“Noha Nadler strives to design beautiful, thoughtful, fashion-forward pieces for women who pride themselves on distinction. For women who have their own story to tell.”
Although Noha Nadler was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, her Egyptian heritage runs deep. Nadler’s parents moved to the area from Egypt before she was born, when her father, Ismail F. Moustapha, accepted a position as an anesthesiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Throughout her childhood, Nadler’s family maintained the traditions and lessons of their native country, instilling in Nadler a deep love for Egyptian culture and history. Nadler completed nursing school at UAB and began working in the university hospital’s Cardiac Intensive Care unit, where she remained for 14 years.
“I loved my job. It was mentally challenging, intense, fast-paced, all of which compliments my personality,” she says. Once she began having children, she moved away from the bedside care of patients to work as a nurse educator. “I had the privilege of training new employees, revising standards of care, and foremost advocating for my fellow colleagues. Though the role was a nice change, I decided I wanted out of that role.” Nadler returned to the work she loved serving patients in the hospital’s ICUs. But her world turned upside down when her father got sick unexpectedly and was admitted to the MICU at UAB. He passed away just six weeks later.
“I just couldn’t go back to work there,” Nadler says. “I lost the drive and compassion toward my patients. I think it’s because I was so heartbroken. I needed a change.”
After her father’s death, Nadler spent time in Egypt, where many of her extended family members remain. “We spend a lot of time at the beach, at the Red Sea. It’s so beautiful there and the beach just calms me. Something kept telling me, ‘It’s time for you to make a change. Just do it.’ That’s just kind of how it happened.”
Nadler’s cousin, a prominent jewelry designer in Egypt, took her to an outdoor market. “I started buying fabrics and small skins of leathers. It all sat in my suitcase for about a year. Until I decided I wanted to venture a home accessories business.”
Nadler began making table cloths, runners and pillow covers that she sold to local stores in Birmingham. “The textiles were made from brightly colored hand-dyed fabrics that Egyptians use for special celebrations. But, because the fabrics are hand-made and hand-dyed, the quality wasn’t that great or at least not up to the American standards.”
Nadler found herself with troves of leftover fabric. She made a simple envelope clutch with the fabric and the leather she had on hand. “I went to a function wearing a very simple black dress with this beautiful, brightly colored purse,” she says. “People kept asking where I got it and they started asking me to make one for them.”
Nadler sourced a manufacturer in Egypt to produce the purses. “I chose to continue working in Egypt to help provide an economic boost to a weak Egyptian economy. I wanted to give back to the Egyptian people. They are very kind and hospitable people. They work really hard and take pride in their culture and craftmanship.”
Nadler continued working part-time as a nurse and saw success selling her creations to local stores around Birmingham. Then the 2011 Egyptian revolution threw another wrench in her plans.
“I had a shipment coming in from Egypt and it was detained in customs,” she says. “Due to political unrest, I had to abandon the shipment despite all efforts on my end. I was panicked and didn’t know what to do.” Nadler’s fate to pursue her dreams became even more obtainable when she met Nancy Forman of The Accessory Think Tank in New York City. “She believed in me and my brand story.” Over the course of a year, Forman helped Nadler devise a business plan, develop stronger designs, source domestic leather suppliers and handbag manufacturers.
“I changed my company’s model. We started manufacturing in the U.S. and it really took off. I started to see the rewards. I started to sell to stores. Doree’s in Homewood gave me my first break and then Marella in Mountain Brook. Those two stores were the best things that ever happened to me. They were selling and reached out every couple weeks to reorder. It really gave me confidence to keep going. So I quit my job to focus on developing my business.”
Nadler began manufacturing her bags in Los Angeles with careful attention to every detail. Nadler designs each item and packs every shipment herself. She selects top-quality, smooth-grain, light-weight Italian leathers and lines the bags with her signature turquoise color. “The leather has to be really buttery soft. The end product has to be light-weight and sustain the test of time. You don’t have to change them out in fall or summer, they really are year-round bags. I think what sets me apart is my attention to detail and outstanding customer service.”
Nadler says she relishes the design process. “It’s a long phase. It can take six months to a year. There are a lot of details that go into the final product. One is deciding on the style that is aesthetically pleasing, yet functional. Then I select the leather, hardware, and other materials. Once the design is complete, I send all the materials and a tech pack to the manufacturer. They tell me what will and won’t work and, when it’s ready, they make a sample. They ship it to me and we make any needed adjustments. Once the final sample is made I inspect every aspect of its beauty and function. I make sure the pockets are in the right places. I make sure the strap is comfortable. I’m a total freak when it comes to zippers. I have to make sure everything is perfect before we sell.”
Nadler says her product line is all about function and style. “Everything is designed to go together. For instance, the Deena Tote is a big bag that you can use for every day, as a weekender, as a diaper bag or a work bag. It is quite big and seriously multi-functional. Throw in a couple of my top-zip clutches to grab when you’re running errands. It makes it easy, you can run into a store and not have to take a big bag.”
Nadler sold her products to stores for several years. Then she started setting up at retail shows, allowing her to sell directly to the consumer. “I really love that because I’m able to connect to them and build relationships. I think that goes back to my roots being a nurse, connecting to the patient and their family. It’s a beautiful thing when that happens. There’s not a price that can be put on that.”
In addition to selling at retail markets and home shows, Nadler launched a website that showcases all of the designs and allows customers to order directly. Friends and neighbors and word of mouth have also increased the popularity of Noha Nadler designs. She says people she doesn’t know will call her and ask if they can shop for a bag. She’s even delivered gifts to customers’ doors on Christmas morning on more than one occasion. “It’s happened twice. The husbands called and said, ‘I really screwed up, can you help?’ You just can’t say no to that!”
Nadler loves that her business allows her to work from home in Vestavia Hills, Alabama so she can be very present with her husband, Robert, and their four children—Zoe, Ally, Sophia, and Jack. She says it’s hard to choose a favorite style from the extensive collection, but she loves the Hala Hobo—a single strap bag named for her sister that’s constructed with Italian leather in a sleek, classic style. She says she often uses the samples she receives for a few months and then gives them to women who aren’t able to purchase one on their own.
“I really believe that every woman should be able to have a handbag that’s quality, that will last forever, and that does not break the bank. When a woman feels confident, she can conquer the world. I have two that I keep and really love, the small Deena tote and the Hala Hobo. A lot of times I’ll wear one for a while, then call a friend who can’t afford one and offer it to them. If you’re going to a professional office, you can’t go with a ripped-up handbag. You have to look the part.”
Check out About Town's Fall Fashion Shoot to see how Noha Nadler handbags compliment any look.
And view the entire collection at NohaNadler.com.