Saturday, July 28, 2012

Makers Feature: Love Jules Leather

I am so very stoked to finally share this awesome interview I did with Jules and Josh of Love Jules Leather. I've been saving it for a special day. Lucky you! We have become fast friends with them and I wish they didn't live so very far away! They are some of my very favorite makers and have some pretty incredible insight to share with other small business owners and crafters alike. You can find their shop HERE but be careful, you may end up spending your life savings on their incredible kicks. I would sell all my animals for THESE. (just kidding, but seriously, to die for.) ENJOY!
B: Firstly, tell us a little about you and your small business.
Hello. We're Jules Vagelatos & Joshua Blodans and we own and operate a little upstart handmade shoe company, Love Jules Leather. Our live/ work studio is located in a little ski town on the west coast of Canada. We like it here. 

You'll hear both our voices in our responses, 'cause we're a team, and that's how we roll.

Our story... Jules graduated from art school (NSCAD - Halifax, Nova Scotia) in the Spring of 2007. She returned home to Whistler, British Columbia, to figure some things out, and decided to stay awhile. Lucky for me. One ski day the following season my coworker (childhood friend of Jules') and I were on the mountain playing hooky from our cubicles when we bumped into Jules in the trees. We exchanged a couple of charmingly awkward words before she darted off through the glades... and I followed. I'm still following.

B: How did you start making shoes? Are you self taught or classically trained?
Jules began apprenticing with a leathersmith in her 2nd to last year of University. At first it was simply a means to pay the rent, but she quickly fell in love with working with leather. Upon graduation she started combining her artistic talents with her leather craftin' knowhow, and five years later, Love Jules Leather continues to evolve. 

We started experimenting with cobbling a little over a year ago, and overnight... the game changed. The response we've received to her kicks has been overwhelming to say the least, as we currently find ourselves in a position where we just don't have the manpower (2) to keep up with demand. It's an extremely taxing, stressful & frustrating ride as you walk that line between failure & burnout... but it's an endless learning experience and totally worth it .
B: Where do you find your inspiration? How do you stay motivated during a lull?
We live in a pretty awe inspiring place, and for awhile our designs were inspired, in part, by our natural surroundings. As time has gone on our personal styles have evolved, as have our tastes in music, film, art & craft, and that all plays a part in what gets thrown down in our sketchbook. We love to travel and are constantly researching on the internets. All that said, we create for ourselves, and never compromise. Anything else would be disgenuine I think.

It seems like the last 6 months have been so crazy busy, we've not had time to sleep let alone experience a lull. We definitely experience a boat load of other frustrations regularly though, and we find getting out of the studio and out on the bike trails with our puppy, or up on the mountain always seems to re-align us. Perspective is a rut killer. 
B: Congratulations on your recent featured seller interview on etsy! What kind of advice do you have for new etsy sellers?

Thank you! It was such an amazing experience. Not going to lie, it was a little overwhelming... in a good way. 

If I could travel back in time 3 years ago, and chat with ourselves as newbie Etsy shop owners, I'd drop a few nuggets of wisdom on us:
  • Give it time. Doing well on Etsy isn't necessarily an overnight thing. It'll take time to find your groove, so don't stress if you don't find yourselves with a faithful following out of the gate. Most likely they just haven't stumbled upon you yet. 
  • Don't be afraid to be different. This is an amazing DIY community, but there's a freakin' ton of us. Making your Etsy mark isn't necessarily about keeping up with the Jones', but having a unique, creative & attractive offering. 
  • All-telling appealing photos, informative product descriptions, and a reasonable pricing strategy are all important pieces to the puzzle. Do your research, yet inevitably your going to learn a lot of lessons the hard way, through trial & error. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. 
  • We're lucky to have a platform like Etsy that allows us crafters an opportunity to take the leap into hawkin' our wares. Take advantage, it'd be a shame not to. 

B: What is your favorite project/custom order that you have worked on?

We're really stoked on our hightop design right now, though it took a lot of time & patience to get it right. We started with our Sperry Topsider style boat shoe as a base, then added some cherry picked elements from some of our favourite hightop sneakers, with the goal of making a unique, practical slice of awesomeness that we'd both be proud to rock. 
We experimented with a lot of different materials, leather types & weights, and built a ton of wonky shoes before we got the equation right. Man was it a lot of work... but we're pretty proud of the product we're putting out there right now, and people seem to really dig it, which is extremely rewarding. 

