Velvit Welcomes The Stowe
Molly Spittal, the self-taught designer of The Stowe, discusses her minimalist aesthetic, honing her craft, and designing for herself
Velvit sat down with the brains behind The Stowe to find out how Molly came to be the leather worker extraordinaire she is today, how she perfects each bag by trial and error, and how she stays balanced in a hectic fashion environment.
Velvit: When you started out in design, how did you narrow your focus to leather bags and accessories?
Molly Spittal: I graduated from Blanche MacDonald Centre in Vancouver in 2007 in fashion design. During the first couple of years following my graduation, I worked a few odd fashion jobs and attempted to design my own line. It just never felt quite right. I thought I was in the wrong industry, but the problem was that I was simply working with the wrong materials. When I made my first leather belt I knew it was love.
V: How did you hone your craft?
MS: I am a self-taught leather worker, but I refined my skills when I got a job as a sample maker for a Canadian Heritage leather brand called Fullum & Holt. I worked in a gigantic workshop filled with more machinery than I could have imagined.
V: What is your design process like?
MS: I try to keep my minimal aesthetic at the forefront of my design process. It is my signature and it is what sets my bags apart from others. I find that [working with leather] comes very naturally to me. Because I am self-taught, I don't design bags in a conventional way; I design in a sort of backwards way where I create a new piece and carry it around for a few days before I even draft the pattern. Functionality is also very important to me, which is why it is mandatory for me to carry every design for a period of time before I offer it for sale. That's the only way you can really pinpoint the areas that could use improvement: strap length, direction of travel on a zipper, pocket placement, etc.
V: How do you edit your designs?
MS: I edit my designs based on how much I like to use them. Sometimes I make a bag that looks really great and would suit a certain collection really well, but if I don't like to use it, I don't expect anyone else to.
V: Do you design for yourself based on your personal taste, or do you design for a specific audience?
MS: I've only made one bag for other people. It's my best seller and I'm happy with it, but I definitely designed it based on requests from customers. Every other item was designed based on what I wanted to wear that season or even that day. I adore and carry all my bags with me until I design a new prototype to proudly carry on my shoulder.
V: What is your earliest fashion-related memory?
MS: I remember being in 7th grade and designing my first collection in a sketchbook during science and math classes. It was so silly and I wish I still had that sketchbook somewhere. My mom taught me how to sew at a very early age and I definitely owe her a lot for introducing me to a skill that has become my career and my passion.
V: What articles of clothing or accessories could you live in forever?
MS: I would wear my black Nudie High Kai jeans, an oversized black sweater or t-shirt, and any shoes by Rachel Comey. I own a ton of her shoes and I can't get enough. I also can't live without my vintage Ray Ban sunglasses. They make all my outfits look way cooler.
V: Who are some of your favorite designers or artists?
MS: I love brands like Acne, Hope, Won Hundred, Chimala, Complex Geometries, Rachel Comey, Isabel Marant, and Issey Miyake, to name a few.
V: How do you balance your personal life with your life as a designer?
MS: Recently my business has really taken off and I have become so busy that it forced me to take evenings and weekends off. I know that sounds a bit counterintuitive, but I realized a few months ago that I was working constantly, day and night, 7 days a week. The work was there to do, so I did it. I became pretty miserable, so I decided to distribute my time more evenly between work and home, and I am much happier as a result.
V: What’s the most challenging part about what you do?
MS: Sometimes I can't sleep at night because my to-do list is swirling around in my head and I get anxious about everything on it. I'm only one lady and the amount of responsibility that comes with running a business solo is pretty crushing. Luckily I have a really wonderful partner and a huge support group filled with wonderful friends to help me through it all.
V: How has your work been received?
MS: I have had a lot of wonderful responses to my work. I will never forget the first time I saw a stranger on the street wearing a Stowe bag. When someone comes up to me in the grocery store to ask where I got my bag and I get to tell them that I'm the designer, I get a little bashful about it but it's still so cool. I've had some pretty amazing stuff happen in the last few years that I'm pretty proud of, but it's really the little day-to-day happenings that make the difference for me.
V: Do you think the public outlook on fashion has changed since you first became a designer?
MS: I find myself explaining the difference between what I do and "fast fashion" less and less as the years pass. I feel that the outlook is pretty bright for small businesses in this industry because working conditions overseas have really been pushed in our faces. The public is thinking about where they're buying from and what they're supporting.
V: What was the best piece of advice you received when starting The Stowe?
MS: The best piece of advice has been "Fake it 'til you make it." They really drilled that into our heads at fashion school. That was my mantra when I was starting out in this industry. It's cutthroat out there for [designers], and sometimes you just have to pretend like you know what you're doing to get by. It really goes a long way.
V: When have you had to fake it?
MS: I got my job at Fullum & Holt and I basically had to pretend like I knew how to use all of this crazy machinery that I definitely had no idea how to use. I told them that I had a lot more experience than I did at the time.
V: What advice would you give apprenticing leather workers or aspiring accessory designers?
MS: My advice is to take things slow and steady. I tried a lot of different things before I discovered what I really wanted to do. Try out different mediums and just make as many things as you can in a day. Constantly create. It is the only way you'll truly find your aesthetic.
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