Westmont Magazine The Business Is in the Bag
Karl Ozinga ’00 had no experience in the fashion industry, and his wife, Amber Sinsley Ozinga ’01, had never done sales. But that didn’t stop the enterprising couple from starting California Leash Company in 2002 to make and distribute designer handbags. “We were young and dumb,” Amber laughs. “We learned some painful lessons by trial and error.”
But four years later, the company is succeeding. “CLC has grown so much that it’s clear we should be doing this,” she says. “But it took us years to figure out how to run the business.”
Karl spent his first three semesters at Westmont studying business and entrepreneurship. Then he discovered art and switched his major. “Westmont was a turning point in my life,” he says. “That’s where I developed my creative side, learned who I was and discovered my talents and strengths.”
After graduating, he pursued a career in fine art, selling his prints through galleries. “But I needed something more functional to support my family,” he says. He and Amber got married in 1999.
Karl enrolled at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising to study textile design, which seemed appropriate for a printmaker. To break into the fashion industry, he decided to design handbags and looked for an unusual material. “There was too much canvas, leather and nylon on the market,” he says. “I wanted to do something creative and different.” He chose erethane rod and neoprene, used in surf leashes and wetsuits. “The material was soft, durable and easy to clean,” he says. “It gave us a natural market with surf shops.”
Karl developed a design and ordered bags in five different colors. Then he tried to sell the bags and met with little success.
A political science major at Westmont, Amber had a satisfying job as a case administrator in the Los Angeles superior court, working with alternative dispute resolution. “I loved my job,” she said. “I was excelling, and it paid well and provided good benefits. But I felt I needed to quit and help Karl market his purses. It was weird to leave such a great job, but I have no regrets.”
“It turns out Amber is a genius at sales,” Karl says. “I was getting nowhere, but the stores started buying from her. It was pretty amazing.” They soon discovered that boutiques and spas were the best outlet for their product.In previous years, the Teen Choice Awards included a CLC purse in their gift bag.
They sew the same Bible verse into all the purses: “You will fill me with joy” (Psalm 16:11). “We wanted to put in something positive because so many T-shirts have negative messages,” Amber says. They’ve had a good response.
The business started in the Ozinga home; it moved to a warehouse last year. Karl and Amber work full time, as does Amy Brown ’99, their operations manager. “Amy is our lifesaver,” Amber says. “Her talents are amazing.” Amber gave birth to her first child in June, which will change her role somewhat.
The couple has learned to adapt to new situations — and to recover when an idea doesn’t work out the way they expected. “The most important thing I remember is that it’s not our business, it’s not something we have created, it comes from God,” Karl says. “The only way we stay sane is to pray about it. The best thing is to relax and see where God is leading us.”