November 15, 2015 5 min read
Today’s interview is one we know many will relate with on multiple levels. Whether it’s as a woman, a mother, a creative soul or as someone who is looking for encouragement to make the leap into starting something you feel drawn to, read on and be encouraged by the gracious and talented Alicia Lovejoy.
When you just pause to consider all the good things hands can do, it’s truly, truly wonderful. There’s something so grounding about a tradition as old as leatherwork that the very thought of it feels good for the soul. The simplicity, the fragrance, the interdependence between hand and tool is cathartic even to the imagination.
I met Shannon Keith (Sudara founder and CEO) through a mutual friend just a few months back. We arranged a coffee date because I was really interested in Sudara and the purpose behind it especially since I was planning to travel to India and that is where Sudara is making a huge impact. I shared with Shannon my desire to use my skills in leatherwork to somehow empower women and bring some kind of change to the world of sex slavery and was hoping to find a way to take the next step toward that end. That meeting sparked a friendship and a brief brainstorm about a possible collaboration.
This subject still makes my heart twinge. I went to India just a month ago to explore the possibility of working with a care center for young girls who have been trafficked. The project involves expanding the infrastructure already in place so that the nuns who live and work there can house as many young women as possible. They are doing such incredible work. We were privileged to spend extended time with these girls who have come out of horrific circumstances into a place of safety where they can thrive. It was truly life changing for me. While we were there we also visited several ‘freedom businesses’ and were able to see the inner workings of their facilities and meet the women they employ. All of these businesses were either located inside or very near the red light district of Kolkata. One of the most astounding aspects of these businesses is the dedication of the people who started them. They will live and die for this cause and because of that they are seeing tremendous success. It was so inspiring to talk with them, see them in action, hug them and just know them! Overall, I have to say that my personal highlight was visiting a business that employs women to make high end leather satchels (the Loyal Workshop). Our visit was so personal and meaningful to me because I was able to connect with the women working there through our craft. I brought some of my leather work with me and shared it with them while I also got to sit with them as they stitched and shared their methods with me (which are very different than mine!). They work with a supplier who tans his leather using sustainable methods which is very unusual and exciting. I walked away from that meeting with an armful of new leather to work with too so I can’t wait to see what comes next!
As a company, Sudara is big on empowering job creation for women who are oftentimes moms, so this is a great fit on many levels as you are a mother and designer who has begun a side business there in your own home.. Tell us a little more about your life, your family and how you came to start your business designing leather goods?
I have always loved design. As long as I remember I’ve been designing things, often out of whatever I have laying around. I come from a family of craftsmen and grew up in the wood shop with my Dad and going to 4-H meetings with my Mom to learn things like spinning and weaving. I’ve always had an insatiable need to work with my hands! As a mom of three young boys I’m hoping to pass this trait onto them. It’s been such a joy to see them take over my studio space with their own wacky projects! About two years ago my oldest son, then 9 years old, was diagnosed with a very rare cancerous tumor. It was during this season of uncertainty that I turned my nervous attention toward leatherwork. I needed something new to keep my mind occupied and wanted to be productive instead of sifting through the fearful thoughts that kept creeping in. The fantastic news is that his tumor was able to be removed through surgery so he didn’t even undergo chemo or radiation (praise God!). He still undergoes follow up scans every few months, in fact we just had his latest scans this week. We continue to thank God for his faithfulness in healing our son. For me the added blessing has been the gift of leatherwork. I see it as a refining process that has brought me to the place I am today and I also see how I’m being refined daily as I learn and grow in my craft and in motherhood. Really, if my craft can make a difference in someone else’s life I can’t think of a more fulfilling way to use it!
Are all of your leather goods made by you or do you employ anyone else?
As of now, I make all of my products by hand in my home. My hope and desire, especially after my trip to India, is to somehow partner in the future with an existing business who employs marginalized women to produce the products I design here. That would be a dream! With my small studio and the system I have in place it is currently pretty time consuming to make each product. From the cutting, glueing, hole punching, sewing, edging and finally heat branding, it takes several days to complete a large order of wallets, especially when you add in kids activities, making lunch and helping with homework!
Any final thoughts?
I have always struggled as an artist to see the value in what I do when it comes to making an impact on the world. Because of this I have often times not even taken myself seriously. I have also always had a heart for exploited women and children but as a mom I felt like my hands were tied and there was really nothing I could do besides send money to existing programs and non-profits. When I first started to explore the idea of offering my passion for leatherwork to somehow empower women it has given me a new determination to forge ahead and see if I really can make a difference. I’m recognizing that we each have something truly unique to contribute and each contribution can be as valuable as the others who have gone before.
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