Terry McInerney’s strong, fashionable handbags make a dent in Santa Cruz
There are days in life when fate waits around the corner for you. For Terry McInerney, that is how success manifested in her life. Early last year, McInerney, a married Santa Cruzan with two children, was out shopping with her young daughter. They stepped into a local store and her daughter started chatting up a patron, someone she recognized from swimming lessons. “She told her, ‘My mom makes bags,’” McInerney says of her daughter, who turned out to be quite a marketing genius.
And indeed that’s exactly what McInerney had been doing for the last few years—refining her leather-crafting skills and designing gorgeous utilitarian fashion-forward handbags. Fortunately for McInerney, her daughter had decided to make this announcement to a woman who was on the cusp of opening up what would become a successful downtown clothing and housewares store. The woman was Suna Lock, the owner of Stripe. She invited McInerney to the store before it opened to take a look at her work and Lock quickly ordered several bags for the store. Since then, McInerney’s bags have been selling pretty well at Stripe, and she recently opened up an Etsy store as well (nualaleather.etsy.com). Lock explains that McInerney has become one of their favorite vendors, “no ego, easy, and real,” she says of the designer.
Her line of richly colored leather handbags, clutches, and cuffs is called Nuala. It’s an old, classic Irish name, and an ode to McInerney’s roots—she is originally from Ireland and moved to the United States when she was 21. Her speech still holds elements of her Irish accent when she talks about the leather that she has become a master at transforming into popular, modern, functional bags for women. (Her line will also soon include messenger bags as well.)
She’s always been a creative person, making scarves, crocheting things, etc. A few years ago, she happened upon a store called Leatherwise in Santa Cruz. Intrigued, she considered trying to make a bag out of leather, so someone at Leatherwise gave her instructions and there began McInerney’s self-taught journey into making handbags, which has included even dying the leather herself. “The leather is a byproduct of the food industry; it would be considered waste,” she says about the medium that she works in, which “encourages creativity.”
Her bags are hand cut, hand sewn, and constructed entirely by McInerney, whose living room on the Westside of Santa Cruz looks like an elaborate showroom, with bags hanging from chairs, a plate of cuffs nearby, and an ample display of clutches sitting on a table. Everything is tidy and clean, just like her work. The bags come in various colors, and the bulk of them come in shades of natural brown, with a rectangular shape, and a comfortable strap to sling over the shoulder. Likewise, the clutches can slip easily into one hand, and have a hardware clasp to keep things hidden inside the small carryall. The cuffs have a very bohemian influence—they’re made out of old, used belts.
As for inspiration in creating her bags, McInerney finds her muse in the most unique of places—hardware stores. While some women might roam clothing stores for hours, this designer is more likely to find herself enticed by tools and hardware aisles.
Getting her work out there has been a new and thrilling experience for McInerney. Recently, she had her first public sighting of one of her bags. “I was dropping my kids off at a theater day camp, and saw a woman who had [one of my] bags,” McInerney says of the surprising and serendipitous moment. She better get used to it, because this trés chic lady has it in the bag.
Terry McInerney’s bags, clutches, and cuffs can be seen at Stripe, 107 Walnut Ave., Santa Cruz, 421-9252, stripedesigngroup.com, or nualaleather.etsy.com. Cuffs sell for $14, clutches sell for $65-$80, and handbags sell for $165-$180.