With an ever-growing list of celebrity clients, designer Teri Worthington is keeping up with the high-demand for her luxury handmade handbags with her label MABYL. Teri discusses the story and influence behind the brand, the company’s strong focus on ethically-sourced material, and the concept of one-of-a-kind as the “new luxury.”
Tell us about your background; how was the brand born? In my early years, I was a pediatric nurse. I have four children. Two girls – Brooke and Annie. Brooke, 28, is a jeweler and owns a jewelry boutique in Nashville. Annie, 26, is an account executive for Allison Brod PR in Manhattan. Bradley, 24, is a broker for a commercial real estate firm in Nashville. Kipper, 21, is a senior at the University of the South. I was raised in Louisville, Kentucky and moved to Nashville with my husband, Brad, an anesthesiologist in 1986.
Creatively, I spent a number of years establishing a small interior design business and built and sold a few higher end homes.
“Mabyl was born from a persistent compulsion to create, an acute eye for quality, and an affinity for exotic materials. In 2017, Teri Worthington, launched a modern handbag and accessories line that lends an elevated interpretation to the term “handmade.” Named after her maternal grandmother, her eponymous brand is strong, classic and (sometimes) sassy.
After raising four children, the restless empty-nester dusted off her sewing machine. This hobby, revisited, evolved after a serendipitous trip to visit her daughter and sister in Manhattan. While exploring the garment district she fell in love with exotics. Shortly thereafter, her first collection came to life.
Mabyl is comprised of ethically sourced crocodile, alligator, python, ostrich and stingray. Teri creates her own patterns and carefully manufactures each piece entirely by hand.
Teri maintains that style should be timeless and age should never be an obstacle in fulfilling one’s wildest dreams.
“Life is short. Insecurity is a waste of time.” –Diane Von Furstenberg
Teri resides in Nashville with her husband of 35 years, Brad, and their wolf-dog, “Porter”. She is a Pure Barre fanatic, a lover of interiors and antiques, but derives the greatest joy from a full and vibrant household.” What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve received, and why? The best advice I have received thus far is CLEARLY to get an accountant! I love to create, but I loathe book keeping. I also hired a consultant in New York who keeps my numbers in check and has the industry knowledge for resourcing. Sooooo very important.
How is one-of-a-kind the “new luxury?” I have always been drawn to luxury. However, I prefer what I wear not “scream” a particular brand with obvious logos. I’d much rather someone notice what I wear as “interesting” or “cool” for the design and fabrics/skin rather than a logo making the statement. For example, “hmm, I wonder where she got that handbag?”As opposed to, “oh, it’s a _____.” My timing for creating Mabyl seems to be on trend with the “new luxury” which is fortunate and rather ironic. Not at all planned. All my handbags and accessories are one-of-a-kind as each skin is unique unto itself. I hand-make each one individually, which I believe makes it much more special and luxurious, if you will.
How do you source your materials, and why do you place such importance on this process? I source my skins primarily in Manhattan with one of the highest quality tanners in the world. In addition, I am starting to introduce American Alligator, considered the most luxurious skin, at an incredible tanner just south of Atlanta.
This is one of THE most important elements of my business. It is what is first admired by the eye. I am extremely particular when it comes to color, texture and the overall quality of my material. Also, if it feels good to the touch, it probably is! My current designs don’t offer a lot of hardware. Simply because I prefer the beauty of the leather/skin to speak for itself. However, as I grow, that could change.
Additionally, how do you work to ethically source your materials? The use of exotic skins for handbags has long been controversial, and many will argue that the use of any animal for food or skin is wrong, However, that is all strictly a matter of opinion.
To source ethically, I buy my skins only from reputable tanneries that follow the strict guidelines of CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species). This governing body promotes the conservation and preservation of any of the species regulated. It also protects against illegal exportation and trade. All my skins are documented and tagged to insure this.
All the skins I use in my handbag line are the bi-product of food. While you might not order or serve python or crocodile here in the states, it is rather common in Asia. Tell us about your latest collection; what’s the one piece you’re constantly wearing? I have a penchant for clutches. It is where it all first began. The first bag I attempted when I bought an industrial machine. I have recently designed a simple, elegant and classic fold over gusseted clutch out of both snake skin and caiman crocodile. It has a solid brass chain with grommets on the top to lengthen or shorten making it very versatile. It is what I grab first when I head out for the evening. Fall colors are black, navy, loden (obsessed with) tan and of course red.
Tell us about your design process: Typically, I have a design in mind prior to sourcing my skins. However, most recently I bought an arapaima – a giant fish native to the Amazon. I am obsessed with its texture. it has a great body to it and lends itself to something relaxed. So I am thinking a hobo style. Like most that love to create, sometimes it just happens. Usually in the wee hours of the morning.
Who is the MABYL team comprised of? Currently, it is just myself! I design, source, fabricate and market. However, as I mentioned earlier, my consultant in New York and my accountant here. Now that I have recognized some early success, I plan to add to my “team,” and possibly teach some local seamstresses the art of leather fabrication. Sounding a bit cliche, there are only so many hours in a day and only one of me. I intend to keep my brand handmade, but I would love to approach other boutiques. I can barely keep up with the demands of my website and the boutique I am in, here in Nashville.
How are your daughters involved with MABYL? My twenty-somethings daughters have and continue to play an integral role in my business development. Specifically with technology and social media. Brooke and Annie are major sources of inspiration and encouragement. Brooke has referred to my starting a handbag line as, “The tree doesn’t fall far from the apple.” rather than, “the apple doesn’t fall from the tree.” I prefer, I am just practicing what I preach! Brooke’s website is brookeworthingtonjewelry.com.
Annie guides me through with marketing advice. She is a senior account executive at alisonbrodmc.com. A marketing, public relations, and communications firm in Manhattan. THE LIST Coffee or tea: Black coffee, two big cups. Favorite album to listen to in studio? George Winston. Don’t laugh. Though my son has influenced me and I switch to an occasional bluegrass tune. Particularly “Mandolin Orange.” After all, this is “Music City.” When I’m not working, I’m… Running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to catch up with whatever else life throws at me. Favorite way to end the day? Easiest question of the day. A good glass of rose.