The Beautiful Bags Lady

The Beautiful Bags Lady

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See how a local woman started a new career as a seamstress and shop owner after 35 years playing for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Carolyn Mason has always made a living with her hands. For 35 years, Those hands played viola for the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra. Today, they sew bags and other handcrafted items for her OTR-based shop, The Beautiful Bags Lady. 

”[I make] 100 percent cotton shopping bags, wine bags, aprons, bio-totes, children’s aprons and walker bags,” she explains.

Sewing is something she took up in retirement and it quickly turned into something more. “My actual career was a classical musician with a degree from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music as a Viola Performance Major,” she explains. “I had a successful career playing principal viola with the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra for over 35 years; performing with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pops and Opera; performing with the Broadway show series at Music Hall, Taft, Aronoff Music Centers; Managing and playing with the Cincinnati String Quartet for over 30 years; Music Librarian, with Cincinnati Ballet;  Music Librarian with thr Suzanne Farrell Ballet at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC for 14 years.”

For Mason, selling her bags started nine years ago. “I started selling my bags at craft shows in 2011 and sold at Findlay Market on the weekend, starting 2012 thru July 2017,” she says. “Moved into my own shop August 2017. I also do some creating at the shop while I sell.”

The inspiration behind starting the business dates all the way back to 2006. “This career as a seamstress is my retirement and doing something to help the environment,” she explains. “I started making the bags in 2006 for my family as shopping bags to replace plastic bags. This is totally an environmental endeavor as I feel that people are more likely to use a cloth bag that they like or that shows their personality. Plastic, reused plastic, polyester, nylon bags will all end up in the landfill eventually. 100 percent cotton is environmentally responsible and is totally biodegrade.” 

There are a variety of different bags that she sells in her shop and the include: 

▪ 100 Percent Cotton Shopping Bags: These bags are “designed to hold up to 45 lbs., reversible, easily carried over the shoulder and will hook onto grocery store bag stands to local groceries,” she says. “Many fabrics to choose from are: Charley Harper Designs, Flying Pug, Fiona, Doctor Who, floral, military, Harry Potter, etc. “Theway to wash these bags are machine wash and tumble dry.
▪ Wine Bags: “Same as the cotton shopping bags, but have six pockets sewn into the sides of the bag to carry up to six wine bottles. When pockets are not used, they can be shoved to the sides of the bag and used as the regular tote,” Mason says. “Many wine-themed fabrics to choose from. Any other fabric can be used to make a wine bag for an additional fee.” These bags are cleaned by machine wash and tumble dry. 
▪ Bio-Tote: “Shopping bag that has a pocket in the front. Folds up and has a button closure to fit within a purse, pocket, briefcase, etc,” she says. These bags are also 100 percent biodegradable: cotton fabric, wood button and cotton thread.
▪ 100 percent Cotton Adult and Children’s Aprons: The different fabrics featured are: Charley Harper prints, FlyingPig, Fiona, Doctor Who, dogs, cats and whatever strikes my fancy while shopping for fabrics. 
▪ Walker Bags: Made to order. “You pick the fabric,” Mason says. 

The Beautiful Bags Lady is so important for the community of Over-The-Rhine, as well as the Cincinnati area. “I am serving both the long-time residents of OTR and the new residents in the area of Downtown Cincinnati,” Mason says. 

Her favorite part of the job is going out and buying fabrics. “Sometimes it is just for simple requests from customers. Other times I have to do extensive research online to find the perfect fabric for a customer or business,” Mason says. “This is not so different as doing music research online that I had to do for Suzanne in my years of working on all her music.”

The Beautiful Bags Lady defines success through seeing customers get use out of their bags. She wants to see “repeated customers and customers carrying bags into my shop that I sold six or seven years ago tell me I’m doing something right,” she says. “When men buy the bags for themselves and actually carry them for groceries is a huge ego boost for me. Some men don’t even come into the shop because they seem to think fabric bags are not manly.”

Mason’s vision for the store involves her family. “The vision for my business is to use all the fabric that I’ve accumulated over the years and let my daughters start to sell in their free time,” she says. 

The Beautiful Bag Lady is located at 124 West Elder Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202, across from Findlay Market.  To learn more, visit her website or follow along on Facebook.

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