Madeline Chadwick works on a bucket bag in her work room at her home in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Madeline Chadwick works on a bucket bag in her work room at her home in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

One custom handbag led to another — and sew on

Madeline Chadwick has gradually built a home business that began with a chance encounter.

This is one of a series of Herald Business Journal stories about the people and companies behind locally made products.

LAKE STEVENS — Madeline Chadwick’s home studio is filled with the earthy, sweet scent of new leather.

But after more than a decade making handbags, Chadwick said she can’t really smell it anymore.

One wall of her airy studio is lined with recently completed projects. Her products range from sleek, minimalist clutches with nature-inspired details to totes with bright floral textiles.

Chadwick describes her merchandise as functional, clean designs for a cool gal — and her clientele range from 18 to 80.

“My bags allow people to be a bit more playful with their style,” she said.

Chadwick got her first sewing machine at 18, when her goal was to get into costume design.

Soon after, her brother asked her to make him a bag. She made one out of upholstery, and made one for herself while she was at it.

Chadwick was wearing the bag in Seattle when someone stopped her to ask where she got it.

“I made it, and I can make you one for $100,” Chadwick replied.

Coming from a long line of entrepreneurs, Chadwick said she’s always known how to make a sale.

Her parents owned a cleaning company, her uncle started a landscaping business and her grandfather, Bernie Webber, established himself as a prominent muralist.

Madeline Chadwick models a Yucatán crossbody bag at her home in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Madeline Chadwick models a Yucatán crossbody bag at her home in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

With many of Webber’s descendants also pursuing art as a livelihood, Chadwick said creative pursuits were always supported as a viable career path in her family.

“I’ve had the example of this being a potential life path since childhood,” she said. “It was encouraged.”

Even with that support, starting her business was far from easy.

“A lot of tears went into the last 10 years of my life,” she said.

For the first six years, Chadwick worked part time for her parents while working toward full-time sewing. That happened in 2013.

Madeline Chadwick in her home studio. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Madeline Chadwick in her home studio. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Chadwick’s deep Everett roots have helped her find success through a direct-to-consumer approach. The majority of her sales are at markets or through Etsy and Instagram. It started with friends and family buying her bags. Then her friends’ friends, and so on.

“I never rag on Everett because it’s given me the ability to have this business,” she said.

After starting with fabric bags, Chadwick taught herself to sew leather. She now sources material from all over the U.S. and gets hand-made textiles in Mexico, which she incorporates into straps and details on leather bags.

For most of her time making handbags, Chadwick worked out of her living room. About a year ago she moved to a place in Lake Stevens with a small, detached studio.

Fabrics which Madeline Chadwick has collected during her travels, at her home in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fabrics which Madeline Chadwick has collected during her travels, at her home in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

With room to grow, she’s thinking of what comes next.

Chadwick said she’d like to see her bags sold in boutiques around the country. She doesn’t have any interest in becoming a big business, though. Her focus is on quality over quantity.

“That’s the number one thing my customers appreciate” she said. “I take a lot of pride in making a super-quality item.”

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