Four Austin Artisans That Turn Raw Materials into Wardrobe Staples
UTILIZING fabric, paper, metal, leather and more, THESE makers REPRESENT THE CITY’S UNTAMED CREATIVITY WITH STYLISH GOODS
By Britni Rachal
Photos by Brittany Dawn Short
This month, we highlight thoughtful creators who bring a whole new meaning to soulful local style with their handcrafted accessories and artisanal pieces. We sat down with four Austin makers — Espacio Handmade, Letterpress PLAY, Marian and Psychic Outlaw — to discuss the beauty that lies at the intersection of craftsmanship, creativity and material.
Leather goods made from scratch by Katrina Marhefka
Handsome handcrafted leather goods from scratch produced specifically out of Austin is the unique specialty that fuels business at Espacio Handmade. Katrina Marhefka launched the brand in 2013 after a personal observation that men’s leather gifts didn’t have the same quality as women’s leather gifts. With a background in graphic design and another successful handmade business already launched, she got to work — and the result is a product line with clever solutions for wallets, home goods and pocket essentials. Attention to detail is key, with an average of 50 hours spent on each unique item.
Tell us about the specific differences you noticed between men’s and women’s leather products.
“Ten years ago, the scene was different. We were just coming off of the dad belt with the Blackberry holster and giant ‘George Castanza wallets.’ I wonder if Tribeza readers will even know who that is! The point is, there were limited options when shopping for men’s gifts, far fewer with quality craftsmanship and good design. The quality of men’s goods simply lacked the creative caliber of women’s gifts. They were basic, boring and uninspired. I wasn’t seeing any color with leather, much less the pairing colors together.”
Are there any challenges you noticed when starting to make these handcrafted goods?
“Engineering a new design can be a painstaking process. I often average 50 hours developing a new design. Adding to the challenge of running a bustling business and continuing to hone my leather and design skills, being a woman in this industry is rare. While it’s not often, I definitely encounter men who question who really makes our leather goods. One man insisted I show him my hands, stating that I didn’t have enough calluses in order to produce this work. One younger man told me there was no way I made it, and it must have been my boyfriend or husband who did the real work. Some men are simply convinced that everything is made in China.”
“More commonly, the reply to ‘I make these leather goods’ is ‘Really?’ And not like ‘Whoa, that’s cool’ but more like, ‘Come on … ‘ While I find it hard to stomach their incredulity, the quality of my product stands on its own. And if our work is so good that they can’t imagine it’s made by a woman, then it says quite a bit about them.”
We’d love to hear more on your thoughts about the timelessness of leather.
“As a designer who focuses on solving problems, curbing waste is another way to engage my creative problem-solving. I make every effort to weave resource efficiency into my craft. I don’t just think of a wallet as a singular item, but rather a piece of a whole system that I have created. Bandana slides, cord keepers and bookmarks are made using the space between my wallet designs. I can tell you that when you buy a wine charm, a key chain or earrings, you are literally keeping leather resources from hitting the landfill and joining me in an effort to weave efficiency and sustainability throughout the leather industry.”
What is one of the most special products you’ve created so far?
“If I have to choose, the Big Spender is one of my favorite designs. It uses one piece of leather folded to create three pockets that is assembled with only a rivet and one line of stitching. It’s an efficiency masterpiece. And while it’s one of my more special designs, it’s also our biggest seller. It’s sleek and minimal. It’s available in neutral colors and also in some bold combinations, and I think the design, colors and ease have really hit a need in the market for me (or people in general) who are tired of the old-school, chunky wallets with no character.”
Tell us about your personal style.
“I love a modern and clean aesthetic. My home is a mix of neutral textiles, leather (surprise surprise) and pops of color from the art on my walls. I love to collect art from local artists at the different festivals and markets we post up at.”
What are some of the biggest trends you are noticing for spring and summer?
“COLOR! It’s fun to see people, especially men, experimenting more with color in their everyday gear. That said, leather never goes out of style! We’re also seeing a trend toward our larger wallets. While our minimalist wallet, the Big Spender, has been our hottest seller for a few years now, I’ve noticed that people are really interested in the Vaquera. Our Vaquera is our vertical version of your classic bi-fold. It blends the efficiency and low profile of the Big Spender with the capacity of a more traditional wallet.
MORE: 15 Artful Experiences & Local Recommendations from Kelly Krause
Paper-made perfection by Kyle Hawley
Fostering community and play is the focus of Kyle Hawley’s Letterpress PLAY. The business is centered around both art and fashion pieces that focus on creating joyful experiences without having to worry about logistics. Using classic, vintage art via the letterpress, each product is handcrafted with precision and intricate detail with items ranging from clothing, bandanas, tote bags, blankets, art projects and more.
Where did the interest in letterpress in particular come from?
“Letterpress PLAY started as a photo project in art school. The project examined abandoned spaces and how the end of one thing can be the start of something new. This carried into the research of restoration playgrounds and then to the topic of play and how we begin to understand our world through play.
