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Sharing the Art of Leathercraft

I went to school to learn how to design clothes, and now I am a handbag designer—an interview with Treasure Mallory, by Lori Caldwell.

I was there to learn how to make clothes, with a desire to become a stylist—but would find myself in the back of the class, illustrating handbags to go with every outfit…

For Treasure Mallory, handbag designer and owner of Los Angeles-based leather goods company, Nikki & Mallory, understanding how to use her creative talents was a struggle.

Treasure: I had been working in the entertainment industry straight out of college. I went from working my dream job at Sony Pictures Television to being laid-off and hitting the ground running in pursuing acting and all other things creative.

I found myself struggling and slowly losing everything I had worked so hard for. I was at the brink of giving up—not just on acting but life itself. Depression had taken me to a very dark place that I was struggling to get out of. It was an extremely hard time for me, but I’ve always been a fighter and kept wondering, “what would be the very last thing I had a desire to do before leaving this earth?”

A friend of mine had mentioned, “When you’re down to nothing, you have to become innovative!” Words I live by today—at that very moment, it clicked for me.

Treasure decided to go back to school to channel her natural creative talent into a career.

Treasure: With no money, I enrolled in fashion design school while working odd jobs to make ends meet. I was there to learn how to make clothes, with a desire to become a stylist—but would find myself in the back of the class, illustrating handbags to go with every outfit—in my mind, I just figured a girl can’t have a cute outfit without a bag. I would then take that same aesthetic from making clothes and use that skillset to make fabric bags.

When it came time to graduate and showcase my grad project, I went against the grain of making a line of clothes and made a line of handbags instead, risking my chances of graduating. After much deliberation, my showcase project was approved, and instead of people coming by my booth to see my work, I had a line of people asking if they could buy a bag. From there, I knew I had something great. A couple years later, I started Nikki&Mallory.

Even though she found leathercrafting as an adult, Treasure has always had a creative spirit.

Treasure: My mom had me at 17, so being the only child came with a lot of curiosity and alone time. I started creating in elementary—loved to draw at the time, making puff-paint shirts, altering clothing, etc. That desire to create carried on until I was an adult, but it wasn’t until 2012 when I took my creative design instincts seriously. That’s when I started my fashion design program and learned how to sew. From there, it was on.

Though educated in design and working with textiles, Treasure found her knowledge of leathercraft fell short, and she began the hard work of teaching herself a new skillset.

Tresure: I’m completely self-taught. When it came to learning leathercraft, I had honestly never seen a woman or man of color working with leather, so it was hard for me to identify with anyone enough to ask questions or seek help. It wasn’t until a couple years into working with leather when I came across my now-mentor, who was gracious enough to share her knowledge of leathercraft.

As her leather goods business grew, she decided to share her skills with novices and other creatives and crafters interested in learning the art of leatherworking.

Treasure: When I discovered that there are just as many people interested in making bags as there are wanting to purchase bags, I knew that would be my next venture. Teaching bag-making and leathercraft was actually something I just wanted to try, but the joy I receive in educating people has been fulfilling and very lucrative. Having a well-rounded business that fulfills a need, desire, and want, was always my objective. In developing DIY kits and classes, I’m doing exactly that.

I personally have no desire to keep this knowledge of leatherwork and sewing to myself. There’s no fulfillment in that to me.

Representation was also a key reason Treasure wanted to share her knowledge of leathercraft with others.

Treasure: As a woman of color in an industry that doesn’t showcase many—if any—Black leather crafters, I feel like it’s imperative to share my knowledge of leatherwork and sewing. In doing so, not only has it created opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise exist, but it’s opened the doors to so many people who look like me to show them, “hey, we exist.” I personally have no desire to keep this knowledge of leatherwork and sewing to myself. There’s no fulfillment in that to me. I truly believe in “each one teach one,” and it’s been extremely rewarding to enlighten people with knowledge that they can potentially prosper from.

In the process of sharing her creative passion, Treasure has found a new love: Teaching.

Treasure: The teaching process has—by far—forced me to get out of my head and out of my comfortable little creative bubble and allowed me to connect. Most creatives can easily lock themselves in a room and be the weirdos that we are and just create. But teaching gives me a sense of connection with a community that is just as crazy, odd, and artistic as me—and I love that! It has truly advanced my social skills and comedic timing. My classes are pretty fun, and meeting creatives who share similar journeys and interests has been a really good venture for me.

If I can teach people how to make a cute bag from scratch and send them on their way with a side of everlasting confidence, I’ve done my job.

Though she’s happy her students are able to learn a new craft, she hopes they take away a lot more.

Treasure: What I hope students take away from my classes is confidence—confidence in knowing that they’re in control of their design and their destiny. I wouldn’t be here doing what I do had I not recognized my powers, my gifts, and my ability to change the perspectives of so many people who doubted me along the way, in addition to creating a fulfilling journey for myself. I know too many people who live with doubts and fear, and I’m a huge advocate for inspiring individuals to just go for it. Whatever their “it” may be. If I can teach people how to make a cute bag from scratch and send them on their way with a side of everlasting confidence, I’ve done my job.

So, what advice would Treasure give to people just beginning to learn a new craft or creative skill?

Treasure: I would advise anyone starting out—or learning a new skill or craft—to nurture it. And if it’s something you’re looking to turn into a business, practice until exhaustion. It’ll make a huge difference in the quality of your craft and, hopefully, be great enough to set you apart from the crowd.

Never be too afraid to ask for help or resources; there is always that one diamond in the rough who’s not opposed to helping and sharing.

Lastly, take your time and enjoy the journey. Greatness comes from patience, and comparison is the thief of joy—stay focused on your skill and allow it to evolve naturally.

Baz
Devon
Witt

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