Q&A with Mary Beth Greene

A local entrepreneur makes a name for herself nationally with her pretty and practical carry-alls.

Greene in her Fairhope stockroom. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Fairhope businesswoman Mary Beth Greene is killing it. Her simple, functional, stylish bags are sold throughout North America, have been highlighted in InStyle Magazine and on “Good Morning America,” and featured in Neiman Marcus catalogs. Here, Greene talks business, creativity and the warm respite she finds in her family.

Mary Beth Greene / Photo by Chelsea Francis

Describe your bags. Why are they so popular?
I was a retail sales rep for 10 years and heard again and again from my customers that they wanted a fashionable, high-quality bag at a certain price point. That’s what I set out to create. Our waxed canvas fabric is super durable and easy to clean. The lining is a high-quality vinyl that won’t tear if monogrammed and can be wiped out easily. I’m a boy mom — I’ve always been practical, and I love being organized. It’s fun to come to the design table and create bags I know will work.

It’s hard to maintain a work-life balance, especially as a working mom. How do you face that challenge?
My family is my escape and who I go to when my busy life needs a break. Sometimes, I just need to admit there is no balance. If we’re in the thick of product development, at market or creating a new catalog, it’s busy. I tell myself the balance is coming. When I’m done and burned out and frustrated, my family is my medicine. I step away, and we go to the beach.

What’s an unexpected thrill of your job?
It’s so exciting to see an 18-wheeler pull up to our office/warehouse on S. Section Street with a new container of our products, shipped from the other side of the world. These products began as an idea in my head. To think of how many different peoples’ hands and efforts went into creating them is mind-boggling.

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Your sister Mandy Bagwell unexpectedly passed away the same day you received important buy-in from a sales rep group in Atlanta — a turning point for your company. The M. Bagwell Foundation was established by your family in her honor, and a portion of the profits from your company go there. How does the Foundation reflect the sister you knew and loved?

MB Greene’s canvas bags come in an array of colors and sizes, including this small zip pouch. Photo by Elizabeth Gelineau

Mandy was giving of her time and talents. She was also hilarious, kind, driven and creative. The M. Bagwell Foundation awards a scholarship each year to a graduating senior from Morgan Academy, our alma mater in Selma. We try to choose a recipient Mandy would have chosen. July marked the fifth anniversary of her passing. This foundation helped us channel our grief and honor her memory. We’re not looking for the kid who got a 36 on their ACT, but for that person who is well respected, a good person who wants to do more good.

How do you mesh the creative and artistic side of your business with the necessary, nitty-gritty details?
The hardest part of owning a business is keeping a handle on it all the time. As this business has grown, I’ve had to grow with it. The creative and sales sides of the business are more my strong suit. Numbers are not as much fun, so they end up at the bottom of my list. The best advice I received was to hire people to do what I can’t do or don’t want to do. My accountant helps with this, and she keeps me on track.

What are you most excited about now?
Just this week, we received three new samples we can’t wait to introduce. One is our pebble grain laptop tote. Staples contacted us last January to create a tote exclusively for their stores, but our deadline was March 1. Talk about a time crunch. I wanted to incorporate maps into the design of the bag’s lining. Since we were so short on time, I asked my son, a senior at Bayside, who the best artist at his school was. He said, “Lucy Barns, no doubt.” Within three days, she had produced gorgeous, watercolor maps of Europe, Asia and Mobile Bay. Staples ended up passing on the tote, but we are excited to add it to our current collections this fall.

You can find Greene’s bags at mbgreene.com or at retailers including Beckham’s Florist, Brown Eyed Girl, Living Well and The Fairhope Store.

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