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Mandinka Designs owners Liz, left, and Mandy Curl in the workshop area of their home/studio.
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Art on your arm
By Molly Beck

In 1997, Amy Mibb fell in love at first sight - with Mandy Curl's handiwork.

That year, Mibb discovered Curl's knack for sewing, fashioning and patching together fabrics into wearable art was a talent she could not live without.

"Every (Christmas) I get stuff from her," Mibb says about buying Christmas presents annually since meeting Curl. "She's just amazing."

Mandy Curl and her mother, Liz Curl, 70, own Mandinka Designs, a handbag line that transforms men's suit coats into wallets, handbags, totes and satchels. 

To date, Mibb has about 10 handbags, a Christmas stocking, three wrist cuffs and two hats.

"She's one of my best customers," Mandy says from her home studio in Springfield.

And she's building a loyal following all over the world.

With handbags being sold in shops in Oregon, Texas and Paris and to customers across the globe via the Internet, the signature patchwork bags are creating a buzz in specialty magazines and on Etsy.com, where Mandinka is a featured seller.

The handbag line has its roots in Springfield, however, joining the Studio on 6th artist co-op boutique several years ago.

"(Mandy) is one of the top artists, absolutely," says Sue Schwartz, owner of Studio on 6th. "She's got a good following. There are no bags (at the store) like those ... the workmanship is second to none."

Underneath the bright reds, dark grays and silky linings, the handbags are crafted with tougher fabric to match the creativity with durability. 

When Curl started on this endeavor about six years ago, it was her approach to creating pockets on the bags that led her to suit coats.

"I could achieve a clean, tailored look without having to do a lot of the tailoring work myself," Curl wrote in Haute Handbags, a trade magazine, last year. "I phoned my mom, who was out shopping, and asked if she would stop by the local thrift store and pick up a few men's suit coats for me."

The result was a new business model: mom hunts for suit coats and daughter rips them apart and sews the pieces back together. Both help in creating an arrangement for the pieces.

Mandy Curl does custom orders but will not change the shapes of her bags. Some customers ask Curl to create a handbag from the clothes of a loved one or family member who has died.

"I would like to do more of that," Curl says.

Though Curl could sell her bags in New York City for five or six times the price she currently charges, she has little desire to do so.

"I want to maintain my craftsmanship," she says, adding she would like to add two to three more people to her business of two employees. "(Growing) will be difficult ... the traditional business model is to streamline the process, and this isn't easily converted to that."

Curl is an artist, and that mind isn't easily replicated. She says no two bags will ever be the same, precluding the prospect of growing much larger than her home studio in the central west end of Springfield.

Besides, mom and daughter don't always agree on which route to take with a bag.

"Mandy thinks like an artist, and I think more like a middle-aged woman," Liz Curl jokes. "Mandy can see things that go together that I wouldn't have thought to put together, and it always looks so cool."

 


 

Mandinka Designs

 

  • Available at: Studio on 6th in Springfield and on the website www.etsy.com/shop/mandinka
  • Cost: Ranges from $22 for wallets to $280 for satchels. Handbags run around $140. 

 

Designer bio

 

  • Name: Mandy Curl
  • Age: 40
  • Lives in: Springfield
  • Education: 1988 Southeast High School graduate, M.F.A. in fibers from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale

 

 

Story published Friday, July 1, 2011 ( Volume 6, Number 4 )

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