Updated: Jul 21
Clutch Creations Est. 2017
The Clutch tale begins when our founder Kristi was packing for a music festival in 2015. She was picking out outfits and realized none of her clothes had pockets, a common limitation with women's fashion. She was desperate to find a way to make sure she wouldn't lose her phone at the festival because being a broke college student at the time, she would not be able to replace her phone if it gotten lost or stolen. Being the big thrifter she is, Kristi was exploring one of the eclectic shops around town in Athens, GA and without owning a camera at the time, she randomly bought a vintage camera strap. A light bulb went off in her head while packing to attach her new camera strap to the bottom of her phone case through the holes for the speakers thus solving the no-pockets dilemma. Low & behold this would become the first prototype of The Clutch Strap!
Kristi attended the festival and had a blast, never once worrying about where her phone was because it was conveniently hanging around her neck. Upon arriving back to campus at The University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!) exhausted and happy with the weekend, she somehow made it to class. Kristi's story is an ironic one because she most literally stumbled upon entrepreneurship. Her entire family works in sales and she too has been a business-minded individual her whole life so getting into the Terry School of Business was always a goal for her... no, scratch that, it was THE goal. The first time she applied to get into business school, she was denied due to a poor grade she received in a Pre-Calculus class, which was a surprisingly difficult course used to weed out students who weren't serious about business school.
Teary eyed and uncertain how to proceed to keep a full class schedule to satisfy the requirements of her HOPE Scholarship, she started looking into the different certificate programs the university offered. It just so happened that her existing and upcoming classes would satisfy a good majority of the requirements for the Entrepreneurship certificate! Score. She waltzed right into the office of Bob Pinckney where she met Kelly Durkin and began discussing options. Kelly and Kristi sat down and analyzed her schedule, pulled a few strings, and enrolled Kristi into the necessary classes.
Flash forward and resuming the original story, Kristi returned to class after attending the music festival and her professor Bob made an announcement about the "Idea Accelerator Program" and for anyone with an idea, to apply. A light bulb went off in her head and she immediately took out her phone and started looking up 'phone straps.' The only products available were either not fashionable or she didn't like the way they attached to the phone. Kristi decided that this was the idea she would apply for the UGA Idea Accelerator Program with: an adhesive phone strap. She recruited one of her classmates, John Craft, to do the Idea Accelerator Program with her as they both had a shared love for entrepreneurship.
The UGA Idea Accelerator program set the foundation for the two to begin forming Clutch Creations. They learned all about customer discovery and the ins-and-outs of legally forming an LLC. Over the course of 4 weeks, the two did all the exercises of creating their ideal customer avatars as well as developed the branding and octopus logo (designed by Avery Robinson) for Clutch Creations. A passion inside Kristi was lit during this time and has been burning on fire ever since. On one random sunny day in Athens, Kristi was doing her Accelerator Program homework and was trying to locate people around town who fit her "ideal customer profile" when she spotted a girl walking across the street with music festival wristbands attached to her keychain. "Bingo!" she thought, her first customer discovery candidate. Kristi approached this girl, invited her to join for a cup of coffee at the nearby coffee shop and went through the questions she prepared for customer discovery, staying true to the assignment and never once directly asking if the gal would wear a phone strap. The two girls had a lovely chat and at the conclusion of the brief meeting, Kristi showed her the product concept and passed along a business card and the two went on with their day.
Months later, the girl reached out to Kristi and said she hadn't stopped thinking about Kristi's idea and asked if she needed any help. This girl would turn out to be Kristi's right hand gal for 4 years in building this brand into what you see today, Taylor Cottrell. The Universe did an amazing thing that day when the two girls crossed paths. Taylor has been a staple in the Clutch brand ever since they reconnected. John, the original co-founder would go on to do amazing things working for Oscar Myer, traveling the country on the Weinermobile and continuing his professional career, giving Kristi good graces to chase her dream and build this product with Taylor.
Kristi and Taylor shared a love for music and fashion and set out on a mission to make functional fashion a trend through The Clutch Strap-- a functional fashion adhesive phone strap. Like any great product, development for The Clutch Strap was not a linear process. Kristi started by working with a local seamstress named Lindsey from her favorite vintage shop Agora and explained the idea. This is the same store where she had purchased the original vintage camera strap! Kristi acquired fabric and took it to Lindsey where she described how she wanted pockets in the strap and for it to ultimately mock a camera strap, sewn with D-rings at the bottom. Kristi spent countless hours researching different clips and ways she could attach the strap to her phone without creating a phone case. Thousands of ideas and hours of research later, she was certain that an industrial-strength adhesive would work to attach the strap to any phone with clips.
Now that the product had working prototypes, Kristi took every opportunity to pitch the idea of The Clutch Strap. She was taking entrepreneurship classes and utilizing all of the resources UGA had to offer as well as her classmates were all aware of The Clutch Strap and cheered her on as she applied to two national pitch competitions held at UGA, The Collegiate Next Great Consumer Brands Competition and UGA's Next Top Entrepreneur. Although Clutch never won any of the prize money amounting to $25,000 and $10,000, she continued to pursue her dream and would pitch 4 more times in these competitions, learning valuable insights and gaining great feedback and network connections from every failed attempt to acquire some funding for the business.
