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In the last few years, as a nurse coping during this overwhelming pandemic, Tonia Torellas has had a trying time. Add to that the loss of her husband, and she’s had to deal with a lot. Yet this 60-something finds a way to create a solution to help everyone. A nurse by practice and entrepreneur by passion, Torellas has dedicated her career to finding ways to give back and create changes that lead to a better, safer, and more eco-friendly environment.
When she came up with the concept of reusable dry cleaning garment bags that would eliminate disposable options, she had no idea it would morph into the "It's My Bag" brand. Today, her company creates bags that work in various uses from shopping, retail, travel, and bridal clothing transport to charity and corporate gifting, closet organization, or even for safety and security purposes.
An entrepreneur and passionate lover of the environment, this New York Stater was compelled to start her company when she saw just how complacent businesses and people around her were to the dangers of single-use disposable bags.
Through years of working as a nurse, she acquired unique insights into the importance of consistent and patient education in helping individuals and institutions embrace change. Torellas addressed why consumers and businesses were slow to take up reusable bags by creating a transparent, see-through design that allows everyone to see the products inside.
Torellas was hands-on in the creative process, discovering simple, easy-to-use solutions for her patented bag design through painstaking trial and testing. She oversaw a series of breakthroughs that made her bags truly unique, many coming from her experience as a nurse passionate about clean and dirty clothing never mixing. Her product quickly stood out with the clever placement of the zipper direction, the twist tie for the hanger necks to the ergonomic handle placement, and the genius separation of dirties and cleaning in the same bag simultaneously with the built-in hamper.
Today, Torellas delights in getting the great reviews her customers have shared about how versatile her bag design is — from formal wear and wedding dress transport to helping America’s frontline workers move potentially contaminated clothing safely.
This driven, hardworking, and heartfelt environmental advocate is continuously involved in education and awareness initiatives such as Earth Month. She also regularly appears in the press and online podcasts, speaking about her passion, products, and mission to help the medical community and our society become more green-conscious.
And when not working on It’s My Bag products, you can find this Mineola native creating her “Aunt Toni’s Yummy Crummy Crumb Cakes” — a family staple that’s close to her heart. Though she began making the cakes for her family, what started as a hobby at home quickly turned into a passion.
In fact, after one particular Christmas season, she almost gave up when the batch wouldn't come out correctly.
Yet, when her husband had passed away a few weeks later, Torellas threw herself into the kitchen and began making the family favorite again. Now, she's certified to bake and sell from her home.
Homemade with love and too much butter, she brings the recipe that brought smiles to her family to other families in the area. Just as her passion for addressing climate change, led her to develop her bags. This is a nurse who takes her caring demeanor beyond just the urgent demands of her care-giver role.
Q: How do you balance the time in doing all this?
TT: I'd love to say, "It's a breeze,” but that wouldn’t be honest. In reality, it can be challenging. But knowing I have taken steps towards my goal of "Greening the World, 1 Reusable at a Time,” makes it all worth it.
On the day-to-day, I will set aside and block off hours and when I’m working full-time as a nurse, I’ll set aside open days for the task at hand. Especially with nursing, I must completely clear my head and focus on patient care. It is a skill learned over time and works well for this.
As for the Baking-Biz, there's Aunt Toni's Yummy-Crummys. For now I will bake for orders and events; but not much else; until It's My Bag is securely on its way...
Q: Do you see a time that you'll focus on the bags?
TT: Yes & No. I'll explain.
Early on, before my husband passed, I was "full-time" on It'sMyBag. Unfortunately, at that time in 2010+ people (generally, and especially dry cleaners) were NOT ready or even willing to explore greener, more sustainable options to the senseless, single-use options they were using.
Thankfully, there were a few even then who were open to the idea of “green” sustainability. Like American Drive-in Cleaners in Hicksville. For them, my concept truly worked.
In fact, I can now go there any day of the week and see a variety of It'sMyBags being used and reused years later. My bags are hanging on the receiving line, awaiting clean clothes to finish the process.
Since the product also has the “built-in-hamper,"many customers love it for travel and clothing transport. For example, our frontline healthcare workers in 2020. Busy people also love them for closet organizing and it’s a plus that we can custom-print the bags with logos to promote a specific cause.
So, the groundwork of proving that the concept works as intended is set and ready for what is surely coming one day: more environmental regulations, like eliminating plastic grocery store bags.
Sadly, regulation is what it will take to make people look for an environmentally friendly "patented & proven" option such as ours.
