We were so excited when we reached out to Margaret Hennessey about being featured on our page and she said Yes! As we were venturing down the local maker rabbit hole we stumbled upon her gorgeous leather bags and her upscale look book and thought "Wow - now this girl has some serious, high-fashion talent"
It was a snowy day when we stopped her her home and studio in Durham to check out her designs, learn more about her process, and see how it all comes together. Check out her feature below and shop her products at
How Did You Know You Wanted to Start This Business?
I have always been happiest when making things with my hands, and have had an entrepreneurial spirit since I was a kid. A friend and I started a polar fleece hat business in sixth grade, and a year or two later my cousin and I started a handmade chapstick business! I have sketchbooks going back to elementary school that outline handmade business schemes, and my family recently discovered a letter I wrote in sixth grade, from the CEO of M.C. Hennessey & Co. (a.k.a. me) to my customers, describing the myriad craftspeople (all me) who created a variety of products to please their customers. We all had a good laugh when we found it, but it's also so clear in reading it that I've had this bug for a very long time.
Even though I've always been in the business of making things and figuring out how to sell them, I didn't start working in leather and canvas until about two years ago. I was working full time and had a long commute, and I realized that I needed a regular creative outlet in order to feel more like myself. So I started developing simple designs for bags, and pretty quickly I realized I wanted to make it a business. I jumped right in, had some false starts, and about a year ago started working in earnest on building an all-leather handbag brand.
What is the Hardest Thing about Being a Small Business Owner?
So many things are hard, but I think all of them can be summed up by the idea that no one is telling you want to do. Of course, that's also the best thing about being your own boss! Still, motivation is hard. There's no one telling you that you have to start working at a certain time, or how to prioritize the many demands on your limited resources, or what direction to head in long term. It's hard to stay motivated even when I'm not seeing success, and often I spend a lot of time working on something that doesn't pan out the way I'd hoped. But I try to give myself a break and look back at how far I've come as a result of many tiny breakthroughs that came from a whole lot of effort.
Tell us a little bit about your design themes! What draws you to the elements and mediums that you use? What inspires you?
I love working in high-quality leather because it lasts forever and gets more beautiful with time. Since I'm designing investment pieces that people will carry for years, I aim for silhouettes that are classic and refined, while still feeling fresh. I love minimalism in sculpture and painting, and want to design pieces that are just right, with nothing extra. I'm excited to be moving into some new colors for the spring and releasing a new piece, the Mini Crema, which is inspired by the Crema shoulder bag from my fall collection, but pared down to just hold the essentials.
Describe your office space and what your most productive time to work is.
I do a lot of my computer-based work at my dining table, which is a nine-foot long farmhouse table that my brother Tom and I made out of salvaged wood. My dog Mabel and my cat Jeremy are always nearby keeping me company! I tend to do most of the logistical/business/marketing work in the morning before heading out to my workshop a couple hours later. I renovated a large workshop in my backyard a year and a half ago, and that's where all the bag-making happens. I have two industrial sewing machines, a rivet press, and some big work tables for cutting leather and finishing the pieces. Having the workshop has made this whole thing possible, and just having a space like that for projects is my childhood dream come true! I love it.
What is your favorite piece and why?
I was slow to get on the fanny pack train, but now the Cashew is the bag I carry every day. I love its curved lines and the fact that it carries just what you need. From a design perspective, I think I'm most proud of the Crema shoulder bag. The curved zipper is really striking and unusual, but the bag still looks classic. Several people have told me it looks and feels like a vintage Coach bag, which I love to hear of course.
What are some goals you have for your business?
Right now I have one person working with me on making some components of the bags, but I'm still the primary production person. I would like to get to the point where I have a small team so that I'm overseeing the day-to-day production of the bags. That would give me more time to experiment with new designs, do some custom work, and continue developing the business side of things. I have a few more pieces of equipment I'd like to invest in to help with production, but I always want to keep things small so I can monitor quality very closely.
What piece of advice would you give to someone just starting out in their small business?
Keep going, and don't look too far in front of you too often. Growing a business is all about taking a small step every day. You have to keep the big picture in mind of course, but on a practical level, you only need the big picture to help inform the small daily decisions you have to make. It can get overwhelming and discouraging to compare where you are currently to some grand vision of where you want to get. Instead, just do at least one small thing to move you forward every day.
What do you use most for marketing? What is your favorite social media platform?
Instagram is the best place for me to share, because it's so visual and generally positive. I work really hard on keeping my website current and polished, with help from my partner Robert Oliver, who did the photography, and Sarah and Erica at Tandem Collaborative, who have helped me develop my brand and strategize next steps. I have a goal for the spring to continue to build my email list and be more intentional about sending newsletters regularly, because that's how I reach my most dedicated customers. Since I have a product that most would see as an investment piece, marketing for me is really about developing relationships over time. Someone might find me through Facebook or Instagram, engage in conversation with me via comments, visit my website a few times, eventually get on my email list, and then, if the moment is right, they will buy a bag. So, I view Instagram and Facebook as a way to find a larger audience, but that's just the first stage in what's often a fairly long process to an actual sale.
Where can we buy your products?
Right now, my website is the place to go. I am exploring some wholesale opportunities as well, but that's a bit down the road. I did several craft markets around the holidays, and may do more in the future. But right now, I'm focusing on growing my online presence and directing potential customers to my website, which I keep up to date with all the offerings.