By Verna Gates | Photography courtesy of MB Greene
With a goal to make simple, attractive bags that are also functional, Mary Beth Greene created a company that has become a national sensation.
As a manufacturer’s rep, Mary Beth Greene traveled. A lot. A born organizer, Greene found handbags available to a busy career woman, wife and mother fell short of being functional.
At the same time, her customers would look over her company’s merchandise and ask, “Do you have a bag line?” The answer was “no,” but not for long. Filling the void that kept presenting itself in life and work intrigued Greene’s entrepreneurial sprit and challenged her keep-things-in-order mindset.
For two years, Greene put the kids to bed and sat down at her Fairhope, Alabama, kitchen table with paper, scissors and tape. In July 2014, she proudly introduced a prototype to the Atlanta market. She returned home triumphant with big news, and unfortunately met with sad news. Her sister, Amanda (Mandy), a successful artist who first introduced Greene to the wonders of the Atlanta market, died tragically the same day. The pause button was pushed.
While rattled by the loss of her biggest fan, Greene soon pushed forward by ordering 17,000 bags, filling a garage and storage units. The gamble paid off. Her January 2015 launch was so successful: Neiman Marcus came calling by March. Her company earned a profit in its first year.
“I have always been a bag person – attracted to cute bags. I never saw it coming that I would be a bag designer with a warehouse full of bags until I was in the middle of it,” says Greene.
Today, more than 700 U.S. retailers carry MB Greene bags. They are attracted by the solid colors, good construction and lower price point than most upscale bags. Functional describes her practical design, such as the jumbo tote that stands by itself – only one pair of hands needed – with a vinyl bottom compartment for sandy/muddy shoes, wet bathing suits or towels, or the icky remains of a picnic.
The waxed canvas bags, lined with easy-to-clean vinyl, are designed to go from office, to beach, to airplane, to ball field. Her biggest selling item is a tall tote, perfect for shampoo, sunscreen, knitting needles or baby bottles. A close second is the jewelry bag. As a lover of chunky jewelry, Greene designed a clutch that holds post and loop earrings, keeps necklaces from getting tangled and still leaves room for statement jewelry. The plush velvet lining is designed to protect precious metals and gems. With an ever-important zipper, the bag tucks safely into luggage, totes or hotel safes without spillage.
While the ladies carry colorful turquoise and orange bags, the men can select Dopp kits for toiletries from a toned-down Oyster Collection. Here a tote morphs into a beige duffel and a jewelry bag converts into a valuables carrier.
To accommodate flying regulations, the Be Clear Collection evolved for airports, and in some cases, schools, and ball games where clear bags are a must. This collection includes a tote, chain purse (with privacy pouch available), a wristlet and, popular with tweens, a phone purse. This collection scored her an appearance on Good Morning America on the anniversary of 9-11.
The bags that would prove so handy to college kids also provided scholarships for seniors in Greene’s hometown. One of her newest items was created to honor her sister. An artist, Mandy often saved paint by letting it drip on paint cans. Greene took a picture of one of the cans, with multiple colors flowing down the side. The colors perfectly matched her design palette, and a new tote was created. However, this popular bag that has sold out twice since its introduction on Mandy’s birthday. Greene donates all proceeds to the M. Bagwell Foundation. So far, Mandy’s children have awarded scholarships to three graduates of the Morgan Academy in Selma, Alabama, their alma mater.
“It is more than just a cute bag. It is my story. My sister is still such a part of my daily life that makes it personal. I wouldn’t have this platform and all it means to me without her,” says Greene.
Her first designs have stood the test – now Greene is adding more colors, sizes and styles. She constantly reinvests in the company. Her gift of organization and insight into markets paid off.
“I never felt afraid. Although at times, my husband must have thought I was crazy. It has been an amazing journey,” says Greene.
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