Monday, October 2, 2023

Sarah Jessica Parker Crowns a Cactus Leather Bag the 2023 Bag of the Year

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And Just Like That star Sarah Jessica Parker has crowned a cactus leather design the handbag of the year in the 2023 Etsy Design Awards.

Maria Gabriela Duque, a designer operating on Etsy, has grabbed the craft platform’s top honors as the 2023 Etsy Design Award Grand Prize winner with a cactus leather convertible Emma Bag praised by judge Sarah Jessica Parker.

The Sex and the City style icon said she was fascinated by Duque’s fresh approach. “I tend to move toward vintage, which is why someone like Maria is exciting,” Parker told InStyle. “The design is innovative. It doesn’t look like other things.”

Duque, a former electrical engineer, created a transformative piece capable of functioning as a belt, crossbody, or top-handle bag. It resonated with Parker’s personal affinity for accessories.

cactus leather bag
Maria Gabriela Duque’s Emma Bag. Photo Courtesy Gabriela Herman

The designer said she never expected to win the award. “I had lost hope [in] my shop. Being an immigrant, a single mother, and a small business owner has not been easy,” she said. The Etsy Design Award aims to uplift artisans who shoulder the brunt of both manufacturing and marketing their creations.

“As a business owner, it’s just really hard. It’s really hard every single day and I have a decent amount of infrastructure,” Parker said. “I was so impressed at how many talented people are creating businesses on their own. One of the best parts of this whole experience was discovering unique and talented, innovative people creating businesses that are singular and inspired.”

Parker said the technical parts that make a bag functional are super important. “Anybody that’s moving from engineering to become a self-taught designer [will understand] creating shape, size, and volume,” she explained.

Maria Gabriela Duque's Emma Bag.
Maria Gabriela Duque’s Emma Bag. Photo Courtesy Gabriela Herman

“But to have such a creative part of her artistry be so evident, the two aren’t necessarily compatible. She does every single thing herself, which is a huge undertaking. The way she works, what’s important to her, the tenants of sustainability — it’s compelling.”

Duque used leather made from cactus leaves. The cactus leather market, led by Mexico’s Deserto, has seen applications across a number of categories including car interiors in a partnership with BMW, as well as a number of footwear manufacturers. In 2021, luxury label Karl Lagerfeld launched a cactus leather handbag designed by model and brand ambassador, Amber Valletta.

Dayna Isom Johnson, an Etsy Trend Expert and Parker’s fellow judge for the Etsy Design Awards, also offered high praise. “What I love most about this bag is how versatile it is,” Johnson said.

“From wearing it with the chain as a crossbody for a night out, converting it into a belt bag to dress up your jeans, or even just wearing it on your wrist, this bag has endless options.” Like Parker, Johnson also valued Duque’s commitment to sustainability.

cactus leather bag
Maria Gabriela Duque’s Emma Bag. Photo Courtesy Gabriela Herman

Duque’s fashion journey began with a homemade bag to carry her books during her teenage years. “I didn’t like regular backpacks,” Duque said. “I decided to try making one with the help of my mom, who taught me how to use the sewing machine.”

The Emma Bag was born out of Duque’s desire to create something nonconformist, inspired by an old wooden bracelet of hers. She focused on sustainable materials and visual allusions to nature. After two prototypes and significant effort on the leaf silhouette, the final Emma Bag was ready.

For Parker, it brings a sense of timelessness, “that feeling of a long-term presence, is really important to me,” Parker said.

“Color is a great seducer for me, but I like to see it be used in a really thoughtful way,” Parker said. “Maria’s bag is really clean. She brings in color, but it’s really, really thoughtful. I think that’s really impressive.”

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