Columbia handbag-maker among artisans who find outlet at Soda City

It can be easy to blend in among the dozens of vendors and hundreds of shoppers at the Soda City Market on Columbia’s Main Street each week.

But what often stands out are one-of-a-kind handmade items, such as the handbag Pam Lattimore carried on her shoulder while browsing the market Saturday with her husband, Alan. The black and white houndstooth bag embellished with a crimson clasp – a Mother’s Day present from her daughter – was a perfect complement to the couple’s Alabama Crimson Tide gameday shirts.

Stopping by to say thanks and have a chat with the bag’s maker, Mary Catherine Kunze, Lattimore couldn’t resist the urge to add another original handbag to her collection of Uniquely MC products.

“This place, this is what Columbia needed,” Alan Lattimore said of the market. “It needed someplace for people to come to a central location and also give people the opportunity, people like MC, that do great stuff, give them a place to market.”

Kunze sells her handmade purses and clutches at Soda City once or twice a month when she’s not working at Fabric 101, a local fabric store where she gets most of her upholstery-grade materials that go into her creations.

Uniquely MC evolved out of what was once just a sewing hobby for Kunze, a Columbia native who studied interior design at Winthrop University before graduating in 2010. She now works on her bags three days a week in her studio at Tapp’s Art Center on Main Street. She can churn out a clutch in about two and a half hours, she said, and full-sized purses in about three.

Sturdy fabrics with vibrant patterns in shades of blue, green, yellow, orange and gray caught the eyes Saturday of market shoppers, including a little girl in a Gamecocks cheerleading outfit who peeked into Kunze’s tent and a group of women from Lugoff who admired her handiwork. Kunze, inviting and sweetly peppy, made conversation about acquaintances they had in common.

“It’s exciting because there’s always new people” at the market, along with familiar, friendly faces, Kunze said. “It’s like a big community.”

Pam Lattimore came away with a mustard yellow and white chevron-patterned purse in a style called “Betty Jean,” named after Kunze’s grandma (who always went by “Jeannie,” Kunze said).

Kunze makes 11 styles of handbags, including the “Kaitlyn” clutch, named for Kunze’s 5-year-old niece, and – her most popular – the “Sherrie” bag with a large, rounded body and a shoulder strap, named for her mother.

No two purses are alike, and Kunze has even customized bags to meet customers’ preferences for, say, a longer strap or a larger body.

Her next creative venture, she said, could be adding zippers to her designs.

“Zippers are, like, my arch-nemesis. They’re very scary, but I’m going to tackle it,” Kunze said with a laugh. “It’s all about taking that next step and (doing) what I once was so scared of.

“What I’m learning is, that comfort zone, it’s always there, but it expands.”