B: How has your business model evolved since you first started making/selling shoes and leather goods?
Well, for two years, it was just me (Jules), struggling to make a go of it. I was, and will always be an artist first. The creative side of the business is what comes naturally to me, that's what I gravitate towards. Unfortunately, in time (I learn my lessons the hard way) I realized there's a lot more to running a successful business (by that, I mean one that pays the rent) than just a cool creative concept. Don't get me wrong, it's an extremely important element, but there's a heck of a lot more. 

Joshua joined me after the 2010 Winter Olympics, and with him focusing his talents on the other to-dos, and me the design & production, we actually started to make some moves. It's evolved greatly since we partnered up, but that was definitely the catalyst for everything that has followed. 
B: Any advice on staying organized as your business grows?
Nope. But if you've got any, I'd love to get some. 

Haha, just kidding. Actually, yes, I've got a few... honestly, we just figured these out the other day, after we realized we were out of control busy, had no money in the bank, and we were oh so close to "finding real jobs". Josh actually fired me... but has since reconsidered. 

  1. Have a plan. Like a solid business plan. Passion & creativity will get you started, but if your business concept doesn't make sense... you'll figure it out soon enough, but it might just be too late to turn the ship around. If you have a plan, no matter how crazy your predictions & projections might be, it's something to refer to, and at the very least give you some sort of direction... A plan of attack is good. Like... key.
  2. Know what you're doing this for. Money? Balance? To not have to take orders from a head honcho? To be a head honcho? To be super famous & gracing the pages of Vogue, Elle & GQ? A creative outlet? A poor paying job? If you don't have that guiding light to strive towards, you will never know what opportunities to say no to, what milestones to celebrate, or when to call it quits (should that day ever come). Can you believe one of our reasons for being self employed was balance? If by balance you mean working all day (and night) every day, 7 days a week, then ya, we're there. Haha. But you know what? It's still on our list, just a longer term goal. Gotta commit a little more blood, sweat & tears first.
  3. How do you define success? That's a good question...
B: What is your work space like?
Right now, it's a 400 square foot garage where we get our creative juices out. We've got our big ass work bench, a sewing machine, some leather working specific things, and a couple of 900 lbs, 1940s circa shoe soleing machines that don't work... yet. The music is always on, and you're all welcome to stop by for a hang out sesh anytime. 

That being said, we're movin' on up to a mini-factory/ live space in our little local industrial park. There's a backyard for a vegetable garden, enough room to house our wishlist of machines. It's a game changer really. 

B: How has being a full time maker changed your life?
We couldn't go back to the rat race... you can't make us.  

It's a roller coaster ride. The highs are super high, and the lows, well... you're going to have some. But to create your own thing... to build nothing into something is a pretty good freakin' feeling. We've decided it's important for us to make our mark, it's given us purpose. 

B: What is your dream project? 
It's a secret.

B: How exciting! Can't wait to see it! ;) So, What kind of advice do you have for new etsy sellers when it comes to customer service and getting noticed?
We're by no means experts. But, we've learned some things over the last couple of years...
  1. Good customer service is all important. Someone has decided to go out of their way to connect with you, or if you're really lucky, spend their hard earned money on something you've created. Thank them, and treat your customers as you'd like to be treated. If you can't meet their expectations, tell them so. Don't misrepresent yourself.
  2. To get noticed... stay the course. Do what you love. Be creative & use those talents you've been blessed with. Don't be afraid to be different - we're attracted to things we've never seen before. Take nice pictures - do your creations justice! Spend the time - nothing comes easy. And... a lil' luck always helps.
{I think I need these, not want, need.}
B: Anything else you would like to add?
We're by no means a success story. We're still trying to figure out a lot of things. Like a lot. But, I went from a hobbiest, to a farmers' market vendor, to an indie craft show participator, to a brand supplying retailers, to an Etsy featured artist who's been crazy fortunate enough to grace the pages of some humbling magazines. Just recently, we found an investor who's making a lot of our dreams a reality. 

This all started with a belt. 

Crazy things happen all the time. Don't be afraid to dream a crazy dream.
Be sure to check out the Love Jules shop and marvel at the incredible work they do. I have a few pairs of shoes on my list. 



  1. Wow, what an awesome shop! And these guys seem so sweet. Such great tips, thanks for sharing :]

  2. oh my goodness, how cool. great interview, love it!