Interview: Amanda Hofman | Leather Crafter

Amanda Hofman is the creative force behind Studio April, a small leather studio founded on the principles of recycling, reusing and reducing material waste. Amanda seeks to reconcile our love for leather with handmade, quality bags crafted from existing matter.Through her process of collecting, restoring and creating something new, she is actively discouraging mass consumption and senseless abundance most commonly associated with cheap products manufactured by commercial retail companies.

Meeting Amanda was an intuitive choice. On our first meeting, her reserved yet approachable manner was nothing short of optimism and sensibility. She thoughtfully surrounds herself with a curated selection of unique items that inspire her daily and people that enable her to grow. It is clear that her brand is deeply rooted in conscious consumption and gradually growing into an influential movement reaching beyond her bag collection. Asking the question, why do we continue to produce more when we there is already plenty to work with?, Amanda is using her practice to demonstrate that less is more.

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How long has your brand been established for?

Unofficially, I started in 2011. At the end of 2012, I was actually making the first prototypes of my bags. There was not a single moment I could say that I really started because I haven’t got any background training in leather making. When I started I thought, ‘well I want to do this but I don’t know how’ so I tried to teach myself. At that time, I was already collecting a lot of old stuff; couches I found on the street and other used furniture. That was a time when I thought I was becoming more aware of how much we already own and thought why are we always busy making new things when there is so much people are throwing away? Why not use only existing sources to make something new? Why not create from what we already have?

What sort of tools did you employ to learn the skills necessary for leather making?

Well, I actually started with watching videos on YouTube for the really basic steps, to get started. Afterwards, I approached a woman who works as a custom leather maker and repairer. She owns a small atelier in the center of The Hague. I asked her is she was willing to teach me and allow me to work as her apprentice.

What did she think of the idea?

At first, she wasn’t really willing to take me on. But I kept coming back to show my interest and she warmed up to the idea with some time. Now I visit her atelier regularly for some training and sometimes work there on my projects as well, approximately twice per month, sometimes more often. When I first began learning from her, she asked me to take apart a few bags and see how they had been constructed, following every stitch and detail.

Does she run it alone or is it a family-owned business?

We have actually discussed the future of her atelier because she is nearing an age where she knows she will have to leave the business. She has one daughter who doesn’t have the ambition or interest to take over the family business. I am not really interested in having my own shop, at least not in the way that her shop functions right now. I would really love to have the workplace that she has and to give that place a future, and maybe even continue to take in leather repairs because there will always be a need [for this type of work]. She has been a huge inspiration for me and has taught me so much about the process and techniques of leather making. I’m really thankful for her help and guidance.

Do you create all of your own patterns, as well?

Yes. There is a lot of influence in my patterns from my former background in graphic design. While I worked at a fashion company in Amsterdam, I had this large working space one or two nights a week to myself. I used to go there to get creative and work on something else other than work. At first, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. I knew it was something I wanted to do and hoped people would share in this interest with me. I started with sketches, then patterns, and eventually moved to creating a prototype for my first bag.

Where do you get your materials?

Mostly, I find them myself. Once in a while, I receive an email or text message with tips, like ‘there’s this great couch in Amsterdam West, you should definitely drive by and pick it up’ but often these pieces will be gone before I am able to reach them driving from The Hague. Marktplaats is also my friend. I organize these hunting days for gathering unique, used couches. I rent a small van and make appointments to visit three or four locations. It’s amazing, because sometimes people really can’t throw their couch away, can’t bear to leave it behind when they are moving or cleaning out their homes. I usually sit with them for a little while and ask about its history. Sometimes these pieces of furniture can be over 30 years old. When I tell them what my plans are with recycling the leather, they are often very enthusiastic about it and like the idea that their couch will serve a different purpose in a new life.

I imagine that many people would want that for things they really loved, things that once brought them joy. It can be difficult to part with something you had through important moments in your life.

At the beginning, when I first got started with collecting used furniture, I wouldn’t dare to tell people that I planned to rip up their used couch, even though they were giving it away. I was worried that maybe they would change their mind about giving it to me. After having a few awkward interactions where people would insist that I should sit down and test the structure of their couch, I thought I should start being honest about my plans. It was a very good move, being honest. Many people shared their interest for my work and it helped spread the word on my brand. I reached more customers this way.

