Monday, September 22, 2008

AB Sutton

Anna & Jack Featherly, Skaneateles, NY
AB Sutton

So great to have Anna & Jack Featherly on the site! They're the husband and wife team of AB Sutton, a fab luxurious line of beautifully handcrafted leather goods {well}made to your specifications.

1. How would you describe your style?

Good question. I really don't know. I like colors... I like lots of colors. It's possible that my style is always changing, bright to earthy, glittery to bland. Yes, I said bland! This would explain why I feel it's so important for AB Sutton to offer so many color choices. Also, I'm particularly inspired by american folk art and always trying to recreate the feel- handmade, bright, solidly crafted, finished with some sort of maker's mark.

2. I've seen some of your lovely illustrations on The Morning News (here and here). Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Thank you! I'm so surprised to be asked about this, I sometimes forget that I can claim to be an Illustrator. Well, as a kid I wasn't terribly athletic, so I spent a lot of my time drawing. My dad was especially encouraging and taught me how to make a sketch, how to look at an object and draw what I saw. Learning about these things was so much fun I kept on doing it and eventually majored in Studio Art in college. There, I concentrated on painting and printmaking but I continued with drawing and started to learn about textiles. My grandmother had taught me how to sew but it was mostly for fun that I would drag out my old Kenmore machine and make clothes or curtains. After college I moved to Williamsburg, Brookyln and the work I found was all thanks to my ability to sew.

3. How did you get into designing leather accessories? How long have you been doing this for and how did it all begin?

Working with leather was a complete accident. It was 2002, my room mate had heard about a studio sale down along the river (this is in Williamsburg) and so I decided to go with her for fun. The woman holding the sale had been operating a small leather goods atelier and she was leaving New York and giving it all up! Well, it was actually something like she was getting married and moving to Georgia. Either way, it was all for sale and really cheap. So I bought some tools, bought some leather scraps and then went home to play around with my new toys. By this time I had invested in a Bernina sewing machine. Leather was no problem for my wonderful, glorious, fantastic, Bernina. I still have it. My first project was a "pouch", my second was a horrible wallet, my third was a cuff with miniature painting of Abraham Lincoln. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was fun! And then I got my first commission. A friend had a cousin who had an iPod. Remember, this is back when it was really something special to have an iPod. Well, a case was needed. So I made one out of leather and put an "M" on it. Within a few months I was making leather goods with my name on the label- A. B. Sutton. Then, a year and half later, Jack joined me full-time.

What was it that made you want to start creating? Do you feel like you were born with a desire to create or did something trigger it?

I suppose I was born with a desire to create, but who really knows? I grew up in a creative family, from my point of view it seems completely natural that I would make things all my life. It's what I saw all around me, and I wanted to fit in. Plus, it made me really happy.

5. If you could put your products on the shelves of any 3 stores, which ones would you choose?
Truth be told, I can't currently name one. Years ago we had ambitions to work with luxury department stores like Barney's, but things have changed. We really enjoy making custom items and working with our customers. To continue like this, we've learned we can only work alone. We do have a couple of small stores that we supply with limited quantities. It's fun, but I wouldn't want too much of a good thing!
6. I love the idea of including the customer in the design process. How did you come up with that concept?

It's how we started, so we never changed! Our first website was so simple, we had little illustrations of the different product styles and then a big block of color choices, like a patchwork quilt. People would send us an email with the details and more often than not, they would ask for things that weren't offered on the site. So it grew from there. More and more choices...

7. How is it working with your husband/wife? Most people advise against working with family. Could you give us some tips on how to make it work?

Yeah, we can completely understand why it isn't advised. Not only do we work with each other, we also work with our kids around. Kind of crazy! The most important thing is that you have a clear definition of who does what. At AB Sutton, Jack does the paperwork, shipping, pattern making, cutting, ironing and other fabrication prep work. I can then concentrate on emailing with customers and putting the orders together. Type, sew, type, sew, photograph, wrap, change diaper, sew - that's my day. We work together but there are few tasks that need both our attentions. The design process works similarly with the test pieces passing from his table to mine and back again. It helps to be in love. Having common interests is good. Finally, books on tape. It's hard to call this "work". Jack what do you think?

JACK: It only really feels like work when we are behind and I feel stressed about catching up. We have most of our eggs in one basket, which can be worrisome as well. But we get along and have very full days that don't get repetitive. Plus, I get to cook whatever I want for meals.

I think I'll always be stuck somewhere between the city and the country. I love both for their extremes. I love the life and color that both places bring to the human experience.

Two film makers I particularly love are Pedro Almodovar and Hayao Miyazaki. I could watch a movie by either of these directors every day of my life. Jack and I also love music and so it's a great thing that we have all these iPods laying around! Lately we've been playing Fleet Foxes, Golden Afrique compilations, movie soundtracks... at this very moment I'm listening to Cat Power's The Greatest. It's an album that I often play when it's just me in the studio. I get to sing along and not worry about being overheard!

8. Can you pinpoint the exact time in your life when you decided to make a living out of creating art? Or an exact time when you started to believe that you could actually make a living doing what you loved.

I've always wanted my living to be earned while working creatively, and Jack is first and foremost a painter, so I think he'd say the same! AB Sutton started as fun and was part-time work for quite a while. But there was a moment, it was our first big Christmas season, 2005. It was out of control, our prices were really low and we got a fair bit of press. The combination was glorious at first but then it nearly killed us. Until that moment, we weren't sure if we would ever make a profit. Nice to know it's possible.

9. What can we expect to see from you in the future?
Custom bags are very close to being available. And if I'm really lucky, shoes. I've made some for myself but I don't yet have it all worked out for taking custom orders.

Thanks Anna & Jack!!


Melissa de la Fuente said...

What a great interview and beautiful leather goods....I cannot wait to see their bags and shoes down the road! Also, Anna and Jack sound like down to earth folk who it would be a pleasure to buy from!