Jennifer Stilwell’s Handmade Leather Goods Are More Than Just A Brand
In 2011, Jennifer Stilwell embarked on a voyage to learn the art of leatherworking. The journey would take her to Argentina and the UK, where she would learn the best-kept secrets of the world’s greatest leather artisans. Flash forward a few years, and Jen was living on a ship as a member of a group who aimed to fund and support indigenous artists. “To combat the extreme solitude that sometimes comes with living at sea, I set up a portable leather studio in the bow of the ship,” says Jen. Using the skills she had learned as an apprentice, Jen began making her own leather bags, jewelry, hats, and even furniture, by hand.
Today, Jen’s project has grown into All Hands, a label which showcases the best of Jen’s handmade leather designs. Each bag retains an immaculate amount of detail, and each holds a story. One can envision a sailor chucking a creamy All Hands canvas rucksack over his shoulder as he boards a ship, the thick rope straps mirroring the details of the ship. The highly conceptualized bags meet Jen’s technical skill as the perfect storm: at once elegantly high fashion, the bags are worldly, produced in the US, and socially aware.
For her Spring/Summer 2016 collection, Jennifer was inspired by the secret written language nomads used to communicate with each other during the 1920s. Hobos would use symbols as notes to leave for their fellow tramps, carved into gateposts as advice on where to camp, where to find food, or potential dangers that lay ahead. A triangle next to a diamond, for example, meant “Be prepared to defend yourself.” Focusing on the symbols that spoke to her the most, Jen created a line of oversized, buttery leather clutches embossed with hobo messages. With these clutches, the wearer carries a secret message decipherable by a select few.