“Today we do two-concept letterpress printing for our paper goods and block printing for our soft organic cottons. All patterns start in the sketchbook and then move to the linoleum block and we hand carve them. Our printing process for block printing is the same process they have handmade makers used in India for thousands of years — to ink up the form that’s been carved and handprint each garment. Each print is part of the same series — it’s a unique individual print because it’s done one garment at a time.”
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
“Maria Montessori is a big influence for me; she looked at education through human development. When I think about design, I really think about it developmentally and how one object can relate to all kinds of age ranges depending on where we are at developmentally. When I was designing these first paper toys, my children were ages one and six. There’s a lot of development that goes on between those ages. When you are also a new parent, you are having to keep yourself together as well as navigate these stages. Because I am an artist, I would get all these well-intentioned gifts for crafts. People imagine you are going to have these Zen moments with your baby, but the truth is it is very messy and complicated. You can never accomplish much between these two developmental stages. You can’t get it finished; there’s a huge mess at the end. Anything geared toward children is so complex and it undermines them rather than lifting them up because they can’t finish it. You end up finishing it for them, so I wanted to create something easy and fun for people to enjoy.”
What are your most unique products at Letterpress PLAY?
“Our Paper Toys are so special. They are mess-free crafting activities that are both fun and educational. I was really focused on wanting to have more of the activity memory being about the activity and not the mess. There’s very little packaging — all of it is biodegradable or recyclable. I want people to have the experience. As for the final craft, you can either keep it or recycle it, with our crafts ranging from a combination of cutting and folding for refrigerator magnet, flip and animation frames, paper flower vases and uniquely constructed notes.”
We’d love to hear more about your upcoming spring clothing lines.
“We are launching our new line of utilitarian and play-focused garments. They are all organic cotton, organically dyed and hand block printed in our Austin studio. I design all the patterns and we carve them and then handprint them. These are all the same organic cottons and natural dyes. We work with a beautiful natural dye team in Pennsylvania. We then send it to our cut and sew teams. We work with Stitch Texas and Open Arms Studio, an Austin-based non-profit.”
Where does your passion stem from?
“These toys and garments are all based on what I used repeatedly when I was traveling, whether across town or across the country or globe. I never left our house in New York without the picnic blanket. These are all extremely useful tools. When we are moving through life in such a busy manner, what I’m hoping to do is bring some beauty and sophistication to those moments through these beautiful garments and utilitarian squares and objects, so you don’t feel lost in the moment.”
Tell us about your personal style.
“I’m always interested in balancing the old with the new. Mixing a new designer with a vintage piece allows the real beauty of each to be seen. I learned to knit and crochet when I was four. My mother and grandmother taught me to sew, so I was always sewing my own garments in junior high. When I studied theatre in high school, I deepened that knowledge through costume construction and really understanding how to think about garments in a more complicated way and how they fit inside a storytelling narrative.”
Functional jewelry for all by Marian Amini
Functional, well-designed goods that work as hard as you do. That’s the concept behind Marian Amini’s Austin-based jewelry line. A diverse line of collections, Marian strives to invest her time designing items that make consumers feel inspired and adorned. Higher-quality metal pieces that you can own for decades hit center stage with this western-inspired brand of handmade accessories.
Tell us about your creative process.
“I’m an idea person — I’m constantly thinking of different designs I can create and ideas to implement within the business. Funny enough, I do a lot of creative thinking when I’m driving. There’s something about being on the road and listening to music that allows my mind to wander. What steps do you take to make your jewelry functional and long-lasting?
“Functionality is really important to me — my goal is to design and create pieces that can be worn in all facets of your life. I have a lot of interests and passions, so when I’m designing a piece, handmade makers I’m always thinking about if I can wear it to the barn, a nice dinner, symphony hall, dive bar, happy hour and everything in between. And I always triple check my pieces to make sure everything is soldered correctly and polished just right. I’m a stickler about that!”
How would you describe your personal style?
“As I mentioned, I have a lot of different interests and passions. I gravitate to classic pieces I can transfer into all areas of my life. Pieces that are feminine and functional. I ride horses and play the violin. I spend a lot of time in the Texas Hill Country, but also love a night out with friends on South Congress. It sounds cliché, but my style really is ‘uptown & outwest!’”
We’d love to hear how and why you got into design.
“I’ve always been a creative person. When I was a little girl, I would collect pieces of wood from the house under construction next door then spend hours in my room constructing everything from doll houses to working Ferris wheels! After college, I spent three years in fine jewelry sales and custom design. I then decided to try my hand at making it myself. I attended a bench jeweler’s academy here in Austin and the rest is history. I’ve been running my business for almost three years now. I truly learn something new every day. Creative entrepreneurs are a unique breed. This job requires creativity and execution; whimsy and practicality; flexibility and grit; independence and people skills. It’s all a balance and I love the variety each day brings.”
What is your favorite piece you’ve designed?
