Many high-level business people and celebrities find their way to the beautiful coastal towns of South Walton, and some become part of the community. Barbara Bradley Baekgaard is one of those.
Baekgaard is the co-founder and owner of the colorful ladies handbag line known as Vera Bradley.
Baekgaard talked with The Sun recently about the multi-million-dollar business's humble beginnings.
"During a layover at an airport, I noticed there was no color in totes or bags. My girls were in college and they complained that they couldn't find any colorful bags," she said. "We had Laura Ashley, but nothing colorful to choose from."
Baekgaard and her neighbor, Pat Miller, went to Baekgaard's basement, and sewed some bags out of colorful cotton fabric and sent them to the girls. When the girls' friends saw them, all wanted one. This was 1982.
The women took bags to the Chicago market, then started selling to stores, calling on friends and family to sell.
That first year, sales were $10,000. They are now $500 million.
"It grew rapidly," said Baekgaard.
"We just started," she said. "We did no research but pretty soon it was a cottage industry. Just ready fire aim."
The women named the venture Vera Bradley for Baekgaard's mother who was a former model.
"She had great taste," Baekgaard said of her mother. "So much of what I am comes from my mother. She was a celebrity in her own right. The success has been a family thing. She lived to see it be successful."
Baekgaard's mother served as a sales rep for the bags in South Florida until her death in the early 1990s.
When asked about the key to the business's success, Baekgaard is quick with her answer.
"Many focus on their weaknesses," she said. "But the best way to be successful is to take your strengths and go with that, then get people to fill in the weak points. Such as, I knew finance was not my strength. So we needed someone to do finance.
"It feels amazing when you see people carrying your bag," she added. "I get letters from women telling me that carrying my bag makes friends. It's a connector. It's a badge, not a bag. It's a comfortable, affordable, honest brand."
Baekgaard said when she sees someone carrying her bag in an airport, she tells them that she loves their bag, and she feels proud when they say, "It's a Vera Bradley."
"I don't think that is done with any other brand," she said. "I never tell them who I am, but it's a brand to be proud of."
Baekgaard wrote a book about her adventure that has recently been released titled "A Colorful Way of Living," which is an inspiring book to help women awake their full potential at any age. The author's proceeds go to breast cancer research, as she lost her best friend from college to breast cancer.
Since 1998, $28.1 million has been raised for breast cancer research through the Vera Bradley Foundation's golf and tennis tournaments.
Baekgaard owned a second home in Seaside for many years but does not get down to the Gulf Coast much these days with her business growing and an office in New York.
However, one of her daughters owns a home in Seaside and her son-in-law serves on the board of Seaside Neighborhood School. Vera Bradley sponsors the Seaside School 5k, which has become known as the "run for the bag."
The company now specializes in not only women's bags, but also fragrance, luggage,and accessories.