Is that a Cleopatra youre carrying?
Step inside Riverside Studios and immediately the aroma of leather surrounds you. Thats because Kahlil Johnson not only sells her handmade leather handbags and accessories inside the working retail space, she also makes her wares right inside the store while you shop. When people come in here, I welcome them to Riverside Studios and ask them if theyve been here before, says the artist/designer. If they havent, I explain to them that this is a working studio and a retail space. It usually takes a little while for the idea to set in, but once it does you can see that people really get into it, the idea that were making the things they see in the shop right here. And they love it. Kahlils love of art and design started in a shoe-making class. Originally from Truckee, Kahlil was living in Santa Cruz when she saw a poster advertising Gaza Boens Tuff Scruff shoe-designing class. The late Boen designed unique shoes that had scrubber soles for cleaning the floors. Kahlil made four pairs of shoes in that first class and was hooked. With a background in business, Kahlil eased into the world of design as a shoe designer in New York City with a company called Gentle Souls. The position led Kahlil to her true love: Making leather handbags. In the evenings, she took classes at FIT in handbag construction and afterward slowly made her way back to the Tahoe area. When she finally returned to Tahoe she had her first complete collection together. Every Kahlil-designed bag has a name and all the collections are named after women in mythology or history who are essentially bad-ass. Theres the best-selling Cleopatra design, the Athena, Medusa, the Scotty – the Norwegian goddess of snow, and the Marge series that Kahlil made in the name of one of her friends who accompanied her on a trip to Los Angeles. The process of making leather bags starts well before the actual bag construction. It begins with first selecting the leather. Its no secret that leather comes directly off the back of a cow and Kahlil notes shes well aware that leather is not considered P.C. The variations in the leather are analogous to variations in ones skin, including any scarring or in the case of a cow, branding. Kahlil said she likes incorporating a brand if she finds one on a hide to remind her that this was a living, breathing animal. Im happier with the imperfection than with perfection. To minimize the impact of using leather, Kahlil keeps her net leather waste to a minimum by using the irregular leftovers to create leather rings, key chains, bracelets and other accessories. She also donates material to the Kidzone and has started using recycled leather from the backs of office chairs to fashion handbags and computer cases. And for the extremely eco-conscious customer, she also custom designs vegan bags. Custom designing a handbag (vegan or leather) is a service that Kahlil offers as an artist and as a retailer for her clients. Buyers choose their bag silhouette (or style), color, hardware and with or without lining and, voila, Kahlil makes a bag designed specifically for them. In an era when so much on the racks is made in China or elsewhere overseas, the charm of purchasing not only locally-made, but locally-made-right-in-front-of-your-very-own-eyes might just be a breath of fresh air (with the fragrance of leather, of course).
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