Mary Smallwood considers herself a solution-oriented artist. Smallwood and her husband, Joe, CEO of Naples-based construction company BCB Homes, often entertain and attend area events. But despite her best efforts, she couldn’t find a handbag that was practical and sophisticated enough to wear at a cocktail party. She wanted one that was hands-free, so “you can eat and drink with it, but it doesn’t hit you in the face,” she laughs. So, five years ago, she created a reimagined bracelet prototype and wore it to a Halloween party. A friend looked at the bag – in the shape of Hershey’s Kiss – and immediately said, “You have to patent that.”
By designing a solution to a problem and creating a brand around it, Smallwood launched her signature Nexus handbag and an eponymous collection, including handbags and name necklaces. “Innovative materials and techniques are essential in building custom homes, and these principles are equally prevalent in my accessory collection,” says Smallwood.
Prior to the birth of her two now-teenage boys, Smallwood was part of the design duo behind Smart Divas (a line of pearl jewelry sold at Marissa Collections). When the boys arrived, she stopped stringing beads on her kitchen table but let her creativity run free with painting and photography. At their Estuary home in Gray Oaks, the kitchen office, where her children once did their homework, now houses Smallwood’s embroidery machine. Next to the office, the converted family garage serves as a shop and storage for beads and bags.
About two years ago, Smallwood started moving towards vegan materials, which she says is more of a transition than a dead stop since the original Nexus is still available in lambskin. Her latest collection is made with eco-friendly Italian materials (which are made of recycled polyester from plastic bottles and GMO-free corn crops) that are biodegradable and PETA-
approved. Faux python lines the handle of the Numinous hands-free clutch and bags like the Everglades-inspired Marjory Derive two-handle tote (named after the conservationist
Marjory Stoneman Douglas) feature film embossed synthetic crocodile.
Naples plays a starring role in Smallwood’s accessories since the name of the city is inscribed on its organic cotton canvas bags and its recycled silver and gold name tag necklaces. Colors like cerulean Pier Blue recall the emblem of Naples, while camel-colored Wet Sand draws inspiration from the shade of the shore when the tide rises. “I don’t think I would enjoy Naples the way I do now if I hadn’t moved somewhere else,” says the designer, who grew up in Old Naples and spent time in Palm Beach working in the industry. spa and designing home gyms for clients.
As Smallwood designs her accessory collections, she will jot down ideas on a reMarkable pad of paper and divide the themes into different tabs. She’ll upload images, like that of a piece of coral lying on a shelf in her home, or a video of the shimmering sea on her mood board, a feed of photos and videos she shares via WhatsApp with her makers. in India. “I draw, they draw, then I get a 3D design back,” she explains. “My job is to try to give them an idea of what the water looks like here or how a starfish moves.”
The embroidery is also made by fair trade makers in Mumbai, where financial support helps with the education of artisans’ children. Manufacturing can take up to a year by the time materials are purchased, prototypes are tested, and the final product is ready. Smallwood is currently working with a Global Recycled Standard certified silk-like material, partially made from reused plastic, for the Nexus 2.0. The first sample had too much support – it was stiff and didn’t flow properly. Now she plans to launch the second sample at The Shelter for Abused Women & Children’s Bags & Bow Ties event this month. She plans to do a little production is being run in the US for efficiency, so the Silk Nexus may be on the market in early summer.
Around this time, Smallwood also plans to launch its new coastal jewelry collection and homeware line of jewelry trays and boxes, which uses recycled materials from the jewelry industry, including gold. , silver and semi-precious stones. These designs incorporate abstract and artistic interpretations of objects found in nature, such as a seashell or starfish, or landmarks, including the Naples pier, which has been reimagined in an art nouveau style for the cover. rounded off with a jewelry box. “It’s a place where my family always went at sunset, so I took part of the pier and created a linear, more modern design,” says Smallwood.
When the designer notices a gap in the market, whether it’s hands-free handbags or stylish tennis bags (next on her list), she’s determined to design a fashionable and functional solution. Its shift towards sustainability began during the pandemic, as Smallwood began to seek out recycled and vegan materials that lived up to the level of luxury and style synonymous with its brand. “I love working with new materials all the time,” she says, adding that she’s investigating other vegan materials for handbags, such as leather-like pineapple scraps.
After a year of research for the vegan line, Smallwood reconsidered everything from packaging to manufacturing. She now works with reusable polypropylene shipping boxes (which can be reused around 20 times before being recycled) from Boox. “The transition to sustainability takes time,” she says. “I would like to be 100% sustainable one day, but more than anything I want to be transparent, that’s what’s important to me.”