A 19-year-old college student from Tonganoxie had an idea while working on an archeological dig in Peru during the 1970s that forever changed her life.
"I loved the subject matter that I was studying. I never really saw myself as an academician. I didn't really want to teach and I didn't think I was a good teacher," Annie Hurlbut recalled.
Instead of becoming a teacher, Hurlbut turned that inspiration into a multi-million dollar, high-end clothing company, which she called Peruvian Connection.
She founded it with her mother, Biddy Hurlbut. The company's headquarters is still on the Tonganoxie farm where she was raised.
The women started out sweater by sweater, bringing colorful, carefully crafted Peruvian clothing to family and friends who helped them with a catalog.
"It was pretty primitive. We had family members posing in it. It wasn't very fancy," she recalled.
In the early days, Hurlbut would pack her car with clothes and drive to cities to Chicago or on the west coast. She would show off her wares in hopes that a store would place an order.
"It was the early stages of the business and I was so fascinated with it. It was a narcotic in a way. When you really love what you do you don't even notice it's 2 o'clock in the morning and you're working on designs for the next collection, I just really loved it," she said.
Her big break came when she was in New York City in 1979. Out of the blue, the New York Times devoted an entire article to the girl from Kansas, who was pounding the pavement with her Peruvian collection.
"Within three months, we had 5,000 requests for a catalog. It was like overnight," she remembered.
After that, the business started to take off. It blossomed into a company employing around 200 people. Hurlbut believes each one of them contributes to Peruvian Connection's success.
"You can have a great idea, but if you don't have people who care about every single piece of that idea from coming up with the original design and executing it in Peru, to making sure it's delivered on time, making sure it's packaged beautifully so that when the order comes in, the customer has a positive experience. People are behind that," she said.
Those people are loyal to the woman at the helm. Some have worked at Peruvian Connection for as many as 30 years. It's all because of an idea a college student turned into a global enterprise.
"If you want to do the best you can, you absolutely have to love it. It's a passion, it seems like a cliche, but it is the fuel," she said.
Wednesday, July 30 2014 7:45 AM EDT2014-07-30 11:45:17 GMT
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