Alaina Harris may only be 26 years old, but she’s already doing something many people spend their whole lives dreaming about: She’s making a living making her art – enough to pay her rent, operate a small shop and stay debt-free.

At Alaina Marie, her South Portland studio and store, Harris hand crafts clutch purses, key chains, pencil cases and wristlet wallets from the same marine-grade netting material that lobstermen use to bag bait. The chic durability of her signature bags, which sell for $60 each, have garnered the attention of national tastemakers, and orders from chic national retailer Anthropologie and 20 boutiques from as far away as Laguna Beach, California.

As a one-woman show who has to juggle her roles as seamstress, printer, accountant, store manager and marketing guru, her success in large part has hinged on having the courage to grow slow and say no to short-term gain for the sake of success that’s sustainable for the long-term.

“I don’t want to get too big too quickly so that I can’t keep up,” she said.

Being able to cash in on her creativity transcends what Harris could have ever imagined. In fact she originally majored in nursing at the University of Southern Maine, “not thinking that I could make a career doing my art,” she said.

That didn’t last long. She switched her major to art and entrepreneurship, and during her senior year she interned at Sea Bags, a Portland-based company that handmakes tote bags and accessories from recycled sails.

Harris was inspired after dressing a bait bag up on her own to use as a cosmetics bag. It worked so well, she was inspired to develop the product that has become her popular bait bag clutch. “I always knew that I wanted to have my own business, and I was determined to make it work,” said Harris, who grew up in South Portland.

Last July, Harris started working from home. Orders came quickly through Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and word of mouth – her only marketing tools. She approached Portland Trading Co. about carrying her products in August.

It got on board, and others soon followed. Just four months after selling her first bag, she was contacted by a buyer from Anthropologie, the Philadelphia-based retailer with 193 locations worldwide. Suddenly, she had to fill an order for 300, on top of custom orders made through her website,

Before long she was grappling with how to balance supply and demand, and wondering how much to spend on raw materials so she’d have enough inventory to keep up with orders without overbuying and ending up with a glut of inventory and an overdrawn bank account. She had little to no sales trends or history on which she could base her orders.

“I don’t have any record of what to expect,” she said.

She could sell about 75 items a week on average. But each time she gets a good review, she immediately feels the impact. “All of a sudden my Facebook page will blow up and I’ll have an influx of orders from the website,” she said.

On top of that, she must try to navigate ever-changing fashion trends. What if she breaks the bank buying pink fabrics, and navy blue turns out to be next season’s in thing?

“Ebb and flow is definitely a challenge I’m dealing with,” she said. Ultimately it involves some guess work. “Now I try to order enough to make an extra 50 to 100 bags. I don’t want to have enough for 1,000 unless they’re spoken for.”

Managing her purchasing also hinges on carefully managing how much new work she takes on. People are constantly asking her about trunk shows and trade shows; customers are clamoring for winter and holiday designs and styles.

“I would like to show my stuff, and get out there, but I’m just one person and I can’t be in 10 places at once,” she said. “I decided I need to just be where I’m needed, which is in my studio getting stuff done.”

It also means turning down requests for new products, like a bait-bag tote. She regularly pulls 80-hour weeks.

“I don’t even know what a weekend is,” she said.

Her “just-say-no,” credo has helped her get into what she feels is a sustainable pace, and hit some major milestones.

In January of this year, she rented a 250-square-foot space in the Knightsville neighborhood of South Portland, right across from the CIA Cafe. In August, she was able to quit the bartending job she’d kept to pay the bills to devote herself full time to the bait bag business. All the while, she’s been able to stay out of debt.

“I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m able to pay myself,” she said. “I feel really lucky to be able to do that in the first year.”

And she’s able to prove the truth of the sage old adage – that if you do a job that you love, you don’t work a day in your life.

“I work so much more than I would in any other job, and it’s so intense,” she said. “But it doesn’t feel like work. It’s on my time and I get to make my own decisions.”