Meet the Makers: THE STOWE
Cleo: Hey Molly! - Thanks for doing this interview with us! We are one, among many fans of your utilitarian-cool handbag line The Stowe and as we, always brag about - are super proud to have been your very first United States account! In all my time spent in design school & fashion production, it's been rare ( and by rare, I’m mean literally never ) have I met a female leather maker ( a very cool one at that ), I know you’ve told me this story but would love to let everyone know how you got your start in this segment of the industry.
C: After design school where you studied fashion and pattern making on clothing - what began your love affair with leather? How was the transition of working with this material?
M: It all began when my favourite belt broke. It was a little cheap GAP belt I think, but I loved it and it went with everything. Being a pretty handy person, I typically choose to repair things myself before replacing them, and this time was no different. I brought the buckle to my local leather supplier in Vancouver and he really took me under his wing. He showed me how to pull my first strap off of a hide and skive my hand. It was an amazing experience and I was totally hooked. I bought tools that day and got to work on my first line of leather belts. I still use the tools that I bought that day!
C: You began your company by making all the production yourself in your Montreal studio, how did you handle that? How has the move of production to Spain been?
M:It was very manageable during the early days. I was basically selling a few bags a month through my Etsy shop and it was enough to buy my materials and carry on that way. Things really picked up when I started selling to my first wholesale accounts in Montreal and Vancouver. Over the years I became so busy that I was able to quit my job and work full time on running the business and production. I was working around the clock on production, and decided it was time for some help. It took quite a lot of research and a handful of disappointing samples before we found our perfect fit in our production team in Spain and I couldn't ask for a better partnership. They really understand my vision and execute it better than I ever could. I'm extremely happy with the product at this moment and it's opened up so much time for me to focus on perfecting the design to offer the best product possible.
C: Currently at The Stowe, you hold the title of designer and your boyfriend and partner Matt is the COO. When did he join the business and how do you split up the work?
M: Matt was between work in Montreal and I was in desperate need of help in the studio, while I was running the show solo. He came into the studio for a "trial week" in 2013 that basically never ended! He manages all of the back-end from account management to financial planning. In my opinion it's one of the best decisions we've ever made. It was impossible to stay on top of development and keep my creative wheels turning while I had emails piling up and year-end financials to submit. Of course there are some bumps in the road working with your partner, but overall it's been incredible. We get to travel a ton for work together and the business is running more smoothly than ever!
C: If you could go back to when you started the line, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
M: Don't be so hard on yourself. Minor problems or unsatisfied customers used to totally consume me. I've learned that I can't control everything or please everyone and work life is more peaceful now.
C: Who came up with the name? What’s the meaning behind it?
M: I came up with the name, and it's a play on the word "stowaway"
C: How do you name your bags? Is there a Cleo in the future ;)
M: They're almost all named after the children of my friends! I'm at the age now that everyone is having babies, so there are plenty of great names to go around at the moment. Keep your eyes peeled for the Cleo bag :D
C: What has been the hardest moment so far in the business, and what’s been the highest high?
M: The hardest moment so far was learning that the tiny production team we hired in Montreal was closing permanently without notice. We got that phone call while we were on a sales trip in New York and it was very devastating. I took the production back in-house and did everything myself for 8 months. It was a very dark time, but it facilitated our move to Spain and I couldn't be happier! The highs are very plentiful, I can't pinpoint just one. Running my own business with my partner brings me such joy and I'm surrounded by such amazing talent in my category. Something that really lifts me up is traveling twice a year to meet face to face with all of our accounts and industry peers. Maintaining personal relationships with these people is very important to me, it's what keeps my business going and I'm very grateful. I'm very emotionally attached to the business so it can be a bit of a rollercoaster, but overall it's very pleasant.
C: You have a super creative collective studio in Montreal that you set up, can you tell us a little about the space and the other designers you share it with?
M: I founded a collective of artists in Montreal's Mile Ex area called simply "Collectif" It is a large, light-filled space home to 15 artists of various disciplines. I had outgrown my previous studio space and while looking for more room stumbled upon this enormous fixer-upper that seemed totally unrealistic to take, but was too good to pass up. I started asking around and quickly realized that it's just what our tight knit community needed! We filled the room with artists no problem and it's been a very inspiring space to operate out of for the last few years.
C: How important is it for you to surround yourself with this type of artistic community?
M: It's very important to surround myself with people who are working towards their own goals in a creative field. My office is mostly computer based work these days, and working amongst so many hands-on designers and entrepreneurs keeps me sane. We help one another out with supplier contacts and it's very important to have a sounding board when developing new shapes.
C: Was is always your dream to work for yourself? If you weren't designing handbags what do you think you’d be doing?
M: Working for myself came about by accident, in a way. I didn't specifically imagine being self employed but it's been an amazing experience. If I wasn't designing handbags I would love to be making furniture. I've always wanted to have my own wood shop! We'll see if it happens one day, maybe that will be my retirement plan.
C: What was it like the first time you saw your bag on a total stranger?
M: It was in Montreal and I remember freaking out and excitedly hitting my friend really hard. She might still have the mark on her arm. The first time I saw one of my bags on a stranger in Paris was a very special experience, but there was no one to smack in that moment. You can sometimes catch me sneaking behind strangers carrying my bags to try to catch some "Stowe in the wild" across different cities.
C: What's your favorite bag you've designed, and which one do you use most often?
C: What's next for the Stowe? Are you thinking of adding new categories for the brand?
M: I have a few surprises in the works :) Let's just say Spring 2019 is going to be a big season.