Natalie Davis is a designer, artist and educator and the owner of Canoe, a modern leather goods company handcrafted in Austin, Texas. She is also the (crafts)woman behind Feliz, a bi-annual 'weekend celebration' of Austin's exciting handmade community.
We were first introduced to Natalie Davis, and her gorgeous handcrafted work, at the beginning of the year after reading an inspiring personal essay that she wrote for one of our favourite blogs, Design Sponge. Her essay, What It's Like To Quit Your Day Job, is a candid account of the talented Texan's life-changing decision to leave her day job as an assistant professor of graphic design to focus full-time on her dream job - running her own successful leather goods business. It is a must read for anyone thinking of taking a similar leap of faith.
We sat down with her to find out how it's all been going.
how did Canoe start?
Canoe started when I returned to Texas in 2009 and was looking for a new material to explore surface design. I fell in love with leather - the long history of it in Texas, along with the many ways to work with it.
My husband and I lived in the hill country for nine months and my studio overlooked Canyon Lake, a very inspiring view. I named my company after the calm feeling of being out on the lake in a canoe, when time stops and you can gather your thoughts clearly.
You made CANOE your full time job at the beginning of this year. WHAT PROMPTED that DECISION and what challenges have you faced?
Canoe has been growing steadily over the past few years and I reached a tipping point with the business. The biggest challenge has been balancing my time and focus. When you run a small business, there are always a million tasks that need to get done and only you to do it. However, it is all worth it when you hear back from satisfied customers.
What Are Your Design Influences?
My design influences are quite varied, from travel to reading to fashion. I also ask a lot of questions whenever I am someplace new. Being curious is a personality trait that I'm extremely grateful for as a designer.
In a previous interview you admitted to being SELF-CRITICAL. This is something we so often hear from women. HOW HAVE YOU LEARNED TO use this to YOUR ADVANTAGE?
I'm an analytical person, so I am always looking for solutions. That's definitely something I use to my advantage as a designer. Over the years, though, I've learned that it is best to turn that part of my brain off when I'm not at work. Not everyone needs a solution. I think it's important to be active listeners in our relationships so we can hear the difference.
YOU COLLABORATED WITH J. HANNAH CO. ON A NATURAL PERFUME. WHAT DID YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT THE PROCESS?
I love the different perspectives and ideas that are born out of collaborations. Being able to bounce ideas around with another artist is always a special treat for me.
YOU haven't stopped teaching entirely as you hold Introduction to leather workshops. WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT sharing your craft with others?
Teaching is a conversation, and I love that back and forth banter of ideas. My students have taught me new ways of approaching problems and always bring great questions.
WHY Did you set up feliz?
Feliz was born out of a real need in our community to present high quality work in a setting that matched the design level of the makers. We wanted an intimate show where customers could spend time with the makers and not be overwhelmed by too many choices. It's small, unique, and always has a fresh mix of artists.
WHAT IS THE BEST business ADVICE YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN?
The best advice I have been given is to follow your intuition. If you can quiet the other voices in your head (the ego), you'll know what's the right decision for you. I've passed along this advice to many young designers, but I think it applies to everyone, no matter what stage you are in life.
WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
The answer to this shifts, but work success is being able to express myself through beautiful and useful products that people enjoy in their lives. Life success is turning off my phone when I get home and sharing a meal with my family and friends.
WHICH WOMEN DO YOU ADMIRE AND WHY?
How much time do you have? There are so many! First off, my mother and sister, for being such strong role models in my family. I'm also very lucky to have had numerous teachers in my life that have changed it for the better, especially Gail Swanlund and Michelle Bowers. And last but not least, my friends who inspire me to be a better person, to challenge the world I find, and make it something better.
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