Necessity is the mother of invention. Take that truism—and then add creativity, an eye for quality, and an amazing entrepreneurial spirit—and you have the blueprint for Mary Smallwood’s simple, supremely functional, and truly beautiful bag, the Nexus bag.
Mary Smallwood knows a thing or two about creating. One of her favorite quotations is from Elizabeth Gilbert: A creative life is an amplified life. Creativity is Mary’s driving force, central to who she is.
We had a chance to talk with Mary about her company, Mary Smallwood, and how she had the vision—and the guts, the nerve, and the confidence—to take an idea and turn it into a full-fledged, thriving, creative business.
Tell us about your signature product, the Nexus bag.
There was no bag out there that suited my needs, that closed the way I wanted it to, that made it more secure and hands-free. And this design, this bag was exactly what I needed. I wanted a beautiful, comfortable, practical, hands-free bag that I could bring everywhere – to a party or a business meeting, on a walk, to a concert, on a vacation, you name it.
I loved hands-free, so a clutch wasn’t ideal. I liked the look and feel of this more than a cross-body bag, and I vastly preferred this design over a wristlet. The Nexus, for me, was it. So I created it and started carrying it.
How did the Nexus bag come to be?
Every time I wore it, people would ask me where I got it and where they could find one. Everyone loved it. One night, I was at a Halloween party with my husband, wearing my Nexus bag and talking with a friend, who happened to be one of the founders of Groupon, and he and his wife said, “You need to patent this bag.” I didn’t even know you could patent fashion!
Favorite things about the Nexus?
They are amazingly versatile. It looks small, but it’s deceptively roomy.
For my daily errands and running around, I keep my Nexus in my briefcase or tote bag. Then, when I get to the grocery store, I can easily just reach in, grab my Nexus with all my necessities, and shop hands-free. I laugh when I see what I put in my Nexus bag; it’s sort of like my “clown car.” But that’s me. I know others, however, keep the contents in their Nexus bags more streamlined and organized, just the necessities.
I love how young moms attach these to their strollers. And, the bags are stadium-approved, so you can bring these to your next concert or game. Some of my friends have they’ve given their fresh-out-of-college daughters the Nexus. Their daughters say how safe these bags truly are when they wear them to a bar or a club. There’s even an interior zipper pocket for added security.
Also, we travel quite a bit, and these bags lay flat and pack beautifully. But most of all, I love the way they look and feel. The leather is super-soft and supple; it kind of becomes your “glove.” These bags get even more beautiful as they age. Not a bad thing!
What other products do you sell?
We have amazing couture cuffs. I was a jewelry designer before we had kids, and I’ve always wanted to return to this, to design more fine jewelry. As I learned more about the production-side of the business, I discovered that there was also a great deal of cast-off leather that was going to waste. I couldn’t stand throwing away this beautiful, high-quality leather, so the idea for the cuff was born. Each is one-of-a-kind and handmade right here in Naples. I think these cuffs are amazing, and I’m really proud of how they are turning out.
Do you have a guiding principle?
Believe in yourself. Don’t do anything you don’t want to put your heart and soul into.
Have there been any unintended, yet positive outcomes from all of the hard work from starting and running your own business?
I love to see my boys (ages 12 and 14) watch me do this. I think it sets a good example. They have watched their mom build something from scratch, with purpose and passion, to make this happen. Also, they have seen their dad—my husband—completely support me and this business in so many important and different ways. It’s been amazing.
Best advice for entrepreneurs?
Don’t fear failure. Start small, see if it works. Always test and test again. Seek feedback from your friends, value and accept the criticism—and trust in the process.
What’s next for the Nexus?
We're adding beautiful new colors to our collection that I’m so excited about. Rose gold and gold. Also, we have launched a fun Instagram campaign, asking people to tag themselves with their Nexus bags, on all of their different adventures. Share yours at #NexusNomad!
Thank you, Mary. We love what you’ve done – and how you’ve made it happen!