Fashion designer Kimberly Cignarella, our NJ Momprenuer of the week, credits her grandmother as the person who helped her hone in on her fashion know-how. But she also learned about resilience from her grandmother—who is completely blind and lives by the mantra that nothing can dim the light within. And that became clear during the early months of the pandemic when Kimberly found herself mourning the loss of her dream job as a dress designer and looking for her next steps. She found it in February 2022 when she officially launched Kim Cig, a light-up luxury bag collection that echoes the idea of lighting up your life anytime. While the acrylic bag looks like wearable art, this one also has a function, combining LED technology with a charging port. And with plans to launch colors and patterns that will include color-changing technology this spring, Kimberly is now living her dream of having her own brand. We caught up with this very busy Whippany mom of two boys (with a third on the way) to discover that even a dark time can lead to happiness, what makes her bags stand out, and the local sports spot where little ninjas get to shine.
Kim Cignarella, the owner of Kim Cig and our NJ Mompreneur of the Week.
Please share a little bit about your family and background. My husband, Andrew DeTerlizzi, and I have been married for six years. We have two children, Hudson, 5, and Ashton, 2 1/2, and I’m pregnant with my third (a boy!), due in April. We recently closed on our home in Whippany about a month ago and knew it was the town for us because it’s close to East Hanover, where I grew up and my parents live, plus it’s also close to my siblings, which was important to us. Also, the community has a close-knit vibe, which I’ve always loved about this town. Many exciting things are happening in Whippany right now, including a light rail to Morristown and a growing Town Center, which will include lots of retail space, recreation trails along the river, an outdoor amphitheater, hotels, and more.
Was owning your own business always the plan? I graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in apparel design, and then I followed that up with classes at FIT and couldn’t wait to start working. From the time I was small, I knew I would be in fashion, and my dream was to have my brand. I also knew the importance of working in the industry, making connections, and having experience, so I worked for almost a decade and learned as much as possible, eventually having a dream job as the head designer in dresses for Laundry By Shelli Segal. Then COVID happened, and my position was eliminated. I knew I needed to look for the light in this darkness, and my grandmother had always instilled in me to think positively. I missed the creativity that my job as a designer afforded me, and I also wanted to help provide for my family, so my husband and mom encouraged me to launch my own thing. I realized I had all the tools and experience to go for it, and it was finally the right time to start my own brand.
Why bags? I never imagined that my brand wouldn’t be clothing—that’s where my experience was–but I couldn’t put out a dress line in the middle of the pandemic because no one was going anywhere. And I didn’t want to do activewear or leisurewear because those markets were oversaturated. I knew I needed to do something completely different—I’d never seen a light-up handbag before, and I knew that was it. I educated myself about LED technology, contacted my connections, and found acrylic, battery, LED, and metal suppliers. It was hard work and long hours, but with a few tweaks, it all came together fairly quickly. There are two styles—totes if you need more room and clutches for going out. We appeal to trendsetters, fashionistas, and those looking for the next great thing, and we have found customers love it, even displaying it in their homes. When I’m wearing one of my bags, someone always stops me and asks me about my bag—it’s wearable art and a conversation starter that sparks absolute joy.
You’ve mentioned your grandmother as an inspiration for your business. Can you tell us more? My grandmother gave me this passion for fashion. When I was young, we’d make Barbie outfits together. Later, a stroke in my grandmother’s optic nerve left her completely blind, but she’s never complained a day in her life, and at 93 years old, she’s still so independent and does everything on her own. She’s the most positive, inspiring woman and funny, too. She taught me, by example, how to always see the bright side of everything and to live by the adage that nothing can dim the light that shines within. Her message has always resonated with me—I even wrote my college application essay about her. Years later, when I came up with my business idea during the pandemic—it was this dark time in our world, and it was time to look for the light—it never felt more appropriate. I always wanted to have a brand that would help someone stand out from the crowd, and with these bags, you’re holding a spotlight on yourself. Undoubtedly, my grandmother’s message aligns perfectly with my mission.
What’s your vision for the future of your brand? Kim Cig’s message and mission will always be about helping our customers feel confident while standing out from the pack, whether that incorporates our LED technology or not. After launching my handbag line a year ago, I also designed light-up lip glosses, which are the perfect thing to throw in your bag. But I’m now focusing on expanding the handbag collection with new color-changing technology and patterns. Eventually, I’d like to expand into all product categories.
Kim, with her husband, Andrew DeTerlizzi, and their children, Hudson, 5, and Ashton, 2 1/2.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? It’s great to find unique places where my boys can let their energy out, and Rick’s Warrior, a Ninja warrior sports club in Fairfield, is perfect. They have Ninja and open classes that include obstacle courses, ropes, climbing walls, and more. We also love Exceptional Explorers in Livingston, a place for learning and fun with classes for kids of all ages. There’s a Lego class, many music and art classes, and even open play with jungle gym activities.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. Hands down, it’s the Jersey Shore. My mom and her sister grew up in Lavalette, so we’re fortunate to have a family home there. And seeing the joy it brings my boys when they’re doing the things I did growing up is priceless. We cannot get enough of the mom-and-pop feel of the small town, and love popping into Ben Franklin, this excellent variety store, or picking up some clothing at Shaded Vision or Shaded Kids, which is owned by a warm and wonderful husband and wife team.
What’s your best piece of advice for a mompreneur just starting? Surround yourself with the right people who will be in your corner, root you on, and be there for you emotionally and physically. As a mom, having a team of support outside your business to run with your thing is crucial because it’s physically impossible to do everything yourself, and you need to be comfortable asking for help and accepting it.