Annie Unrein – Part 2

This is a continuation of the Annie Unrein Blog. Click HERE for Part 1.

In 1990, Annie and Al began spending the winters in Utah. After almost 20 years in Alaska, they were ready for sunshine! Annie became an active member of her local quilt guild, holding almost every office in the guild. There she met Heather Purcell, who started Superior Threads with her husband Bob.

Annie worked at shows with Superior for several years, gaining great exposure for her budding pattern business. When Superior introduced Texture Magic, Annie wrote patterns, created demonstrations, and participated in the marketing for that product. As she wrote more patterns for purses and bags, she recognized a need for a stabilizer that could give stability to those items. Home sewists needed a firm and resilient foam that would make their bags look like they came from Sak’s Fifth Avenue.

After months of research, she found a U.S. manufacturer. Taking a giant leap of faith, and using her own money to finance it, she ordered her first run of Soft and Stable® — 1,000 yards! The rolls were dropped off on a loading dock across town. Her little Isuzu pickup could only haul four rolls at a time, so it took many trips (in 105 degree heat) to transport all the Soft and Stable® to her garage. She hired her hairdresser’s son to help carry it upstairs to her cutting table where they cut and packaged it into precut pieces.

Within a month, Annie sold that entire first run!

Although Soft and Stable® was a big hit in the market place, Annie’s husband, Al, was ready to retire and, though supportive of her business, wanted her to slow down. Annie was running her business out of their garage, with the help of two part-time employees. Al wanted to buy a camper and hit the road.

Then, life threw the Unrein family a curve ball. Al passed away suddenly of a heart attack at age 60.

Annie Unrein in the classroom.

Annie in the classroom.

During this incredibly sad time, Annie realized she had been following Al, and his dreams, for decades. Now it was her turn. Their son, Casey, was working as Chief of Staff to the president of a university in California. He’d recently received his MBA and he told his mother he wanted to go somewhere where he could grow a small business. Annie said, “I have a small business you can grow!”

Casey and his wife Gloria joined the ByAnnie team in early 2014 and created a seismic shift in the business. Within a few months, ByAnnie moved from Annie’s garage into a rented warehouse. After only a year they out-grew the first one and moved to a building three times the size. At the same time they opened a distribution center in Europe.

The days of Annie and her little Isuzu pick-up truck were long gone. Fifty-eight foot tractor trailers pull up to their loading dock regularly, filled with Soft and Stable®, mesh, zippers and all the other products they sell. has 10 full-time staff and another 15 independent contractors that support specific needs. Vending at major shows and teaching Craftsy classes exposed Annie’s patterns and products to an international audience. Annie now has almost 40,000 students in her four Craftsy classes and says, “Craftsy has been such a wonderful way to share my love of bag making with students. Never in my lifetime could I have imagined teaching that many students from all over the world!”

Montana calls from the Rugged Horizon.

Montana calls from the Rugged Horizon.

That entrepreneurial spirit runs in the family. Annie’s daughter, Havila (named after the youngest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof) is an attorney in Montana where she and her husband also built and operate an event center called Rugged Horizon.

Annie Unrein and her sister Alicia.

Annie & Alicia.

Years ago, Annie’s husband bought this property with his daughter in mind. Growing up, one of Havila’s favorite movie quotes was from A River Runs Through It: “The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.” Now she is only 46 miles away from Missoula.

Another big life change took place last year when Annie’s youngest sister, Alicia, needed a change, moved in with Annie, and came to work for ByAnnie. “Although I enjoy time alone, it’s nice to have somebody else in the house, somebody to eat a meal with, or share the joys and frustrations of the day. Alicia makes me laugh —and she loves to shop. It’s great to have someone to run errands or pick up groceries when things are busy. As much as we seemed to argue as children, I think we’ve both been surprised at how well living together has worked out!

I feel like I’ve lived six different lives — growing up, homesteading, inn keeping, parenting, my early business years, and the changes with growth. Each has been wonderful and I have learned so much. The incredible growth ByAnnie has experienced since Casey and Gloria came on board has given me something positive to focus on since Al’s death. It’s good to wake up every morning and have something to be excited about. The big added bonus is that I get to enjoy special times with my first grandchild, Liam. He is the sunshine in my life!

I am a big believer in NOT dwelling on the negative. Find the silver lining in the clouds and get on with living! Life is short and precious. Make it count.”

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