Fashion Feature: Catherine McCavanagh of Cushette

May 10, 2021 by Gabrielle Martin

Hingham’s Catherine McCavanagh released her handbag line Cushette in March of 2021, a collection created from the founder’s need for a generous-sized, multi-purpose handbag that was both chic and unique; when McCavanagh found this difficult to find, she was inspired to design her own. She sought to craft a bag with a simple, timeless silhouette and a fabulous, fashion-forward material accessorized with a one-of-a-kind D-shaped handle—and thus, the Duchess was born.

Creative Process: McCavanagh was initially inspired by a bag she saw in a coffee table book. “I drew up my version of it, found a fabric that I fell in love with, and ordered a few yards of it. I wanted the lining to be as special as the outside fabric, and I knew I wanted it to be a lighter color so that the owner can see inside and not feel like they are looking in a black hole.”

McCavanagh also wanted her bag to feel luxurious; for this reason, she selected a dusty pink color of faux suede “which feels like heaven when you reach in.”

Fun Fact: “Duchess” was the nickname McCavanagh’s father gave her as a child, while the name “Cushette” is a play on words, alluding to the fact that the bag is cushy and soft. “In my head, it was a made-up name, but come to find out, it’s the name of a cut of a diamond,” McCavanagh says. “Either way, I think it works!”

Lesson Learned: After ruining countless leather handbags with water damage, McCavanagh knew she wanted an alternative material when designing the Duchess. “The exterior material used on the Duchess is a workhorse,” she says. “It doesn't show water stains like a leather bag would, and the print hides most everything, plus every bag is treated with a stain and liquid-resistant treatment.”

Local Roots: McCavanagh was born and raised in Canton, Massachusetts and attended high school at Notre Dame Academy here in Hingham. She describes her schooling at NDA as “a wonderful experience,” saying “my NDA friends are still some of my closest friends.”

McCavanagh currently resides in the 02043 with her husband and their three children. “We moved here 8 years ago from the city,” the designer shares. "I love the fact that Hingham that it had so much going on—from the quaint downtown to the shoreline, to the Derby Shoppes and fabulous restaurants, there's always something to do.”

Passion Project: Cushette is McCavanagh’s most recent passion project, though fashion is her life-long love: “Ever since I can remember, I wanted to work in the fashion world. After moving to Hingham [8 years ago], I finally had the courage to pursue a career in fashion.”

Her interest in handbags developed from her “desire to make something tangible that [she] could offer the world.”

Success Story: “When you design something and put it out into the world, you really, truly don't know what the response it going to be.” McCavanagh admits. “The day I officially announced my launch, I was so nervous! My greatest fear was that it was going to be “crickets”—nobody responding to my creation—but it was quite the opposite: I sold out of one color (the blue and white) within the week, and will most likely sell out of the other colors by the end of May!”

Versatile Vibe: “I love to have the option of holding a bag,” McCavanagh shares on Cushette’s website. “I designed the handle I wanted, and after numerous iterations, I landed on the one that I loved and had it manufactured. In my eyes, the handle was the most important aspect to nail down as I think it is the most special design element of the bag.

“That being said, I do recognize that customers… want the option to be hands-free, so the Duchess also comes with a detachable strap.”

What’s Inside Catherine’s Cushette: The items McCavanagh says she always keeps on-hand in her Duchess bag are “lately, a mask—or, actually, four masks for various family members—a water bottle, [her] MacBook, [her] phone (which conveniently fits in the interior smartphone pocket!), snacks for the kids, and whatever purchases [she’s] made throughout the day.”

“I like it to the Mary Poppins bag,” she admits. “It holds everything!”

Where Fashion Meets Function: “The Duchess is fabulous on the outside, and just as fabulous on the inside,” McCavanagh writes on her website.

During our interview, she identifies one of her favorite features: “One fun property of the Duchess is that inside of the interior zipper is a piece of Pyrite, a mineral that attracts abundance and good luck; it’s often recommended to carry a piece in your handbag or wallet!”

“Another detail I love is that the cross-body strap is a slight bit shorter than other cross-body straps you may have had in the past,” the designer describes. “I find it looks more modern rather than having a bag that hangs very low and, in my opinion, looks droopy and dated.”

Wondering What’s Next? Looking ahead, McCavanagh plans to continue expanding her site’s inventory; in addition to the Duchess, she’s also currently selling beautiful Heishi bracelets and Cushette brand tee shirts.

“As far as other products, I have another bag design up my sleeve that will be ready by the summer,” she teases, adding, “But my dream would be to design some items of clothing! That being said, I need to stay focused and not spread myself too thin: I never want to do a million things just okay, I would prefer to be known for doing only a few things really well.”

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