Jasmine Clayton ponders function over form when making her handcrafted handbags and other leather goods for Kurier in Maine.
For Maine leatherworker Jasmine Clayton, her work and her life are “all one big art project.” Clayton has been sewing with a machine since she was eight when her mother gave her one as a birthday gift. “That sewing machine traveled with me to college and beyond,” she says.
Clayton spent most of her early life making pillows and doll clothes. Her bag making started a decade ago, completely by chance, when she had some fabric leftover from a previous project. When a friend suggested she try leather, Clayton knew she had found her medium. Today, Clayton operates her shop devoted to handcrafted leather goods, Kurier, both in a Portland storefront and online.
Originally from Maine, Clayton moved to Englewood, Florida, while in middle school, returning to her native state in 1994 to attend Maine College of Art as a photography major. The professors instilled a sense of craftsmanship in Clayton. “They made us realize if we wanted to be successful in the art world, it wasn’t just about the concept,” she says. “It had to be made well. It had to ‘work.'”
Clayton attributes some of her success to where she lives. “I don’t think I would have ‘made it’ if I wasn’t in Maine where a hard worker is seen as a quality,” she says. “People here have a sense of respect for handcrafted items.” Her community in Portland, where her studio sits above her shop so she can spread out her materials and bounce back and forth, has been her support system.
Clayton uses leather made in the United States or Italy, starting each piece by making a hard paper pattern. “I hate to waste materials, so making it from paper first allows me to work out the kinks before I cut any leather,” she says. “Once the sewing needle hits the leather, the hole is there for life.” Each bag is handcrafted, one at a time.
Clayton always knew she was meant to be in a creative field but didn’t delve into it until after her divorce when she saw a help wanted ad for a fabric cutter for local designer, Jill McGowan. Around the same time, she saw a quote that spoke to her: “If you don’t follow your dreams, you’ll spend your life working for someone who did.” While she loved working for Jill, and her business partner, Jolene McGowan, Clayton knew she had to work on her own dream. Not long after, Kurier was born.
“It’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t change a thing,” Clayton says. “I’ve meet so many interesting people. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about a woman from a discussion about her purse.”