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Shrewsbury's Sandra is so on the button with her bags

By Heather Large | Shrewsbury | Business | Published:

Most women can't resist a handbag, especially one that is both functional and beautiful.

Sandra sewing one of her bags

And Shrewsbury's Sandra Harris understands this more than most as she has turned her sewing hobby into a creative business making one of a kind fabric bags by hand.

"My late mum and grandmother both carried their lives in their handbags – they were always prepared for anything," she says.

For the past four years Sandra's creations have made their way from her Shropshire home to as far away as Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, South Africa and Venezuela.

Her business, named Buttonbury, was born after a sad and difficult time in her life prompted her to try doing something new.

One of Sandra's bags

"After working in both the private and public sectors including running my own PR and marketing business, my priorities changed when my mum became ill," she said.

"After she passed away, I took step back to review my career and an opportunity presented itself to turn a hobby into a business.

"I took sewing lessons just five years ago to learn the basics – a tote bag and a cushion cover.

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"I started experimenting developing my own style of bags. Supportive friends and family started to buy from me.

"When I began receiving orders for bespoke items and repeat orders, this provided me with even greater motivation," explains Sandra.

All of her bags are unique, and customers are able to choose the material and lining and even have them made to complement coats, shoes or wedding outfits.

Sandra with some of her bags

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"They can be quirky, retro or classic. I particularly enjoy working with florals and tartans and love using vintage and new fabrics together.

"I only make two or three bags from the same material and even they vary in design, lining and trimmings, including a button or two somewhere on or in the bag.

"A great deal of time and consideration is given to finding the perfect combination," explains Sandra, who also makes clutch bags, handbag organisers and cosmetic bags.

Buttons play a big part in every design and also inspired the name of the business thanks to a collection her mother, Kathleen, had kept over the years.

"The name Buttonbury evolved from the discovery of my late mum's button box. Some buttons were from my grandmother's collection, which was a secret treasure.

Sandra in her sewing studio

"That was the 'Button' element and the 'Bury' came from my home town Shrewsbury," she says.

Many people have also shared their own memories of button boxes with her, which she says were a source of joy and entertainment as children

But Sandra admits that when she was younger she didn't have much luck with sewing but since then she has been able to hone her skills.

"I was always told at school that I would never be a sewer. My mum and grandmother were really good but I could never grasp it.

"I think what I'm doing now is a nice tribute to my mum and I hope she would be proud of what I'm doing," she adds.

Her buttons are sourced from a variety of different places, including charity shops, and she is always on the look out for unusual pieces.

Friends have also brought them back from overseas for her to incorporate into her designs and her collection, that runs to thousands, includes buttons from Crete and Mauritius.

Some of Sandra's bags

Helping other local businesses is also very important to Sandra, who received support when she was first starting out.

"To get up and running with the business, I enrolled on a government scheme which involved attending workshops, writing a very comprehensive business plan and being assigned a business mentor.

"Being able to wear lots of hats to run a small business is a challenge in itself, so any support was very welcome, including a little funding for the first six months," she explains.

Now Sandra does what she can to support others in the same boat. "I aim to source my materials from local providers, wherever possible, and upcycle suitable fabrics and of course buttons.

"If I need a business service, including the last two websites, I try to keep it within Shropshire. We are all working hard to run small businesses, so it makes sense.

"Although currently I don't sell items online via the website, I do promote all the public events that I attend.

The inside of Sandra's bags are embellished with her trademark button

"Being part of Buy-From Shropshire has provided more avenues for me to expand the business. They champion Shropshire and support the small, independent businesses in the county.

"Another bonus has been meeting a new network of creative, like-minded people who have become friends.

"Minimising waste is very important to me so any off-cuts, spare fabric and items of haberdashery are shared between three local small craft businesses and a creative hub - Loudwater Studio in Ludlow, that supports people with visual impairments and other complex disabilities," says Sandra.

The businesswoman, who has made hundreds of bags during the past four years, says it's always a 'thrill' when a customer visits her to collect their commission.

"When commissions are collected, the 'reveal' is done over a cuppa and a slice of cake. Customers are always excited about seeing their bag for the first time so it's covered up when they arrive and then I do the big reveal later.

Sandra in her studio

"It's so rewarding to have happy customers who like what I do," adds Sandra whose bags can also be bought from The Castle Gallery in Ludlow and the British Iron Work Centre in Oswestry

For Sandra the best moment is seeing the customer's reaction when they see their new bag for the first time.

"I am so appreciative of the loyal customers who have supported me. A number of ladies have several bags in their collection. As a recent 'thank you' card said 'you can never have too many handbags'," she adds.

Sandra's buttons

Sandra will be attending the Winter Fayre at Wolverhampton MS Therapy Centre on November 30 and Shropshire Festive Gift Fair at Alan Ward Furniture in Shrewsbury on December 1 and 2.

She also gives a talk called Buttons, Bags & Business. See buttonburycrafts.co.uk or follow Sandra on Twitter @ButtonburyCraft

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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