The "yes" for focusing on my bags is now. I’m focused on "flipping" the initial purpose of the bag and we are now creating "It'sMyBag" 2.0. It’s a travel, bridal, clergy, high-end closet organizer and a promotional "cause"-awareness item that people can take to events like golf outings, where others will see that
The "flip" is that when the bag is NOT traveling, it can be used as a cleaner bag. We’re already doing small batches in Brooklyn NY, which I believe will truly work for where the world and the country is at right now. In addition, we will be using "deadstock" rescue materials ... an approach that matches the environmental "Greenie" in me.
The "No" in terms of the question about my focus is that, once It's My Bag is in place and I’ve developed a strategic partnership to take it to the next level, we will begin development on the "other" reusable alternatives in our line under the parent company of It's My B, Inc.
As for working as a nurse, that passion is in my heart and it will never completely leave me. My absolute mission is to be part of "Greening the Medical Community" and that can be done through It'sMyB, Inc.
Hopefully, I can have both – my environmental bag and nursing at the same time!
And then, there’s Aunt Toni's Yummy-Crummy's. For now, it’s fun and we'll see where it leads. For years, a big frustration with It'sMyBag was my lack of ultimate control of the outcome. In order to get products to customers, I had to order thousands of them from China, pay insane amounts of money up front and if they aren't right… “Oh-well.”
That doesn't work for me. I'm anti-waste. With the crumb cakes, I go to my kitchen anytime that works and just bake. In addition to that, the relationship with the woman-owned, Brooklyn-based manufacturer. I have control of the bag outcome, too — far more than if they were made in China.
This is all so exciting to me. I’m looking forward to the journey.
Q: What was the “aha” moment that got you started on the bags?
TT: This one is easy. As the daughter of Depression-age parents, being "anti-waste" was deeply ingrained in me from my youth. One day, after weeks of "Senseless-Single-Use" plastic generated from my husband's dry cleaning. I thought: "There has to be a Better Way" and I need to figure it out!
That’s what got me started.
Q: Do you see yourself using the bags for artistic expression?
TT: Funny you should ask that: Yes is definitely the answer. It’s already in the works.
A first round of small batches will be made right in Brooklyn, NY utilizing end of roll (rescue or dead-stock material.) These bags will be created as unique visual expressions of my imagination along with the manufacturer's. In addition, I’ll be part of a pilot “e-commerce-meets-QVC” site called ShopPopUp.tv. I’ll have half-hour segments to engage with customers live through their site. I can film from home or on the road.
The plan is to allow customers to pick out the designs they prefer among the ones they’ll have seen during the show. There’ll also be a VIP service where a designer or anyone can customize their It'sMyBag with the custom design materials they send to us.
Finally, because I love helping others out and completely believe we’re all better together, I plan to feature designs from up-and-coming artists. Those images will then be printed onto the bags and sold in limited quantities.
Q: Do you have a social life?
TT: Covid-19 has been rough for myself and others. For years I enjoyed doing ballroom dancing and made many lifelong friends from that. I also have friends from my life with Mike, my dear husband who passed away. Plus friends from work and my neighbors. What’s more, I recently reconnected with friends from my youth. Unfortunately, gatherings became scarce with Covid, but I'm hopeful we’ll soon get back in the groove.
However, I live with my soon-to-be 97-year-old mom, also my older sister, her son and our adorable doggie. I spend time with my adult children whenever I can, as well as my other sister and her family. So every day is like a party at our busy abode.
Q: What further products do you have in mind?
TT: I’m so proud of the products I have but there are new ones soon to come! Next up will be a reusable option for pizza boxes, shoe boxes and shipping boxes. The crazy thing is that the core design I created can "morph" into all those other products and even be applied to food and beverage carriers. No more of those horrible, unsecured drink holders that, whenever you make a turn, slide all over your car.
My concept after that would be a compost bin that’s not only functional, but also so beautiful that everyone will want it in their yards or on their balconies. We've even created a collapsible water bottle with a built-in filter. These are all now raw prototypes or initial drawings but they’re definitely on the way.
I put all my time and treasure into It'sMyBag. (I’m completely boot-strapped.) Until the right strategic partner comes around, these designs will not have been shared with anyone. Except, of course, I shared with my father whose 97th birthday would have been August 17th. He was an entrepreneur and a well-respected shoe manufacturer in Brooklyn years ago. The likes of Steve Madden, Ralph Lauren and Kenny (as Dad called Kenneth) Cole along with many others lay claim to have worked with my father. He loved the "It's My (shoe) Box -Tote” and I'm sad that he won’t be here when production on it will eventually occur.
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