This week’s interview is with Alexis Kastner, designer & leather smith extraordinaire. You certainly have seen her bags around town, hanging off the shoulders of the most stylish & put together women… and a few men as well.
During the pandemic she released a new ‘cross the body’ fanny pack called the Kelly Brown Bag, named after a local photographer, with great success. She sells her leather goods mostly over Instagram with seasonal bag drops, but you have to be quick on the draw to scoop one up.
We talked to Alex about being a craftsperson in this little city and what life has been like over the past year and a half.
1. To begin, tell us who are you, what you do, and how long have you been a craftsperson in Victoria?
I am Alexis Kastner, 39 in two weeks (gulp) and I am a leather smith. I have been creating for 17 years in Victoria, and about 10 years ago started Jovee Leather Goods.
2. Making a living as a craftsperson is not easy. How did you make the jump into pursuing it full time?
Wooof. You’re telling me! It’s not easy, but when you’re a creative, you really don’t have a choice. I was in finance for 9 years and doing Jovee on the side. Hustling at weekend markets and working in my makeshift studio in my apartment. 6 1/2 years ago in December, I was offered an opportunity to take over a studio space in Fan Tan Alley and found it impossible to not jump at it. I didn’t quit my finance job right away though. I wasn’t sure if Jovee could carry itself so I scaled my finance job down to 3 days a week and was at the shop the other 4 days. By April I was pretty sure I could do Jovee full time and quit my finance job. Funny, I accidentally gave my notice on April Fools.
3. In your work you try to be as sustainable as possible. How does a leather craftsperson do that?
Great question! When I first started messing around with leather I would buy leather jackets and skirts from thrift shops. But I never could find pieces big enough without seams, weird wear patterns and usually really soft, thin leather that is great for apparel but not for bags.
So I started sourcing new-old-stock leather aka dead stock. Which essentially means, it’s leather that has never been used but are old runs, off cuts, mis-runs, surplus that is just sitting, collecting dust in warehouses, upholstery shops etc. A lot of the time these hides are older too, 15, 25 years old.
I build my business around this because I firmly believe in not asking for more than what already exists, and by sourcing NOS leather I also get my hands on stuff that isn’t being made anymore while not contributing to waste.
4. Until just before the pandemic, you had a very well known studio and shop in Fan Tan. It was an unofficial hub for many in the small business network that exists in Chinatown and downtown. Now that you are no longer downtown, what’s your new workspace like and how has it changed your workflow and business?
OH man I miss that shop! It was the best.
And definitely a hub! Lots of great friendships, collaborations, late night parties, solo dance and singing parties while I worked late banging out orders. I was one of the lucky small businesses that were able to get out of their leases in March. I still don’t think I’ve processed/mourned the loss of my shop.
But, I shut her down March 17th 2020 and moved my whole shop and studio into the tiny second bedroom of my downtown apartment and began making masks. I paid for most of the materials out of pocket and the community also helped by donating elastic and fabric to me. I then sold the masks by donation and 100% of the money I received went back into our community . I spent 3 months doing that and squeezing in leather where I could and then my boyfriend and I decided we should move in together and we found an amazing spot out in West Saanich. July 10th 2020 we moved in here and I have a 300 sq foot studio that is in a solarium.
It’s the most dreamy, except for a few months in the winter when its too cold and I had to move my sewing machine into the living room. Oh and a few months in the summer where I can only work in the studio at the crack of dawn till my elbows, butt, boobs and back of my knees are sweating. Then I go back in when the sun’s gone down. I find it works well though because mid day I am forced to do the admin and social media stuff that I try to avoid!
It’s weird still though. I mean, with the pandemic, not allowing people to come and touch and feel and try on what they are buying has been strange as well as having people drive out to my house to pick up their purchase , but everyone has been really receptive and I SO appreciate that!
5. What is a favourite piece of (your own) leatherwork and why?
The Jack is my favourite. It’s a convertible bag that can transform from a shoulder bag to a backpack to a cross body bag. I wish I would have designed it years ago.
6. You are very active & engaging on social media. How important is it for your business & do you have any special tricks that have helped?
Woof. I have a serious love/hate relationship with social media.
I love putting my work out there and connecting with people far and wide, but I HATE how time consuming and frustrating. I am not by any means computer literate or even social media literate.
I don’t really know about algorithms or how to make trendy posts , I don’t know what I am doing 90% of the time and I wish I did so I could be better at it.
To peruse Alexis’s selection of handcrafted leather goods check out her insta-feed @lexyouup and find her at the upcoming market at the Luna Collective Saturday Sept 18th – 1048 Fort Street from 11-5.