Dreaming of Handbags. Meet Carrie George of Carrie George Leather

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Photography by Jessica Campbell of Jessica Campbell Visual Media

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
I am Carrie George, a self-made handbag designer of Carrie George Leather. I dream up handbag designs, make my own patterns, put them together and then make them out of leather. Pretty simple. The designs usually stem from my own needs and interests. I love the challenge of designing something that is so frequently worn. I am not re-inventing the wheel, but it is fun putting my spin on a widely used staple.

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What did you want to be when you were a child?
Although I never had a sure idea of what I wanted to be when I was young, I knew that I wanted to be my own boss. I always admired self-made people because the perception was that they were making a living doing what they loved. When I was a child, my mother would take me to MacKenzie Childs in Aurora, NY(before they were everywhere) and I just loved looking at the artists working. The room they worked in was a big art class to me. I knew I was creative when I was young, but didn't imagine turning that creativity into a career. Being a handbag designer never crossed my mind.

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How did you get started? What were some of the difficulties you faced in starting?
Seven years ago, I made myself a leather shoulder bag out of a motorcycle jacket and a friend asked for one. Then another friend asked and then a friend’s friend and I got to thinking, “maybe I have something here”.

In the beginning I wasn't making bags for much money. It was rewarding and every time a person wanted a bag, it was happy-dance time. Now I’ve noticed that there are four things that continue to cause me concern: growth, money, time, and expertise. As I've grown, I've needed more money. I have less time to design, and sometimes lack ALL the necessary skills to run the backbone of the business. Although I've grown leaps and bounds, this all still feels new. I’m still in the growth stage of my business. As soon as I make it around one corner, there is still more to learn.

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In moments of self-doubt, hardships or failure, how do you build yourself back up?
This ties into the above question. As I mentioned, it feels like once I cross one hurdle, another one pops up. In addition to the four obstacles I’ve listed above, self-doubt, is the toughest. At my worst, I tell myself I should be doing better, making more, working harder, etc. I am always raising the bar. If I start to feel stuck or defeated, I dig myself out by remembering what my strengths are, or I get lucky and am reminded of them by other people. Compliments, praise, and admiration are at the heart of the relationship between maker and consumer, and that is what drives me and builds me back up.

I also try to remember that my own value as a human being is separate from the success or failure of my business. The historian Paul Johnson once said that, “Art is not enough”.

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Lettering by Christy Roushey

What is your best advice to someone just starting out? What advice do you wish someone had said to you?
Keep honing your skill by ceaseless practice and don’t worry about the details. When you fail, get back on your feet and back to work. It’s a cliche for a reason. Also, don’t define success by other people’s benchmarks. Establish your own and move in their direction.

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How do you find balance? What inspires you?
Balance has been a key word for me lately. I’ve been trying to balance my own life out so that I can enjoy it fully. You know you’re out of balance when you stop and say, “hey, I’m not really enjoying this anymore”. Then I know something needs to shift. Balance for me means being able to stop something as quickly as I start back up. Learning how to unplug is easier than plugging in. So, when I get out of balance it usually means I need to spend quality time with friends that recharge and challenge me or spend time by myself regenerating. I do that by reading, or something simple like cooking, being in nature.

I am truly inspired by other peoples’ stories of triumph. These stories don’t always have to be a business success story. I hang tightly to that part of a persons story where they think they are going to break. That is being human to me. The ability to overcome all sorts of things. It reminds me of how strong we can be. Those hurdles are also a thread in humanity. I feel apart of other peoples triumphs because I recognize the struggle. Even if my own struggles are far less. I’m inspired because stories of triumph make the hurdle seem approachable.

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What is your favorite part of what you do?
I really love designing. I dream of bags, literally. I really love hand-sewing bags. It seems so primitive to me. Needle, thread, skin. Sounds so graphic, but that’s what leather is. I love touching the leather and cutting it… all the tactile things about what I do are really fun for me.

I love styling for photo shoots, too.  I love picturing the whole image!

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What do you find most challenging?
The true work is to get up and sew even when I’m not excited about it. Or dye leather straps all day. I find it hard to take mental time away from work. I’ve found that I need to turn the button off as fast as I can turn it on, or I’ll never relax. Americans are led to believe they have to be “on” all the time in order to be successful. I think this is an unhealthy approach. When I get time, I need to take it. Patience is also a challenge for me. Success takes patience. We are taught that success takes hard work, which it does. The harder of the two though, is definitely patience.  

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Name some local creatives that you admire
Heather Swenson Art
Kristin Klock-Watte of Root Catering
Sara Silvio Jewelry
Andrea Geer Designs (clothing designer)

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