Kristi continued to be an active member in the UGA Entrepreneurship community and in 2015, went on to start the Society of Entrepreneurs, a club for students to meet, network, and discuss all things entrepreneurship on campus. Her legacy still lives on today at UGA and SoE has grown tremendously over the years! In 2016, Kristi graduated from The Terry College of Business at The University of Georgia with a major in Marketing and a Certificate in Entrepreneurship.
She went on to work for the Entrepreneurship program, the very place on campus where she found her purpose and could stay close to the university's amazing resources. Having funded the entire business out of her college budget and working numerous bartending jobs, she was able to bootstrap the business enough to get a solid supply chain in place and launch an online web store. Her first means for manufacturing were through working with a local non-profit in Clarkston, Georgia called Peace of Thread. Peace of Thread utilized donated fabric from television costumes and sets to make handbags and support refugee women with employment. Kristi volunteered for Peace of Thread and developed a relationship where they were able to work together and get the prototypes furnished into products she could sell and use as an example for manufacturers.
Kristi used every resource she could to try and locate a manufacturer in Georgia who would believe in her idea enough to bypass minimums to develop the phone strap for her.
The first company to develop The Clutch Strap was down in Moultrie, GA, 4 hours south of Atlanta. Together, Kristi and the manufacturer who specialized in making seat belts, went through trial and error to get the product up to par using the fabrics that Kristi collected. However, Kristi had no background in textiles and this created a huge gap and learning curve for her to learn what fabrics would and would not work in the production process. After months of working with the manufacturer, Kristi and her mom, Kathleen, set out to go visit them in south Georgia. The initial manufacturer relationship taught Kristi so much about the process of developing her product on a larger scale and she continued to find more manufacturing resources but this time, closer to Atlanta.
Time and time again, Kristi would go through the sample process with a new manufacturer who claimed to understand the concept and confirmed they could make the product but time and time again she would get back inventory that was poorly sewn and in her opinion, "not worth the cost of the product and the price point for the customer." At this time, she had multiple customers using The Clutch Strap and giving her valuable feedback. During this time, she would regularly get a request for a leather version of the product. From then on, after hearing multiple people saying they would prefer a leather strap, Kristi set out on a new mission to develop a leather version of the product. She was introduced to Heather Breedlove, a UGA alumna who was heavily involved with the Entrepreneurship Program. The two ladies met for coffee at the same place where Kristi and Taylor met, and a spark ignited in them both that would then turn into years of an amazing friendship and mentor relationship. Heather told Kristi to come by her company's HQ in Norcross, GA where she would donate 3 hides of genuine leather for Kristi to work on making prototypes with. This generous donation of 3 hides of leather costed roughly $1,500 and was an absolute game changer for the future of Clutch Creations.
Kristi again set out to figure out how to develop a product that could scale from a completely different material. She herself learned how to craft with leather and has since grown to love this durable material. She found a local in Athens, Michael, who owned a high powered laser and agreed to let Kristi use the laser to cut the hide into straps. This was just one of the many ways Kristi would utilize high powered lasers in the formation of Clutch. If you can imagine, burning leather can 1. smell awful and 2. leave burn marks on the edges. Kristi continued to go back to the drawing board and figure out ways to develop the product. It was another sunny day in Athens, GA when Kristi was introduced to Paula Echavvarria and the two ladies met for a cup of coffee at, you guessed it, Walker's coffee. Paula's family has an international leather operation in Medellin, Colombia and Paula said she would check with her cousins about developing the product for her. This would become one of Kristi's best connections, manufacturers and best friends for years to come, including today.
Kristi is still working day in and day out, developing this brand to be an international functional fashion and lifestyle brand with the flagship product The Clutch Strap. Over the years, the team has developed an ambassador program called The Clutch Crew that stands at 35 members strong, building a community of men and women who live and represent The Clutch Lifestyle. The company has done business with Fortune 100 companies for branded corporate gifts as well as has been featured in national publications. In 2020, amidst the height of the pandemic, they launched a successful Kickstarter Campaign that would be fully funded in 24 hours and went on to raise just over $21,000. Clutch Creations as a brand has been a collaboration of many great minds, great opinions and amazing support from friends, family and the community.
Kristi's story is not over yet as she still builds this brand completely self-funded, never once quitting to go the corporate route. There are so many thanks that are deserved to everyone who has spent their time and energy helping this company blossom. Like any long story, some details have been left out for brevity but one thing is for certain: Clutch is not stopping any time soon and will continue to build and grow this business as it explores new opportunities with branding nylon Clutch Straps for businesses and events, selling on Amazon, as well as worldwide distributors and wholesalers. There is much more to come on the horizon for Clutch Creations and Kristi's story. If you'd like to stay in the know, we invite you to subscribe to the Clutch email list and follow along on social media!
Notable Accolades in Clutch's History:
-2016 UGA Kickstart Fund Grant Recipient
-2017 Stifel Women’s Initiative Network (WIN) Corporate Gift
-2018 Featured in FestEvo Top 10 Festival Products
-2019 Copyrights, Trademarks and Patents Granted
-2019 Cobb County Economic Development Grant Recipient
-2020 Overfunded Kickstarter Campaign
-2022 Coachella Artist Gift
If you'd like to explore more, check out Clutch Creations Youtube Channel!