Designer Randa Roberts has found her niche – using recycled leather to make handmade and custom bags. She has some fabulous tips for you to begin upcycling leather, too!
Tell us about your business. How did you choose your business name?
I started out making clothing and accessories in 2012 from upcycled t-shirts, and everything was So Comfy, so that’s where my business name came from. About a year in, it was suggested to me that I try making a bag from a leather jacket. I had an industrial sewing machine by then, and I gave it a go. It wasn’t long before I discovered (excitedly) that I’d found my niche and through years of research, practice and perseverance I ended up where I am now with collections of upcycled leather bags that I’ve designed. Next thing I knew I had customers contacting me asking for custom bags made from their old leather jackets, and jackets of loved ones that were no longer here. Now I have two streams within So Comfy – a collection of handmade to order bags with leather jackets that I’ve collected, and custom, one of a kind bags made from special and memorable leather.
Where are you from? What is your community like?
I’m from Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. It’s a beautiful and unique community right on the shore of Lake Huron. The beach is minutes away, and summers here are great. Sarnia has a thriving community of makers and entrepreneurs and most of them work with each other, which makes it feel like a big happy family sometimes. I’m excited by the thinking and actions I’m seeing locally, especially with the girls.
Do you specialize in a specific look or technique?
I always aim to make bags that don’t look like they came from jackets, meaning that I use the best parts of the leather. Most often I take a jacket apart and piece it together to make a large ‘hide’ to design from. I think that I have a few tells, like the soft and slouchy silhouette, quilted bottom, and knotted leather zipper pulls, that identify a So Comfy bag at a quick glance. I love when I get a message from someone saying they’ve seen a So Comfy style out in the wild. It’s always a big deal to me.
What do you like about sewing with leather? How did you get into this?
My favourite thing about leather is its durability and ability to age well. Using upcycled leather jackets not only keeps old clothing out of the landfill, but it makes a beautiful and soft bag that will last. I outgrew my Juki machine this past fall and purchased a specialty machine for sewing leather, and it’s a real thrill to see beautiful and durable stitches. Sewing with leather is always a challenge and I get better every day. That keeps me motivated. I am truly inspired by all the leather jackets out in the world, sitting unused, waiting to be upcycled into beautiful and useful pieces.
Do you use only recycled leather or buy new, too?
Upcycling leather is always my main objective. It’s challenging and interesting always. I love cutting into a leather jacket and seeing what’s inside. I’ve made more than a few bags from the underside of leather that was sun bleached and damaged on the outside, but pristine on the inside. I get a lot of satisfaction from that. I have had custom orders before where I needed to order new leather from suppliers, but I will always choose a leather jacket over a new hide.
Besides Etsy, where else do you sell your products?
Right now, that’s my only sales channel. I definitely specialize in custom orders, and after years of doing shows and stocking in some retail shops, I’ve found that Etsy is the best place to sell directly to customers and provide the best customer service.
What is your ‘go to’ craft when you want to do something different?
Anything DIY decor for my home.
Which social media platform do you prefer?
I love a few of them for different reasons. Pinterest is where I have boards dedicated to my past work and custom orders, as well as secret boards for inspiration. Instagram is my place to post my behind the scene working pictures and some private pictures, but Facebook is where my customers find me and we interact. I also love that there’s a shop link on my page, making it easy for customers to find what they’re looking for.
What don’t people know about you?
Oh man, I don’t know how interesting this is but I’m very much a So Comfy girl – I’m a huge fan of leggings and chambray, and pretty grateful that I get to wear what I feel good in every day. I love so many Canadian clothing brands, and I’m working my way to a completely sustainable wardrobe.
Which school class do you wish you’d paid more attention to?
Science. Now that I’ve seen the world through the eyes of my children, I realize there’s so much more to science than boring formulas – it’s everywhere and its fascinating!
Is there a certain season you love to sew for?
Lucky for me, my niche allows me to sew all year long. Christmas is always extra busy, and every year I start taking custom orders for it in the summer.
What have you dreamed of doing but haven’t yet?
Passing on my knowledge! I’ve had a few small opportunities volunteering in local organizations with my sewing machine and skills, and it’s always rewarding, especially when I’m working with kids. I want to do more of that, and I have a dream of working towards restoring home economics and sewing lessons in our school system.
Besides OLFA, what are your go-to sewing tools?
A seam ripper, various brands, but always with a razor sharp hook. Also, small clips are essential for keeping my work together. I love my Rowenta steam iron, but my industrial sewing machines – an old Juki, and a new Techsew Cylinder machine – are my most important tools.
Give us a quick tip. Maybe for working with leather!
You can sew leather on most home sewing machines, but make sure that you have a leather needle. Sometimes I place a piece of scotch tape on the bottom of the presser foot so that it glides across the leather.
Should you spot a leather couch on the curb and want to salvage the leather for a future project, here are a few tips to help you get the most of out it.
- I often wait until the day before garbage pickup so I’m not leaving a couch carcass on someone’s curb for a long period of time. Sometimes I am able to talk to the homeowners, but if they’re put it at the road, they don’t care what you do with it (unless you leave a mess, which you want to avoid).
- Examine the couch; not every leather-looking couch is made from leather. Usually you can feel the difference, and upon close examination, faux leather is obvious. Sometimes genuine leather is only used on the cushions and arms, and faux leather is used on the back and sides, so keep that in mind.
- The OLFA Touch Knife is the perfect tool to efficiently and easily strip a couch.
- Once you cut into a piece of furniture on the curb, you are exposing the fluff and stuffing. I am careful not to cut too deep so there’s no mess left behind. It’s a good idea to bring a garbage bag or two in case the stuffing wants to escape. When I do that, I bring the stuffing home and dispose of it myself, as a curtesy.
- If it’s been rained on, it’s probably best to pass on the leather.
Now that Randa has piqued your interest in sewing with recycled leather, click over to the project she’s designed for OLFA. Her leather containers will help you keep all of your small sewing supplies organized!
Be sure to check out Randa’s Upcycled LEather Nesting Catchalls
You can also follow Randa online: