Handmade

An Interview with Rosemary Skaggs

Leather Goods Department Manager

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As the Cageless Birds collective, we enjoy setting our hands to creative projects, making beautiful things that inspire people in their everyday moments with the Lord.  One of these creative practices that has developed into a thriving business is our Leather Goods department where several of our staff and interns create limited edition books and bags.  This week we sat down with Rosemary Skaggs, the manager of Cageless Birds Leather Goods to hear about her process of leading others in this craft and her love for creating.

How long have you been working with the leather goods department?

I’m in my fourth year.  I was an intern in the leather goods department, then I staffed for a second year.  I began managing the studio a little over a year ago.

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What is the mission of the Leather Goods Department?

Justina originally started this business as a way to support the staff here and to create more revenue for the ministry to support our mission to disciple young adults.  Our mission has grown to open up job for interns (alumni of our schools) to come and work in a safe place, practicing things they learned in our schools, like giving your heart to a craft even when it doesn’t feel glorious, or how to respectfully communicate to peers and leaders when you’re under pressure.   An anchor kind of drops in your heart when you’re going through an internship in our studio because you’re working a 9-5 job and the glory of being a student has faded and life feels pretty normal. But the values of this job are very different from other high-pressure environments that a lot of our students are used to.  

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As a manager I’ve learned how important it is that, when our interns make mistakes, I respond to them with peace and grace, and that I also teach them how to do the same for themselves.  I get to partner with the Lord to help them learn to not shame themselves and that the discipline of producing is beautiful when it isn’t driven by the need to prove yourself.

In my internship, it was really redeeming to be able to come and work in an environment with managers who met my frustration and mistakes with patience.  There were so many times when I couldn’t get the hang of how to do something correctly, and Justina would stop her own work to sit with me and explain a concept.  It was amazing for my heart and helped me overcome the fear of owning my mistakes. This part of our mission, empowering people through a healthy work environment, has grown as we’ve gained more interns and we have more and more people working in our creative spaces every year.

As an artist, what do you feel most passionate about? 

Making goods that are going to bring a lot of delight to people’s lives, like our bags and journals.  I love seeing the look on people’s faces when they see the subtle details of our leather goods. When I use a handmade product I feel special. Handmade goods not only take a lot of time to make but they are an investment.  It feels special, personal even, to use something that someone else’s hands have spent hours handling and caring for. Using something handmade makes me feel like I am worth something extravagant, and investing in someone else’s work communicates that they are worth supporting.  When people purchase something I’ve created, it communicates to me that I am valuable, that I’m worth supporting, and I hope that they feel that they are worth it, too.

This is a completely hands-on job and I love it.  When I work with my hands, I give my mind space to breathe and it results in inspiration.  Time moves quickly and I enjoy the deep focus and the feeling of being absorbed in what I’m creating.   

It’s a lot of managing, too, which I also enjoy.  I am amazed at how much our team is able to accomplish.  At the end of the day, when we’re cleaning up the studio and putting the day’s work on the shelf, I step back and look at everything we’ve created.  In those moments I feel proud of my team, and I feel proud of myself for managing well.

What is one of the most important parts of the leather goods process to you and why? 

I have learned that for me, the most important part of the process is staying in the open-mode for the proper amount of time. As the manager of the space, I tend to kick into practical, get-it-done mode. I’ve had to learn when to step into the creative open-mode and when to step into closed, manager-mode. I’ve realized that if I try to jump into closed-mode too quick when problem solving, the end result isn’t really what we wanted it to be.

There are errors that happen because we didn’t play around with the problem long enough to find the best solution.  That’s one of the biggest things I’ve been learning in this space over the last two years: It’s important to play with a problem to find the best solution. The materials that we work with are costly, and it can often feel impractical to “waste” our resources on experimenting. However, I’ve often found that if we rush through the process in hopes of finding a quick fix, we’ll find later on that we created another problem that is just as costly.

What do you want to communicate through your leather goods?

I want to communicate that people are worth slowing down enough to capture their story on paper--to remember their lives through recording it in a journal. That’s what I want our journals to communicate: I matter. My story is important. Whether it’s a song or writings or just train of thought, there is power in giving your life meaning through words and testimony.

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How do you see our customers interacting with your pieces?

I hope and imagine that our products inspire not only our customers’ creativity, but their relationship with the Lord. I hope our journals inspire people to write down the voice of the Lord and document their history with God. I like to envision our products empowering people with the truth that the Lord speaks to us. I imagine our customers being filled with inspiration to journal the Lord’s voice in a beautiful, handmade product that was created specifically for that purpose.

Recently, I saw one of the girls who bought our diaper bag. She told me she’d put it on her registry and taken it off because she thought it was too extravagant. The woman who hosted their shower had a feeling that may have been what happened and bought the bag for my friend anyway.  It communicated to her that she was worth it and that her baby was worth it. I think it’s so important for moms to feel that way, and that’s how I hope every mom who carries one of our bags feels! That something as practical as carrying baby products around everywhere would become more than just a practical thing, but a delightful thing. I like to think that they experience the joy of getting to carry around something they feel proud of, that makes them feel beautiful and worth it.

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