Today, Vera Bradley Inc. (Nasdaq: VRA) ranks as the fourth largest handbag company in the U.S., with annual revenues of more than $540 million. But the Fort Wayne, Ind. manufacturer -- which trails only Coach (NYSE: COH), Michael Kors  (NYSE: KORS) and Dooney & Bourke -- had modest beginnings, recalled co-founder Barbara Bradley Baekgaard. She highlighted some of the milestones of the company’s growth during a fireside chat conducted by Mergers & Acquisitions editor-in-chief Mary Kathleen Flynn at an ACG New York Women of Leadership conference at the Harmonie Club on March 27.

It all began when Baekgaard, a stay-at-home mom turned wallpaper-hanging entrepreneur walked through an airport 30-plus years ago and noticed the dearth of luggage designed for women. To fill the void, she and friend Patricia Miller decided the next day to launch a handbag company named after Baekgaard’s mother, Vera Bradley. The initial investment was $500, “borrowed” from their husbands, to purchase off-the-shelf materials from Jo-Ann Fabrics and Craft Stores.

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