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Driven by a passion to work for themselves, two area women create their own company

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Two lakes area women formed their own online and trade show company designed to offer fashion at reduced prices.

Their inventory, sold online and from the back of their traveling van as they set up at trade shows, ranges from designer jeans with bling to name-brand handbags and rhinestone encrusted hats.

Inspired to work for herself after gaining experience with another jeans company, Carmen Maendel was joined by her friend Traci Galles to form Genoa Denim and Leather Apparel.

The company name was a nod to the believed birthplace of denim.

But how the friends reached this destination this spring, is a road-less-traveled tale in itself.

In college, Maendel studied speech, language and special education. She taught in North Carolina for four years. But as teaching positions were cut back, she was approached to work at Edward Jones and spent four years as a stock broker. Then came the experience with the jeans company.

In creating Genoa, Maendel and Galles said the goal to offer high-quality merchandise at below retail prices while keeping recognizable name and designer brands. Gucci. Prada. Dolce & Gabanna. Juice Couture. True Religion. Jimmy Choo. Calvin Klein. Grace in LA and LA Idol.

Maendel and Galles met through a family connection, first by conversations on Facebook. They shared an interest in clothing and fashion. Galles also had experience on the retail side and devotes her time to lining up the tradeshow events for the company.

“I like fashion,” Galles said. “I love jeans. I like purses. I love dressing up.”

Galles also wants to be a stay-at-home mom in the future and said starting her own company was a way to do just that.

“Tracy and I do this as a team,” Maendel said.

They started building a reputation for themselves by word-of-mouth and by attending trade shows in the expanded lakes area and across the state. They went out into the industry and introduced themselves, Maendel said, creating a source for designer jeans.

“I think people do desire high fashion and high quality but don’t have the pocket book to explore that,” Maendel said. “We’re offering to bring Coach handbags and below retail.”

They researched the industry and markets. They contacted designers, online stores and boutiques for product with the intent of passing on savings to their customers. They said goal is to help customers find that perfect fitting pair of jeans, or the accessory that makes the outfit.

Some day they may even branch out with their own line of clothing and label. The women worked with the Small Business Development Center and were assisted by adviser Peter Nelson as they created a business plan.

For now, they pack up their inventory with surgical precision for their store on wheels. They hit trade shows and women’s expo’s and festivals. They even have a pop-up dressing room so women can try on the clothes to check the perfect fit.

They don’t expect to do the tradeshows forever, but for now it’s a way to reach customers and build relationships with designers and, perhaps, gain an angel investor.

“Everybody has to start someplace, if you do nothing you won’t get there,” Maendel said.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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