We are so excited to announce our new partnership with one of our favorite brands, Lyonhart Bag Company! Starting Friday September 29, they're popping up permanently in our shop. We've been carrying a couple of styles for some time, but with our new partnership, Lyonhart Bag Co will be bringing a wider selection of their beautiful bags and accessories to the shop. I sat down with the founder, Niamh Lyonhart, who hand makes every single piece herself in her Oakland studio, to ask her a few questions and introduce her to you all.
Meet Niamh Lyonhart
Founder and maker of Lyonhart Bags
When did you start Lyonhart Bags? What motivated you to start your own company?
I started Lyonhart Bags shortly after moving to Oakland almost 4 years ago. I had been sewing professionally for other designers for several years at that point, and once I started making bags I felt that I'd really found my niche. I've always been entrepreneurial and designing and sewing has long been my creative outlet of choice. It just seemed like the right time.
What have been the biggest obstacles and biggest successes for you in your business?
My biggest obstacle so far has been scalability. Up until a couple of months ago I was constructing every single bag by myself, and running the whole show. I have a part time helper now who assists around the studio and cuts fabric, but even still – it's a lot of work running a hand made business, and it's difficult figuring out how to scale up without sacrificing quality. My biggest successes happen when strangers on the internet really like what I make and they buy it. Or when people rush into my booth at a craft show and tell me how they've been eyeing my bags for months and are so excited to finally get one.
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be interested in starting their own company, particularly makers like yourself who hand produce their merchandise?
I started slow, had a part time job that I loved and that was flexible – and when things got really busy, I went full time working for myself. My business has grown pretty organically. It's anything but easy – I work a lot. If it's what you really want to do, keep at it. Also, consider in the beginning what things might look like when demand grows beyond what you can produce yourself, and plan for how to have help.
As a small business owner myself, I know how important it is to take time away from my business to unwind and do things for myself. Do you have a self-care routine that helps you stay grounded?
I'm not the best at this, but I'm getting better. I take a lot of walks and hikes. I start every day with a walk in the hills with my husband and our dogs. I try to keep this from being a chore. It's refreshing to be out early when the city is still quiet. It gives me a chance to move my body, think about my day, talk to my partner, and let my dogs run wild. Also, after I've done a big push for a craft show or market, I like to get a massage. This is a necessity really, my work is very physical and repetitive.
It's hard to not always be working when our personal lives can blend right into business thanks to smart phones and the nature of social media. When I get the chance to travel, I set up auto replies to my email and turn off my online shops, so I get a chunk of time where I am absolutely not working. I know I won't always be able to do that, but hopefully when that time comes, I can have a helper manage things while I'm away.
We are crazy dog people here at Maple Street and we know you have two canines yourself. Tell us about Greta and Emil. :)
Emil and Greta are my two dachshunds, and they are the best ever. They're fierce and silly and so snuggly. Greta is 10, and she's been with me since she was a pup. Emil is almost 3, and we adopted him last year. One of the coolest parts of my job is that my dogs get to come hang out with me all day. Nothing beats a lunch break spent snuggling dogs.
Your bags have such a beautiful aesthetic, where do you find inspiration for your design?
I get inspiration from vintage and classic bags and luggage. Function informs much of my design. I think about what purpose a certain bag will serve (dress up bag, every day bag, travel bag, etc.) and let that guide my design. I recently made my own version of the popular bucket bag silhouette, and the whole time I was making them I couldn't stop thinking about my first year in art school. My drawing instructor made us spend weeks drawing paper bags filled with sand so that we got a grasp of weight, bulk, and shadow. Even though these bags are simple, I spent a lot of time perfecting the shape so they slouched just right.
How would you describe your personal style? Do you have a go-to piece (other than your bags of course!) that you wear every day?
My everyday uniform at the studio is jeans and a t shirt. I'm rotating between an older pair of Nudies that have been mended many times, and a newer pair from Citizens of Humanity (both from Maple Street denim!). I also love my washed black denim jacket from Levi's Made & Crafted line. When dressing up, my go-to piece is the Etta dress from Curator, from a few seasons back.
My personal style is also informed by function. I don't wear clothes that are constricting or delicate. I wear a lot of black because it's easy (and also because some part of my 17 year old punk rock self still resides inside me). I don't buy a lot of clothes, but when I do I go for well-made pieces that will last. I think my Curator dresses are 2-3 years old and going strong. The same goes for denim – I'll patch and mend my jeans endlessly.
Come by the shop Friday September 29 from 5-7 for our launch party to meet Niamh in person, and check out her amazing line!