When You Know, You Know
Lori Caldwell never thought that a business making fine, handcrafted leather goods was in her future.
On the invitation from a friend, she took a sewing class, making a small leather clutch bag, and something “clicked.” She started taking private sewing lessons, all using leather. “I was making bags from day one,” she says. She appreciated the durability of leather, liked that she could use hides that were a useful byproduct of the American meat industry. And it meant she got to make regular visits to Oregon Leather Company. “You can’t walk in there without getting a lesson,” she says.
Caldwell quickly decided this was the business she was meant to launch. But at the same time her day job was suddenly being phased out, and she realized “It was fly or die, basically.” She decided to take the leap of faith, and that the best name she could give her business was that of her parents.
“They’ve always been like, you should make a plan, keep in touch, be happy. We love you…they never showed me their worries…so I always felt like I could do anything.”
Her first collection was made by machine, but when she started doing traditional hand stitching, she says, “My own voice came out.”
“Hand stitching creates parameters around design,” and the results are bags that are more structural, almost architectural. So Caldwell is pursuing a more classic and timeless style, “a marriage between fashion and function,” that she hopes will appeal to a wide variety of customers. And it is important that she likes what she makes. “I design for all of the women at different ages that are still inside me.”
And Caldwell is busy. Fashion shops and bloggers have discovered her, and though she has had up to three interns at any given time, she feels like she is still doing some aspect of her business, every day, all the time. She continues to focus and fine-tune her work, liking to always be challenged and keep the learning curve high.
Recently she updated her website, and made the conscious decision to use only women of color as her models. For Caldwell, this was a statement on a few levels: She feels there isn’t a lot of diversity currently represented in the maker movement, and she would like to help change that; it also places her, personally, in the stream of the maker movement. She wants her website to reflect, like the bags she makes, “who I am, and hopefully with a universal appeal.”
A 100% hand-stitched bag is an incredibly time consuming process, Caldwell admits, but the result is a bag “you may never have to replace.”