It is becoming a part of a bigger concept than simply a bag collection.

Do you get a lot of special requests from clients or do most of the orders come from your online shop?

It really depends on the season. Some periods it can get busier on the webshop and other periods I am busy with custom orders. Right now, it’s quite busy for the holiday period. It’s a really organic process. I’m not very active with marketing or paid advertising. In any case, it is growing in a positive way, and in a way that I can still manage the entire process and keep up with the orders as they come in.

You mentioned as well that you personally source the materials and take care of each order from beginning to end.

Yes, and I would love to keep it that way but we have to see how it develops in the future. I always said that for the long-term, it would be lovely to collaborate and work together with another maker, for example, a local Turkish atelier in the Netherlands. I would never want to outsource an order to a foreign country. Even though there are many businesses that have healthy collaborations by doing this, I would prefer to keep my production local. This way I can keep an eye on the entire process and contribute to the local economy.

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Have you collaborated with local makers in the past on specific projects?

Yes I have. I worked with Strawberry Earth. They included my designs through special products made exclusively for them. Most recently, I worked with a brand in Rotterdam called Ubuntu. It’s an African-inspired vintage denim brand with a pop-up shop. They work with special symbols. For them, I designed a unique travel wallet.

And you want to continue doing similar collaborations in the future.

Yeah, definitely. And also to work with makers from different disciplines. For example, someone working with ceramics or a photographer. Something completely different but in a way that the result is something abstract.

That’s interesting. So this could also be something you could integrate together with your former studies as a graphic designer.

I am actually using a lot of my graphic design background in my current work. I design the website, but not the technical parts. It’s in my nature to want to do everything myself but I think this might prevent me from growing [the brand] if I focus too much on the technical details. And then I would have to study coding, and I’m not really into that (laughs).

If you could describe your creative process using three words, which words would you choose?

Oh wow, okay. Collecting. Slow-living. Placing more intention and awareness on the process of collecting and making. I guess that wasn’t three words but you get the point (laughs).

Relating specifically to our general awareness of overconsumption, how do you think that your intentions, and your product, can impact the creative process for the future?

That’s actually a very good question. At the start of this year, in January, I made new goals for myself. For the very first time, I became aware that until now, I have only been focused on creating as a reaction to mass consumption. I realized this year that I wanted to take a more active approach to spreading awareness and informing others of the other choices they could make when buying new things. It is becoming a part of a bigger concept than simply a bag collection. One part of that goal is sharing knowledge through workshops. It’s a small step but it’s a great way for me to share my process with others. In these workshops, I provide the tools and materials for people to create their own pieces from used leather. From scraps of used leather, they are able to create something beautiful. My hope is that they leave the workshop with new insights and I hope it gives them ideas for recycling their things in the future. Thinking ‘maybe I can make somebody else happy with this’ instead of throwing it away. Like, did you know that 40 wallets could be made using one couch?

(Laughs) I didn’t know that actually.

The second part of that greater goal is having my website rebuilt as a platform where I share this vision with others. I would love to collaborate with shops and push this vision further, educate others on what can be done with their existing things when they are ready to part with them. My main goal for the coming years is to reach people. Expanding my collection comes second. I want to show people that investing in one great, quality product will last a lifetime, versus buying three of four bags from H&M, for example.

Was it difficult to get support when you started the brand?

I live together with my boyfriend, Nick, and he is very supportive of my work. He saw the struggle I experienced while working in the fashion industry and said ‘if you really want to do this, just go for it’. My parents and friends know me quite well, and they could see that I had a hard time fitting into the hierarchy of a company. I wanted to work for myself. I have always liked trying new things, and seeing myself fall and rise again is a necessary part of growing. It has always worked for me.

What does happiness mean to you?

Being in the moment. Living in that moment and feeling the experience I am having. Whether it’s when I am busy working on a new bag or lying in bed on a Sunday morning with the dog, the cat, and Nick, drinking coffee and listening to jazz music. Being fully aware of that moment is what matters most. I often live in my head, creating something new. I have to actively remind myself of this because it’s easy to get caught up in everyday things. This might sound corny, but I can also feel very happy from setting that perfect stich in a bag (laughs).

You must really get a kick out of it!

Like a pump of adrenaline! That’s also happiness for me, the little things.

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All images courtesy of Studio April.