Donna Altieri was "spending one of those wonderful nights drinking with musicians" when a friend complained about the amount of time he had to spend arranging transportation for himself and his tuba.
"It was his fantasy to carry his tuba on his back," recalls Altieri, who did promotional photographs for Denver's Aries Brass Quintet. The next day, Altieri went to work designing a backpack for the tuba, and unwittingly began her" alternative profession" -- one that allows her to stay at home with her young son while stitching together a new company.
"I just went walking around the neighborhood with the tuba on my back until it felt right," she says. Altieri BrassPacs, StringSacs, and Woodwind Bags, in Denver, was born and news of the endeavor spread quickly among Denver's musicians. Altieri is now covering every standard instrument in an orchestra.
She has even designed a bag for a tuba player in Tennessee who requested that his be made in fluorescent orange -- with a gun rack attached. "I work with the musician while I'm making the bag," she says. Each one takes about four weeks to complete, costs from $55 to $225, and is custom-made from water-resistent nylon pack-cloth. While sales are still modest -- only $15,000 last year -- Altieri says the company, which employs three seam-stresses, is self-supporting.
Efforts to expand the product line are underway with a less-customized bag for students. But, Altieri adds, "The needs of musicians are so specialized, there's no way to mass-produce ths product. I'll probably always be a cottage industry.
"I had no idea it would keep growing," she says of her company, which she originally named Altieri BrassPacs. Since she doesn't want to expand the name every time she creates a new product, the company will eventually be called just Altieri. "If it's good enough for Gucci, it's good enough for me," she says.