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Hearty handbags: Kingwood resident fashions accessory brand to ensure son’s well-being

March 26, 2019

Medle handbags are made for him, for her and for a cause — all of which are near and dear to the company’s CEO and owner Gena Smith.

When the Kingwood resident’s son, Jackson, was six days old, she and her husband Mike found out that he had Down syndrome. This prompted the duo to create a business in July 2018 that could help him in the long-term.

The family created a fashion-accessory brand bearing the name of the Smiths’ daughter — Medley — and with an eye on giving back to the Down Syndrome Association of Houston.

The notion was amplified on Saturday at Life HTX, the venue of the Medle’s first product launch and fashion show. Free the Captives, an anti-trafficking nonprofit, was also mentioned here as another organization that the brand’s proceeds support.

“I used to be a juvenile probation officer,” Gena said, “and (Free the Captives’ founder and executive director) Julie Waters and I started working together years ago.”

Regarding work, overlooking Medle’s operations is Gena’s second job. Her main one is being representative for the wellness company It Works!, which lets her be at, or near to, home and have more face time with Jackson.

“We tossed around different ideas as far as real estate — you know, the normal things that people think of — and my husband went, ‘Let’s look into something that’s fashion-oriented,’” she added.

Medle would always be close by, however. Gena’s personal bag, which she has had for two years now, is one with an electric-green outer body, black inner liner and black handles.

Those three parts are fully customizable, too, a feature Gena thought would reflect the brand’s fun nature and allow the wearer to express themselves. Moreover, there is an emphasis on effortlessness — both the vegan-leather handle and the inner liner are removable, and the EVA polymer outer body is durable and adheres to a wipe-and-go, or soap-and-water, credo.

“These bags are so versatile,” she said, “that you could take the inner liner out of it and use it as a beach bag. You could take it to the ballpark, pack your drinks and put ice in it. It could be used as a diaper bag. There are so many different options.”

At the event, models wearing Trang Tram, VCheri, Danny Nguyen Couture and Alantude — all local design houses — were adorned with bags from the Andrea, Collins and yet-titled collections. Again, the names meant something to Gena, with Andrea a reference to her first-grade friend and first buyer Andrea Kass while Collins is Jackson’s middle name.

The Andrea line is currently available to build and own. The crossbody Collins and the third, a spin on the Andrea, will be so in the future.

“I got a ready-to-wear line so (the bags) really complement my design,” said Tram Nguyen, head designer of Trang Tram Design, at the Saturday event, “And the concept where you can interchange is great!”

Nguyen also approved Medle’s philanthropic feature as she herself has a son with a brain tumor. She said it adds a lot of value to Gena’s creation for Jackson.

“We want to bring joy wherever we are, and Jackson is kind of the one who leads the way,” Gena said. “When he gets a little bit older I can see him being involved because the company is all about him.”

She would also love to have Medley, the company’s namesake, on board, too, since some of her designs managed to wow both her and Mike.

Medle, stylized as med•l?“, has an online store at shopmedle.com. The bags are on display in two spots in Dallas — the Forget Me Not store and the Market Center — and none in Houston, the latter of which Gena hinted as a medley that will soon change.

nguyen.le@chron.com