Marge and Rudy is putting a spin on handmade handbags.
After working alongside her husband in their own custom furniture design and manufacturing company, Marge and Rudy’s owner, Rachel Dortch, became keenly aware of how much waste the fabric scraps from furniture pieces accumulated. Because she hated the idea of sending these beautiful, yet unconventional, scraps to the local landfill, Dortch developed the idea to repurpose the scraps in a new and beautiful way: by making them into custom design handbags.
Thus, Marge and Rudy—named after Rachel’s fashion-forward parents—was born, and, like always, we’ve got the exclusive behind how these bags are made and how to get your hands on one.
How did you learn to design handbags?
Since I was in charge of most fabric selections for our business, I developed a network of resources as well as my own aesthetic. I had taken several sewing classes when my children were little, and used the same sewing principles to make my first handbag. My background in interior design has nurtured my sense of design, and, since then, I have taught myself how to use different leather craft tools and assembly techniques.
What does the handbag-making process entail?
The source of inspiration for the design is always different. Sometimes, I sketch handbag designs for utilitarian purposes; other times, the design comes from pure aesthetics, and I form a design idea from seeing a particular piece of leather. The next step is just getting down to math and pattern-making, then cutting, sewing, assembling, and adding hardware.
Where do you acquire the materials you use?
After closing our furniture business, I sought out local remnant suppliers. Now, I have several vendors that I use for whole leather hides, remnants and scraps, hardware, or liner fabrics. I try to minimize my carbon footprint, so all of my leather suppliers are located in North Carolina.
Do you craft all of your pieces out of your home yourself, or do you work with a team from a studio?
I started in my home, sewing in a tiny sun room, cutting out bags on the ping pong table in my kids’ playroom, making all of my handbags myself from start to finish. I now have a beautiful light-filled studio with ample space for cutting, sewing, applying hardware and storage. I still work alone, but—when his schedule allows—I coerce my husband to work with me in the studio. He is crazy talented at cutting and pattern making, and it is always nice to have company in the studio.
Your handbags have a rustic, Southern flair to them. What influences this style?
I have lived in the South all of my life – I grew up in Nashville, and have lived in Charlotte for the past 26 years. I feel most at home in jeans, a t-shirt, and a well worn pair of Frye boots, and I’m sure my roots influence my style. My bags have a laid back southern/indie feel to them, which is reminiscent of Nashville’s vibe. My design reflects that lifestyle, and I choose leathers that embody that feel as well: natural, strong but supple, and with the natural markings that show the unique character and beauty of the leather.
What is the vision you have for Marge and Rudy in the future?
My immediate goal is to expand my line and continue to reach those customers interested in handmade items that are well crafted and design oriented, but I don’t want to carry the same bag as everyone else, and feel it would water down the artistry and appreciation of a hand-crafted bag if I tried to mass-produce my designs. I believe handmade items are special, and by their nature are coveted for their uniqueness and limited quantity.