My Shanghai is an Urban Family series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us about their life.
For Sam Cliff, what started as a holiday to Shanghai turned into a decision to set up life in this thriving city. She met her husband, launched a business and, after 10 years, is well and truly established in this place she calls home. Her sister Laila also lives here, and together they manage their handbag brand Mary + Marie. These two empowering women strive to be ethical in their production processes, environmental in their fabric choices and stylish in their designs. The perfect combination for a bag we can all feel good about buying.
How did you come to live in Shanghai and what is your background?
Like most of the adventurous souls who have ended up here, I initially came for a short trip. I was helping my sister Laila settle into Shanghai with her family, and it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the city and I decided to stay. I found a job the following week with the Australian Chamber of Commerce Shanghai. Then, I meet my now husband, Steve, at a networking event and two children and 10 years later we are still here. I moved here from Sydney, Australia, where I worked for 15 years in travel and tourism with different tour operator companies and airlines.
Your Mary + Marie handbags are Australian designed, produced in China and sold worldwide. Can you tell me when the business started and the inspiration behind it?
It started over 10 years ago, when my sister had her children. We were looking for ‘mom’ bags in Sydney and not impressed with the styles or materials used, and shocked at how unfashionable they made us ‘youngish, cool moms’ feel. This thought led to the idea about bags that are functional on the inside, stylish on the outside and can go from mom bag to work, gym or everyday life bag afterward.
Where does the name Mary + Marie come from?
It's a combination of our grandmothers names, plus it's simple and sweet.
How would you describe your designs and what range do you have available?
Mary + Marie bags are designed with simplicity, functionality and style in mind. As busy women, we have one goal: to simplify life and make things that little bit easier. Classic shapes and styles that are ultimately functional keep day-to-day life in check, regardless of the agenda. Our range includes totes, handbags, cross body bags, gym bags, backpacks, clutches and wallets. Some of our styles allow you to go from backpack to shoulder bag on a whim.
What makes your bags different from others on the market?
As our tagline suggest - "It’s what’s on the inside that counts." Most of our bags contain a removable and washable zip-out organizer that keeps all your items in place. Our signature Mary + Marie removable organizer includes a key clip to ensure no more hunting to the bottom of your bag for your keys. It also has a neoprene (wetsuit material) water bottle holder to keep your water cold or your baby bottle warm, plus a clear plastic section allows you to see all your essentials easily. We then included handy see-through mesh pockets, for quick access to your small items and an elasticized wallet hook, to keep your valuables secure and easy to reach.
A few of our latest additions are fabric totes and clutches that are handmade from natural crochet cotton, and sourced from India. We also have our new gym bags, which are made from neoprene so that they are waterproof/odor proof and can be wet and washed.
All our bags are lovingly made from fabrics sourced from around the world. Mary + Marie puts a unique touch on every piece. From carefully designed details to timeless color, we ask our customers what they like and work with these ideas in mind. We understand just how personal a bag can be.
Your products are made from recycled materials, can you tell me about sourcing the materials and what goes into this process of producing eco-friendly products?
Sourcing fabrics is my favorite part of the process. It’s where I contribute the most, Laila is the brains behind the designs and production. When we started, we wanted fabrics that were unique and set us apart from other companies. We hunted high and low for the ultimate water-resistant recycled materials for our beach bag range, eventually identifying just one supplier in Taiwan that was able to fulfill our exact requirements. Made by a select team of 10 trusted employees, our bags are crafted from 70 percent recycled plastic bags to create the beautiful, durable woven fabric for many of our totes.
You are also involved in the Girls Scouts; can you tell me about that, along with the opportunities available for the Shanghai community to join?
I am a volunteer overseas Girl Scout Daisy troop leader, together with my good friend Cate. We heard from friends, who already had their daughters involved, what wonderful activities they learn from their experiences and we wanted our girls to participate. Since there was a lack of volunteer troop leaders, Cate and I put our hands up to begin a downtown troop for the first year Daisy troop.
We received incredible support from fellow Girl Scout leaders here in Shanghai (it is the largest group of Girl Scouts outside of the US). We go on two camping trips a year, and our girls love the experience and sisterhood. There are a few downtown Girl Scout troops operating, and it’s also running through many international schools here. You can check out more details online via the offical Girl Scout website.
What activities do you and your family enjoy doing in Shanghai?
Wednesday night is date night for my husband and me, and we like to find new venues to check out each week. We love The Bull & Claw on a Wednesday night for the free-flow bubbles, delicious lobster rolls and live music. On the weekends, we spend a lot of time with the kids at Found 158. We enjoy Hooked for the yummy Sydney-style fish and chips, and Little Creatures for the finger-licking chicken wings and crazy shakes. The kids take their bikes and scooters to ride up and down the center, and we don’t have to worry about cars and motorbikes.
What is something else you would like our Urban Family community to know about you and your Mary and Marie bags?
As a working woman, mother of a strong-minded daughter and a Girl Scout leader I am very lady power focused. In saying that, Mary + Marie is committed to fair working practices, and our female-led factory team, many of who are mothers, are paid over the required local wage limits. We pledge that all of our bags will remain free from child labor, and we ensure that everyone working in our production team is guaranteed three meals a day. These small, but significant measures, add up to a fairer, more ethical way of doing business – This is what we call ‘ladylove,’ and what could be more powerful and important than that?
Where can the Urban Family community check out your products?
You can view and purchase all our bags online, and we have free worldwide shipping for orders over AUD100. You can also contact me directly via my WeChat account ‘samicliff’ for more details.
[All images via Sam Cliff/Mary + Marie]
For more My Shanghai series, click here.