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A Short History of Found

Inspiration often shows up in unexpected places. Often it can grow from a seed you may not even be aware of that lies dormant under the surface until just the right conditions result in germination. Such was birth of Found.  

I have never been a real 'bag' person. Which may seem a little funny, but it's the truth. In my younger years, I was a one-bag kind of girl, and I typically wore a bag out before I'd succumb to getting a new one. I get attached to things. My favorite bag during high school and into college was a rugged brown leather, cross-body saddlebag I had picked up at a street market in Guatemala while on a trip with my high school youth group. It was the perfect size for carrying a journal full of teenage angst and bad poetry, a wide array of gel pens, my (usually empty) wallet, and whatever other essentials needed toting around. I took that thing everywhere.

On one particular visit home from college, my bag was in seriously rough shape. It was worn through in places, sewn together with dental floss in others. My dad took one look at it and declared that it needed to be replaced. He asked if he could keep it to know what kind of replacement to look for, and I said, 'no way'. (This predates the days of convenient digital photography...). So he made a quick sketch with the dimensions, and that was the end of the discussion.  

I don't know how many months or years later, because it seemed a little out of the blue, but my dad (bless his heart), presented me with this bag:

...a bag that bore little resemblance to my long-loved Central American saddle bag, except for of course, the general dimensions.  When his search for the same bag came up empty, he took it upon himself to find a leather coat at a thrift store, cut out the pieces and recruited a friend with an industrial sewing machine to help him put the bag together. My dad was a pastor, people.  He had always been a pretty handy guy, but this was a totally outstanding thing for him to create!  Me, in my ungrateful twenty-something fog, responded with something to the tune of: 'Meh'.  

Nicki's Dad

These years later, (in my far more grateful 30's ;), I'd give almost anything to be able to tell my Dad what an amazing gift he had given me.  He passed away in 2006, just before the whole journey of Found began. It wasn't long after his passing that I went in search of my first leather coat to take apart. One of the first things I recall making from leather was a bound, mini-photo album for my (now) husband Kevin's dad to take with him to Iraq during his final tour of duty. From there I played around with making pouches and wallets, and eventually bags. At that time I was also sewing with felted wool, mostly from sweaters that I had washed and dried a bazillion times. I was motivated mostly by making gifts for friends and family.  I was a middle school science teacher at the time, trying to finish my graduate thesis work in forest ecology, so free-time wasn't really in abundant supply, but I relished every moment I could devote to making.  

Only a few weeks after my dad's passing, my mom (who had been chronically ill with MS) passed away as well.  And only months later, Kevin and I were married. Kevin was a freshly minted school counselor in search of a place to land, so we were also facing relocation.  The combined emotional whirlwind of my recent personal losses and gains, combined with a little bit of teacher burn-out led me to quit my job to pursue starting a non-profit that would cater to caregivers of the chronically ill.

Kevin got a job in Portland, OR and we were off to start a new adventure.  

While Kevin went off to school on his bike, I set up an office and a sewing studio in our cute little SE Portland bungalow.  And in between learning everything I could about grant writing and 401c3s and caregiver resources and property on the Oregon Coast, I was playing around with my growing piles of leather and zippers and snaps.  Some of you may remember 2008, and how that was maybe not the best year to start a non-profit?  Well, yes, it wasn't.  Turns out when the market crashes, people aren't really interested in giving a total novice any money to start a non-profit. Luckily, people were still interested in handmade leather goods!

At the time, Etsy was a relatively new concept.  I had never even heard of it when my friend Kortney said, 'hey!  you should sell your stuff on Etsy!'.  The whole idea seemed entirely too easy.  You mean, I make something and take a picture of it, and put it on the interwebs for everyone to see?!  And then anyone from anywhere can buy it?  Ok, I'll try it.  So, I opened up an Etsy shop on October 3rd, 2008 with 5 listings and a little prayer.   Hours (!) later I had my first order, from a total stranger in Florida!  I sold my first bag for $40, and a pouch for $12. 

Thus, my Etsy shop was up and rolling.  The non-profit hopes and dreams sunsetted with the failing economy and the the news that I was going to become a mama for the first time.  So, I kept sewing and hunting for materials as my belly grew in enormous proportions (seriously, I was huge).  I made it my goal to source absolutely everything second hand or scrap, even the thread.  I was a thrifting maniac.  

For the next 7 or so years, my productivity ebbed and flowed with how much sleep I was getting and how many hours I could steal away to the sewing machine.  I actually closed up shop for a short time after my second son was born, but couldn't stay away long.  It was my fuel.  

Being a maker has always been in me.  I come from a history of makers-- carpentry, blacksmithing, sewing, cooking, tatting, quilting-- these things are in my blood.  But I never entertained 'making' as a livelihood.  Could I really do it?  It wasn't until just over a year ago that I really started to entertain the question.  I had gone just about as far as I could go with my repurposing.  My boys were starting to get a little bit older, and I realized I was going to need something to occupy my spare minutes, maybe even hours. I either had to make Found a 'real' business or I had to go find a real job.  And the answer was clear to me.  

Leah joined Found as my business partner just over a year ago when we officially became Found Leather Goods, and things have changed radically in that time. The focus has shifted from repurposing to designing functional, beautiful pieces that are made for a lifetime of use. The process now starts with whole hides of leather and predictable sources of hardware and other materials. I sometimes miss the the thrill of the brilliant find, or the challenge of turning something into something else, but mostly I find it refreshing to come to the design table with a clean slate.  I find so much fulfillment in the creative life, in tune with the zen-like hum of my vintage sewing machines.  

I am happy to be :: f o u n d ::.  


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