When local fashion entrepreneur Adrienne Guariglia had to come up with a name for her new leather goods business, she drew from an unlikely source: her Catholic school days growing up in Chicago.
“My school nurse had the best sense of style,” says Guariglia, who now lives in Lawrenceville. “This woman had every color of the rainbow of leather pump heels perfectly matching every outfit that she wore every day and I was totally enthralled by it as a kid. I could never get enough of it. ... When I tell you every color of the rainbow, I mean, 15 different shades of blue, a million different colors of red. It was wild.”
That nurse’s name, Sister Epig, became Sister Epic, a name Guariglia feels captures her past, as well as her “go big or go home” attitude. This outlook is reflected in her luxury leather accessories that include hair-on cowhide bags dyed neon yellow and bright red, animal-print clutches, and metallic wristlets.
It’s an outlook that carried her from a corporate job designing window displays for big retailers like Zara and AllSaints to Pittsburgh, where she started her own business in 2018.
“I made the leap to come here,” says Guariglia, adding that she took a “now or never” approach to the situation because she always wanted to start her own business. “It just made sense.”
Her transition was eased, she says, by a network of welcoming, women-owned small businesses and people like former WPXI news anchor-turned-blogger Courtney Brennan, who agreed to meet with Guariglia after they connected online.
“[Brennan] pointed me in all of these directions,” says Guariglia. “That kind of open-arm goodness is amazing and something that I did not feel as much in Chicago. It’s really invigorating and exciting because it is hard creating a business and building it from the ground up in a new city with not as many contacts.”
Her penchant for leather started during her senior year of college studying fashion design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and continued casually in the decade since, as she focused mostly on her corporate career. She fully committed to leather last year despite having no formal technical training in the medium, which she admits can be frustrating at times.
“There are just hurdles where my best friend Google comes into play,” she says. Through trial and error, she figured out various leather-craft processes like skiving, which requires thinning out the edges in order to create clean seams.
The Sister Epic website, which officially launched over the summer, features a variety of goods, from handbags and wallets, to leather-bound journals and card cases. Each piece is made from hides procured from vendors in the U.S. and from Italy. Guariglia says she looks for hides that are “super high quality,” easy to dye and work with, and ethically sourced, meaning that the rest of the animal from which it came did not go to waste.
Guariglia plans to take advantage of the upcoming holiday season, including shopping days like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, with special deals and bundles. Her Business Woman Special will include a journal and cardholder, while Are We There Yet? will give travelers a passport holder, wallet, and key chain,
She will also release an exclusive, limited-run holiday design. “Think sparkles on that one,” says Guariglia.
While she is still settling into Pittsburgh, she looks forward to working with her new local community of fellow women business owners, who have helped her figure out things like wholesale pricing and navigating marketing and networking events.
“I feel like I only scratched the surface, but I still feel so supported,” says Guariglia. “It’s a cool place to be right now, I think.”