Craft and community are at the core of what Bay Area Made is all about. So we were delighted to talk to Lake about her journey from discovering her love for leather, to learning the craft of fine leather working, to launching her own line, and to recently opening her own workshop and boutique on the border of the lower Nob Hill and Tenderloin neighborhoods.
Hi Lake. Where are you from and when did you move to San Francisco?
I am from Seattle! I actually started the business in Seattle in early 2016 and moved myself, and the business to San Francisco in early 2017. I’ve had my business headquartered in the Tenderloin since I moved to the Bay Area.
What type of work did you do prior to starting Billie Marie Goods?
Prior to starting this business, I worked at a financial technology company in Seattle doing research on privately funded start-ups. However, I spent a lot of my life working random jobs and trying to figure out what I was passionate about; I worked as a barista and hostess for many years out of high school, bartended and managed a night club during college, interned with a family foundation and worked for a executive search company after I got my undergrad degree. I started doing leatherwork as a creative outlet after work while I was working at the financial technology company.
“I think that we are often so far removed from the people who make the things that we purchase and I really wanted to create a space where customers could connect with the person making their bag and the process of how it is made.”
What drew you to working with leather, and how did you learn your craft?
I have spent a lot of time throughout my life in Mexico and my parents live there now. Mexico has some of the most beautiful, handcrafted leather artisans and amazing leather lacing techniques. That constant inspiration coupled with my love of all things fashion and handbags gave me a deep love for beautifully made leather handbags.
In Seattle, leatherwork was not a craft that was easy to learn because there were very few classes to learn about handbag construction and hand sewing leather. I had been interested in learning and looking for a class for about five years when my mom mentioned a moccasin-making workshop with a medicine woman outside of Seattle. I took the weekend workshop and asked as many questions as I could. She set me up with a beautiful brown buffalo hide, which gave me inspiration for the original company name, Buffalo & Co.
From there I started experimenting with leather in my free time and asking a lot of questions at the leather store in Seattle about different tannages, tools, and techniques. I spent weekends watching YouTube videos on leatherwork and tried out new techniques whenever I could. After I had been running my company for a little over six months, I realized I needed more formal training, which is when I learned about Amblard Leather Atelier in San Francisco. After doing a three-week intensive session with owner Beatrice Amblard, I realized I needed to finish the full year-long masters program in Fine French Leather Working and ended up moving to San Francisco.
What do you love about working with leather?
Aside from the obvious answer, the creative aspect, I love the longevity of quality made leather goods. Other materials are prone to ripping and getting dirty over time, whereas the leather I work with gets better with age. I like the idea of making something that can be passed down to the next generation and not end up in a landfill in six months.
What inspired you to open your own workshop/boutique? As a maker, what are the benefits of having a space where customers can visit?
I think that we are often so far removed from the people who make the things that we purchase and I really wanted to create a space where customers could connect with the person making their bag and the process of how it is made. I take a lot of pride in the techniques I use to hand craft each bag, clutch and wallet and love to be able to show that to the community. I also know that people just love to touch and smell leather! Which is difficult to do online . . .
Your space is in an interesting neighborhood with a community of creative businesses. Can you tell us about it? How important is community to you?
The Tenderloin has historically gotten a bad rap. But if you look beyond the surface, you’ll find that the Tenderloin is not only home to some of the most creative makers and designers in San Francisco — including amazing artisan coffeemakers like Andy of Family Room, awesome shop owners Nico of Fleet Wood, and Justin & Nate of Tilted Brim – its also home to some really amazing people and architecture as well. That’s part of why I was so attracted to the neighborhood and why I’ve decided to grow my business here. My inspiration comes from Central America, where groups of women make beautiful leather goods and also stand as pillars of their communities. And that’s something that I shoot for with Billie Marie – I want my shop to be a positive force for community building in the Tenderloin.
Photos of Lake and the shop by Paulo Placencia.
709 Hyde Street, San Francisco