Interview by Lydia Krupinski   Photos from Mandinka Designs

sir franklim satchelReduce, reuse, recycle…a common mantra that is repeated religiously by eco verts of all varieties. Many of us have found new and unique ways to practice what we preach. Mandy Curl is one such re-inventor. Mandy, along with her mother Liz, run the eco-biz Mandinka Designs, where suits are transformed into satchels, messengers, handbags, and more! Sprout Chicago caught up with Mandy via the internet to learn more about her biz and dedication to sustainability.

Chase handbagsidney handbagQ. Tell us a little about yourself.

A. I’m originally from Chicago, but have lived here in Springfield, IL from the age of 13 until I went to college. I went to SIU in Carbondale and received a BA in Psychology and an MFA in Fiber Arts.  After college, I lived in Massachusetts for a few years and finally ended up back here in 2003.

I have a cute little chartreuse house where I live and work, and definitely prefer that over having a separate studio.  I like working at all hours of the day or night.  Right now, making my handbag line is a full-time gig, but like everyone else, I’m certainly feeling the stress of our economy.  I’m considering branching out and creating another line of lower priced bags- something completely different.

I started my Mandinka Designs handbag collection back in 2005. I was trying to think of some unique design ideas for a line of bags, and at the same time wishing there was a simpler way to construct the multiple pockets that any good handbag should have. Then I had the classic light bulb over the head moment: Suit coats!  We went thrifting for some coats and the collection just evolved from there

Q. What drew you to making handbags?

A. I have a real passion for fashion design, but knew I wasn’t interested in working in the fashion industry. For a while I also did custom home furnishings. But in the back of my mind I always knew I wanted to create a line of products/pieces that expressed my own design style. Handbags are the perfect bridge between functional and decorative art – little canvases you can carry stuff in.

MandyQ. What initially drew you to using reclaimed and repurposed materials?

A. I think it just came naturally from a creative place.  I’m always looking around at different materials and seeing how they can be remade into something totally unique.  Like an old wheelbarrow- punch some holes in the bottom and it’s a planter; A couple of rusty metal washers- string a cord through them and it’s a necklace.  I love materials that feel like they have a history and are rich with age.

Q. Where’s your favorite place to hunt down materials?

A. Thrift stores – Goodwill, Salvation Army.

Q. What does “sustainability” mean to you?

A. When I think about sustainability, I immediately think about how we as humans are ravaging the Earth’s resources in such an inexcusable way.  Not just for our future generations, but for all of the other creatures we share the planet with. To me, sustainability means we need to find a way to live without such excess, to conserve, and learn to truly value the resources we have.  The “just throw it out and buy a new one” mentality needs to be a thing of the past.

mr. mooneyQ. How do your business practices reflect your dedication to sustainablity?

A. Well, of course my actual products reflect my passion for reuse – turning an old item into something completely different.  I also print all of my tags and biz cards on recycled paper.  I get end rolls from our city newspaper and use that to stuff my bags and for shipping.

Q. Where do you find inspiration?

A. I find inspiration Everywhere!  It can be annoying because my brain might explode from overload.  Anything from architecture, a snowy morning, a movie, a tree.  But I’d have to say, being a fiber artist, fabrics of course inspire me the most.

Q. Are you part of any area groups, organizations, and/or crafting communities?

A. Well, there’s EcoEtsy, and my local Freecycle group, and there’s a group of crafty/artsy ladies I meet with about once a month for gossiping and sharing of ideas.  I also sell my bags in an artist’s co-op downtown.

Q. If you could change one thing about your town, what would it be?

A. Our recycling program could definitely use some improvement.  We need dedicated cardboard dumpsters for the downtown businesses and curbside cardboard pickup.  Oh! – a Whole Foods would be awesome.

Q. What advice would you offer for others looking to live a greener lifestyle? and just some random ones-

A. At the very least, I think everybody should recycle.  There’s no reason for paper, glass, etc. to be in the landfills.  It’s so easy.

Q. What is your favorite recipe?

A. Now that it’s warmer, probably romaine and artichoke heart salad with Newman’s dressing.  I pretty much live on salad and fruit smoothies all Summer.  To be honest, I’m not much of a cook, so the easier the better.

Q. If you could be any vegetable, what would you be and why?

A. Hmmm-I don’t know…a potato I guess.  Because you can do so many things with them and I’m trying to be more versatile lately.

To learn more about Mandy and Mandinka Designs visit their Etsy store at!