friend, after a dreary afternoon at the Atlanta airport in February 1982.
“Barbara noticed that women’s luggage was very blah. We needed some color,” recounted Joan, who was with them at the airport.
Barbara and friend Patricia Miller returned home to Fort Wayne, Ind., and created a cottage industry. They bought patterns from fabric stores and hired local ladies to stitch together the bags. Family members and friends then fanned out to trade shows and banged on shopkeepers’ doors. Today, Vera Bradley reports annual revenues in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars.
“The secret is to do it,” said Joan, whose ambassador duties have taken her as far west as Hawaii and as far east as Germany. “You come to hurdles along the way, and you jump over them. You create great products that women love, products that are functional. And you treat people the way you want to be treated. We’re a friendly company. We’re not cutthroat. We like to say we’re a girl’s best friend.”
And that means little girls, too. Kim Hart, also a breast cancer survivor, brought daughters Zoe, 7, and Kayla, 10, from Randolph to meet Joan, who autographed their purchases with ink that won’t come out in the wash.
A happy job indeed.
“I get to meet people from little girls to old grandmas who have had Vera Bradley bags for years,” Joan Bradley Reedy said with a great big smile.