Like millions of kids growing up in the 70’s, Veronica loved to watch television family westerns like The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. But while most people focused on the heartwarming stories and characters on screen every week, Roni was most enthralled by the depictions of general stores and authentic handbags and clothing worn by the actors.
“Everything you could possibly need was at the general store, including beautiful bolts of fabrics for making clothes,” she remembers. “And I immediately fell in love with the handbags the women wore.”
Since her childhood, it’s been a richly varied creative adventure for Veronica “Roni” Walter. The long-time Los Angeles resident designed hip hop clothing for actors on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Saved by the Bell. Working under her brand “PoetRoniGirl,” she was a booking agent for a number of music videos and local acts, a writer whose original poetry was recited by Brandy Norwood on her TV show Moesha, and a popular touring poet at numerous colleges nationally. “I was kinda doing the whole Coachella thing,” recounts Roni.
Wherever her creativity happened to lead her, however, she never forgot about those general stores and beautiful Western-style handbags she admired so much on TV. “One day I was at my storage unit when I noticed that somebody had simply discarded quite a lot of fabric,” she said. “So I decided to make a few handbags.”
“I was wearing one of my bags at Trader Joe’s when a women exclaimed, ‘Slow down, I love your bags! They remind me of the Waltons!’” The woman happened to be a former designer for the show, and she had instantly recognized the inspiration behind the design. “I almost fell down… it was one of the best days of my life because she got it!”
Encouraged by the many positive reactions she was receiving for her bags, Roni started creating more bags and wearing them in public. “I don’t drive, so people would ask me about my bags on the bus, or at Starbucks where I’d spend hours actually designing, cutting fabric and making handbags,” she said. “Same thing at farmer’s markets, where I usually wear five or six of my bags at a time, and people would purchase them on the spot. Basically, the whole world became my showroom, and Starbucks was my office.”
“The whole world became my showroom.”
She also sold her bags, made entirely from colorful recycled fabrics, at flea markets, near food trucks, and anywhere people happened to gather, relying on ridesharing services and friends with vehicles to get around at a moment’s notice. And then, fueled by social media, “pop-up” events started trending in Los Angeles. Everything from weddings to nightclubs to retail stores– pop-up events grew quickly in popularity and size. Never one to pass up a golden opportunity, Roni seized upon the trend and began selling her bags at these temporary venues. “Being a pop-up vendor means taking a bus to the pop-up market, unloading and setting up my three display racks, and then taking a bus back to pick up my inventory. Some days you make very little money, while other days you could sell two or three thousand dollars-worth of merchandise. It’s a lot of physical work, sort of like setting up and dismantling an entire Nordstrom’s every day, but I love it.”
While pop-up retail stores may be transitory, Roni’s PoetRonigirl brand and selection of handbags and aprons were also gaining traction on social media outlets and through word-of-mouth. Intent on taking her business to the next level, she started visiting VEDC’s Women’s Business Center to obtain the necessary certifications and licenses needed to do business at markets and temporary locations. She was also interested in the educational and mentoring component of the center, and got involved with the WBC’s Fashion Advisory Board to learn from and support other local designers in the industry.
“VEDC is there for you, they are there to support you, they hold your hands through it, they help you fill out your paperwork, and they give you a platform of various programs to get involved in. Classes you don’t have to pay for. And they bring in experts that are the real experts in the field, the people you read about daily in the different fashion magazines. These are top-notch people. It’s like going to a business college or entrepreneurial university, and you’re not paying anything.”
“They make sure that if you need help, they reach out to you. It’s like an outreach program. They’re still helping to cultivate your vision.”
In May of 2018, Roni discovered that one of her contacts knew a manager at the Pottery Barn in Beverly Hills. “My friend shared a few pictures of my bags with the manager, and she loved them. We arranged a meeting, and the manager invited me to be part of a new pop-up series showcasing local artists.” The response was so positive that her initial 3-month summer stay at the Beverly Hills store was extended into January 2019 and included appearances at the Santa Monica store. Then, something even more amazing: Roni was given the title of Designer & Resident of Pottery Barn Pop-up Shops and a national touring schedule where she will showcase her PoetRoniGirl products in Pottery Barn, West Elm, and Williams Sonoma stores across the United States.
“Don’t let people talk you out of your dream or your vision. Believe in yourself no matter how hard it gets. Be resilient and block out negative voices the best you can. I’ve always said I wanted to have my stuff in a Pottery Barn, and I’ve always said I wanted to have a store like in The Waltons. If it’s something you really love, just keep saying it. Just keep knocking those doors down.”
Roni works with local artists and locally-sourced fabrics to create original, colorful, and natural aprons and handbags. She sells her products online through the PoetRoniGirl Etsy shop and takes photos with every customer and friend who drops by to visit her shops. Each product is clearly inspired by her love of poetry, music, fashion, and art, and all are made by hand with love. “I’m very proud to be a handcrafted American designer, and I’m very proud to be an artist.”