“I would have to say my Darling Scarf. It represents the brand perfectly. It’s beautiful and colorful, but it also has a meaning. ‘Don’t be like the rest of them, darling’ has become a phrase I live by. The intention is to remind people to do just that … be yourself. There’s a reason why you are the way you are. Be whoever that is. Shut out who you think you’re supposed to be. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Focus on what really matters. Fill the jar with the big rocks first. Live, work, love, play, laugh, heal, breathe, rest, run, ride, pray, give. Because there’s only one you. And you’ve only got one life. Make it a good one. Get out there and get ’er done!”
What is the most important aspect of your pieces?
Functionality — I want my customer to wear her pieces to the barn, a night at the White Horse, dinner at Aba, the board room, fly fishing and everything in between.”
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
“My inspiration comes from a lot of different sources, but mainly horses and the western lifestyle. Horses are my passion — I’ve ridden and competed my whole life. Growing up, our family vacation each year was a week-long pack trip on horseback in the Wyoming and Montana backcountry. So much of who I am was built on the back of a horse (and sometimes, on the occasional unlucky day, in the dirt underneath a horse). They’re my teachers, teammates and therapists. Life for me is a little bit clearer when viewed ‘between the ears.’ I really love being able to talk about those lessons through my work and the products I create.”
Do you have any details on collections for spring and summer to share?
“I’m currently developing six new items for the brand that I’m SO excited about! I have two new silk wild rags, a leather bracelet made in collaboration with another local maker and three wide brimmed hats. Everything is beautiful and colorful and oh-so feminine and fun!”
Heartfelt and customized clothing by Rebecca Wright
Supply your own materials and an Austin-based designer will create easy- to-wear, customizable clothing items. Psychic Outlaw’s unique business model provides a sustainable outlet for customers to repurpose sentimental items and create lifelong keepsakes from meaningful fabrics. Rebecca Wright is the creator/owner behind the brand. She developed the idea from her lifelong obsession of buying and creating unique clothing, launching her website storefront in 2019.
Tell us about the inspiration and idea surrounding Psychic Outlaw.
“My inspiration for Psychic Outlaw all started with my antique and vintage textile collection/obsession! I studied fiber arts and women’s crafts in college and have always been attracted to keeping handmade clothing and folk art/clothing as my focus. I never wanted to mass produce or make the same item more than once, because I want the wearer to feel special and unique when they wear their Psychic Outlaw clothing. I want them to have a similar feeling that I feel when I have made something for myself or that feeling you get when you find a treasured piece of vintage clothing.”
What are some of the most interesting and unique requests you’ve received?
“My favorite requests we get are when customers want to mail us their own family quilt to have turned into a jacket. Usually, they share the story of why the quilt is sentimental, who made it for them, how old it is, etc. It is so interesting to hear about the history of these quilts and how much they mean to people. It also melts my heart when they have us chain-stitch their grandmother’s name or family member’s name onto the jacket to further memorialize their special quilt coat.”
What are some of your favorite trends for this year?
“I love that more and more people are hopping on the sustainable and upcycling trend. I feel like everyone got super into thrifting within the past five to six years, and now we are seeing the next movement of using what we are finding and making it unique to us. It is really refreshing to see so many people who are invested in slowing down the fast fashion industry re-using, mending and learning how to sew!”
What would you say to someone who is considering trying to order/make something sentimental?
“I would say that it is worth it if the quilt is something that you have had for a long time but haven’t found use for, i.e. sitting in the closet or in a chest for a long time. Or maybe if you are even considering donating it, you could wear it as an amazing cozy earth friendly piece of art instead? I would definitely think twice about using it for a coat if you are having any doubts about having it repurposed. Quilts are such a special relic of family history.”
Where does your inspiration come from?
“I am generally inspired by the materials that I find. Each month I go on a big shopping trip and go dig through textile waste and recover all the vintage textiles that I use for my pieces. Design-wise, I love for the clothing we make to be practical, comfortable, modest and overall simple enough to display the story of the materials that it is made from.”
Do you have a favorite piece of clothing for yourself that you’ve made?
“Yes! I have made myself a ton of clothes, as you can imagine, but my favorite piece of clothing I have ever made myself is the bandana dress. It will always have a special place in my heart because it was my first original design!”
What are your thoughts on sustainability?
“I am fully dedicated to the challenge of using landfill textiles as my medium. It is truly the only way to produce something ‘new’ in a 100% sustainable way. It is an important but difficult stance because it is limiting at times, and I love fashion and making clothes. High fashion is my favorite form of art to appreciate, but overall, the industry is harmful to our ecosystem. It is a difficult problem that has no single answer. I do think that even though we will probably never be able to undo or stop the terrible environmental side effects of the fast fashion industry, if more people are aware that we need to slow down buying low-quality/trend-heavy items, use and fix what we already have purchased, and just invest in pieces that will last longer than one season, we can at least slow down our planet’s damage.”
Do you have any current favorite patterns or colors for this spring season?
“Insane florals never go out of style for spring, and any shade of pink is my neutral. Personally, I have been having fun with wacky print mixing and pairing bold colors along with pastels in one look.”
MORE: Austin’s Best Children Shops for Adorable Clothes and Entertaining Toys