The Biography: Jessie

By Lotuff Leather

Jessie is one of our artisans, working at the studio's assembly station to help expertly bring each and every Lotuff bag to fruition. Here, find out why Lotuff is such a good fit for her and who her favorite Providence-based band is.  

You arrived to us with experience and were already a maker. Can you tell me about your background and what made Lotuff the right next step for you?

I spent time in roles where I did everything from repairing military tents and building sails to working for an independent fashion designer. I have a love of machinery—the incredibly industrial kind where you really have to put your whole body into using it. The larger-scale manufacturing gave me this exposure, and this was very cool for me. I loved my time working in fashion too, but that was something that went beyond the machinery we used. I really liked that the owner was designing all original pieces, and while there was a line, not everything would be entirely the same. She had a great vision, and I liked being able to help her bring it to fruition.

Before coming to Lotuff, I always liked working with leather. I made custom wallets, cuffs and side bags. I liked that you can make leather do what you want it to do and be fairly rough with it. But the things that are made here are much more refined than what I was making before I came. My eye, now, is trained to see where things could be less rough and more polished, but that’s not to say that there isn’t still a beauty to see things executed in a way that is less refined and not polished. Lotuff just felt like a good fit. It was a small business and with a small crew, and I just knew that I could learn more here.

I am someone who has never been afraid of trying new things. I’ve always been creative with my hands and am good at putting things together, which has allowed me to fit right in here at Lotuff. Not having one way of seeing something as being “correct” can be valuable here. While we know the final execution has to be identical, our [artisans] are flexible and understand that there can be more than one way to make something work.

You’ve just come back to work after recently becoming a new mother. How does it feel to be in the studio again? 

It feels good. I feel like somehow my focus is better. I don't know if that’s just from being at home with the baby for so long and coming back here… just having that separation, but it’s good. Now, some of that might just be the nature of time. After I had been here for a year, there came a point where it felt like things began to click. Muscle memory, maybe? But, at and around the one-year mark, I had gotten to know the product, the nature of the material, and the process much better. Things had just become easier. 

(Because of having the baby), I wasn’t here at the two-year mark, but when I came back — and even though we were making bags that I had never made before I left — I felt that I came back better than before I left. Attribute it to being fresh? Attribute it to doing better work because you’re not pulling 40 hours a week at the same station? I can now see potential in a box of scrap, but I don’t know that I would have said that just before I left. I had almost become desensitized to it, and the scrap box was just a means to keep the station cleaned.  

What kinds of changes have you witnessed in the business since you began working here up until now?

I feel like the organization has gotten better- where we’re intentionally pointed in a line to the goal. We now really all understand what the priorities are, and we’re meeting goals. That feels good. I also think that the people who have been here for as long as I have or longer have allowed for enough time to pass where everyone has gotten better at what they do, and that makes things just seem to go smoother here overall. From being familiar with the tools to the processes, things just get easier; and I feel like every year you’re better at what you’re doing because you’re more familiar with it.

I mean, when I first got here we really only made small pouches and the Tripp (handbag). That was it. We have so many more people and do so much more now- all these new products, and it’s awesome. I really like working on the bigger pieces; I like that they have the binding. When you’re finished assembling them and they’re stitched and done, it’s really satisfying. I do think that what has helped us transition so quickly and fairly easily to the new products is that the Providence studio team got very good at making the Tripp, which I think most people would be surprised to find out is incredibly difficult to make. There are just so many pieces and processes involved to make such a small handbag. So, going from that into new pieces has been made easier because of the experience with making Tripps. It’s given the team intensive training and preparation.

Photo via Tod Seelie for What Cheer? Brigade

While you were gone, your music playlists were missed in the studio—in particular, the marching band music.  What is it about their sound that we all love?

Well, the band is What Cheer? Brigade, and they’re actually a Providence band. They were formed back in 2005 by some students from Brown and others, and the first time I heard them it was live in Providence at a show. There was this great little bar on the West Side, and this 20-piece marching band just invaded the space and began playing. It was awesome. Then, they all just took to the street. To see them perform live is a lot of fun. What Cheer? Brigade, by the way, took the grand prize at an international music festival that was held in northern Spain in 2010.

A few years later, I actually met Kate there for the first time, back when she was a member of their band. She had designed all this stuff for their logo, and she was living in this women’s collective where I knew some of the girls. So, I just met her and offered to make a banner for their shows. I think that banner went the way of the wind and was just lost over time, but it was all very fun. When I left Providence and moved to Asheville, NC for a time, this kind of high energy awesomeness was what I missed the most. I mean you could be sitting in your apartment, hear the band playing in the distance, call a friend to meet you and then go and try and find them in the streets because you knew they were close. 

Hearing your story about how you first were introduced to Kate, another one of our artisans, what do you think it says about Providence—its community, its creative energy and Lotuff?

Providence is unusual because it’s a small city and relatively small universe, where we have all just been around one another for a while and are in the same age bracket. There’s a lot of creativity here. There’s a lot of music, great food and great art. Even if it seems random that I first met Kate at a WC?B show and then later happened to work at Lotuff with her (when we hadn’t remained in contact), it’s not as random as you may think. The artist community is a relatively robust but small community where people often keep running into one another.

I think it’s a smart move that Lotuff is here in Providence. Although it’s a small city, there is room for Lotuff to grow and so many old abandoned mill buildings around here that would better be occupied by places like us. There are also so many people here—especially with RISD here—who can have this as an opportunity now to make an occupation for themselves around creating something that will last. Yes, it’s smaller than New York, but Providence has a lot of character. We’re gritty. There’s lots of perseverance here, I feel like, and it’s probably what keeps drawing people back. There are a lot of RISD people who left but who would want to come back to Providence. They clearly drank from the H.P. Lovecraft Well on the East Side (laughs).