It's safe to say that Chris and I have been around our fair share of local markets and met some pretty phenomenal makers. However, even though we've been at this for a couple of years now, there are some veteran craftspeople in Colorado that put us to shame. The cream of the crop? Shari from Leo's Dry Goods. Not only is she a veteran maker in CO, she has a phenomenal craft that is not only wildly creative and unique, but environmentally conscientious. Beyond her amazing work, she's a joy to be around.
I remember when we first met Shari up in Boulder at the Firefly Handmade: she was bursting with energy, walking around, coffee in hand, saying 'Hi!' to old friends and introducing herself to strangers. Chris and I were two of those baby-faced new comers and one of the first things Shari said was, 'Holy crap! Your stuff is awesome!,' which is Shari in a nutshell. Beyond friendly, encouraging of others to no end, and a lot of fun to be around.
As a local, small business, we meet a lot of other amazing makers and, when starting The HC Blog, I knew I wanted to try and highlight some of the people that have had the biggest impact on us. Shari was number one on my list, so I got in touch with her to learn a bit more about her story, her craft, and how she pursues her dream. As you will see, she's an kindhearted person with a lot to offer. If you fail to see her vending around CO, you can find her products in several small shops around the country and online at leosdrygoods.com.
Obviously you have a lot of history to what you do. Your company name comes from a store that your grandfather owned in Newark, NJ, ‘Leo’s Dry Goods,’ but can you tell us a little bit about what you decided to go this direction? You’re obviously a creative soul, but what made you want to pay such personal homage to your grandfather?
When I was kicking around names for my company I had thought a lot about what was going on with the resurgence of craft and the makers movement. That brought about trendy words and what was supposed to be hip and modern and that really wasn’t what I was about or what I wanted to convey. What I realized was that the work I was making was inherently connected to goods made a long time ago, before there were synthetic materials, when goods were made with conscious dedication to quality and beauty and utilitarian needs. It reminded me of the past and with that came the memories of my grandfather’s store, Leo’s Dry Goods. The place was magical. Dark, with worn wood counters and tall piles of utilitarian clothing made of canvas, thick cotton bed linens. I thought, “There it is, Leo's’ Dry Goods, done.”
All of your products feature hand drawn images using different color threads. I think what is so amazing is that you don’t use a template and that each drawing is completely unique. I know you got your creative juices from painting, but what gave you the idea to start drawing with thread?
I was playing around on my sewing machine, making aprons as a gift for a client. I had done some trompe l'oeil painting in a home, the client was really into cooking, so I thought as a thank you I would make her an apron. I had painted on canvas and after felt that it needed more detail so I started stitching over the painted areas and it just popped. I was hooked. I made more and as I experimented I came about not painting on the apron first, but just moving the fabric around and using the needle as my paint brush.
We both call Colorado home and it seems like the organic/natural trend is something we’re really familiar with. Like you, we try to use naturally sourced products as much as possible, but can you tell us why this is such an important part of what you do?
It goes back to my hippy days! Not really, I just think that when you throw yourself into something it should be from your heart and luckily my heart isn’t made from polyester (is that even still used for anything?). All of the materials I use are natural, cotton, linen, even the thread I sew with is 100% cotton. If you make a quality product it has to start with quality materials. My goal, now that the manufacturing of hemp in Co is legal, is to use a local grower and weaver and make my goods with organic hemp that is grown here.
Chris and I meet a lot of great people in the Colorado craft market scene, but from day one, you have been one of the most supportive and friendly creatives we have come across; it’s as though you live and breathe what you do! Not to mention you’re a veteran at most of these events (at least to us). Can you tell us where you find your passion and why you love the market scene so much?
Oh, you two boys are too kind. I have a blast making my goods; I hope that comes across in the finished product. I have a blast at markets because I love being around creative people and people that appreciate well made goods. First and foremost, if you are at a market and sitting around like a shlub that is going to come off to all the lovely people that took the time to come see us. When a vendor is sitting tucked away in their booth texting away and not engaging that just reads as apathetic. When vendors complain about a market because they are not selling, they need to look inward. We are given a venue, it is up to us to make it work-form the display to your attitude.
How does your creative process work? Do you come up with an idea before you stitch it or do you just start and let your creative juices flow?
I do both. I sketch in a journal, some of that ends up on canvas. Not always will people just want my personal artwork, so I like to see what’s “trending.” Ugh, kill me for saying that. But it is important from a business end to give the people what they want. Some of my ideas manifest from my head (and heart) and people identify with that, other imagery is influenced with what is going on to date.
Do you do any custom designs for your customers? What has been the most interesting thing you have ever created? What’s your favorite design/most popular?
I do custom items all the time. I love it. The single beet has to be one of my most popular designs. I have to say, the simplicity of it is great. Some of my favorite work is the most simple. A single stitched line across a frayed edge piece of fabric, folded into a napkin is gorgeous. For me it’s perfect, but a lot people like to see the skill side of free motion embroidery, or as my tag line states: Illustrations in Thread!!! So people like to see more work, more design, more than just one or two or three parallel lines, even though to me that is the shit.
Moving from New York to Boulder must have been a pretty radical shift, but it was obviously something you wanted/needed to do. Do you think your inspiration or creative process has changed since you’ve relocated?
Inspiration has changed, as it does daily. My creative process is fairly similar because it comes from within and I think I am a lot of that same person that graduated from art school. Mediums have changed but creating has always been at the forefront of my life.
Chris and I draw a lot of inspiration and drive from our friends and family for some of the products we make and we know you’re this way too. Is there anyone in your life that you would say motivates you or spurs your creativity?
My mother. She passed away 17 years ago but she was the one from the beginning. When I was little she told me I didn’t need coloring books, but instead, draw your own pictures and color them in (didn’t like it then but grateful by the time I went to college). By 8 years old she bought me my first set of oil paints. She was pretty cool- and really smart, like brilliant smart, and I don’t use that word lightly. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 3 years of college. She was Leo’s daughter and first generation American. She had a really great way of looking at things, and she could complete a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink - and anyone who does the puzzle knows Saturday is the hardest, way harder than Sundays.
Getting a business off the ground is incredibly difficult for a lot of people. What was it that made you bite the bullet and do all you could to get your company started? What advice do you have for people trying to follow their passion?
Do it, do it, do it. Life is short and if you get to the end and have to say, “WHAT, I’m done, it’s over? What the hell was I thinking, I just wasted all this time not being happy and not following a dream” well what is the point? You have to believe in yourself and what you are making. You do need to be pragmatic too. Ask yourself all the pertinent questions related to business. For example, if you want to open a salon ( I know someone to which this happened) don't you think you should ask yourself what the market is like already? Is it saturated, am I offering something that doesn't exist? If you open a salon in a town that has 38 and most are established how are you going to attract business? It was a bad move.
A personal question that I have to ask: You raise chickens and ducks. What is it like to care for and raise a farm animal? I’ve always been curious!
I love it. Chickens are easy to raise and once you start it can become an obsession - always looking for that different colored egg!! Ducks can be fairly messy little creatures, but watching them waddle around and swim in a little pond is pretty darn cute and their eggs make great muffins. I would love to have a couple of donkeys but my husband thinks that might not go over so well with the neighbors.
Thank you again, Shari, for being such an awesome person to be around and work with. You really are an inspiration to the maker scene here in Colorado.
If you would like to be featured in a future Meet the Maker or know of an amazing local business that you want to see featured, send an email to email@example.com.