Maven Leather | Handmade in Cayucos, California

Handmade in Cayucos, CA & Cherryfield, ME

Today is a Thursday. We are in the month of May and it’s one freaking extraordinary day. Currently, I am in Cayucos, one of my favorite quiet beach towns on the central coast. If you find yourself in the area be sure to stop at any of the antique stores, grab fish tacos at Ruddell’s and take a walk along the pier. Right now, I’m headed to Maven Leather to talk with artist Emma Thieme, owner/creator/artist of this incredible little shop. It’s around 3 pm and the sun is diving headfirst through the shop windows. It’s so bright inside, and the smell of leather hits me in the best way. Entering the store further, my eyes finally adjust, and I find that I’ve caught Miss Emma working on a signature ‘All Day’ bag. This one in a combination of yellow and indigo hide.

I actually discovered this gem of a store through my mom. Over Christmas she told me about a new leather store in Cayucos…everything is handmade, the stitching is beautiful, the colors are special. She said she wished she could get my sisters and me all purses for the holiday. We really do have the sweetest mom ever, and after hearing all that it was pretty obvious to me I was going to love everything in the store. Sure enough, during this first visit, I did want everything. As soon as I saw Emma’s bags I was hooked. The hand died colors, pattern work, and every little detail about her style and creations are spot on.

When I entered the shop the atmosphere was calm but punchy. The shadows playing on the walls and mingling with the bags were sharp and serious, but Emma standing behind her work table seemed so calm and relaxed. We greeted each other briefly, getting through the first time meet and greet. From then on, everything flowed, and we jived into a steady conversation the rest of our time together.

I picked her brain about her journey to Cayucos from Cherryfield. We talked about our love for music and revisiting artists we listened to from our childhood. We spoke about the locals she has come to call friends, and the other artists she supports in her store. A lot of our conversations surrounded her techniques, the bison leather she works, with and how the west coast has begun to influence her work. It was a breezy few hours. The store was quiet allowing the freedom to capture Emma’s process. It was pretty incredible to see her working from a day-in-the-life perspective and hanging out with her number one, Shep.

West Coast Influences

Emma originally hails from Cherryfield, Maine. She had been traveling alone across the country for a good while before settling down on the central coast. Previously, she got lost back east selling leather at various fine craft shows, traveling back and forth between Maine where she spent most of her time designing and stitching. For six months, she was locked in a repetitive cycle of travel, setup, sell, travel, setup, sell. Living on instant replay is tiring after a while and would exhaust anyone. Finally, in January 2019, life hit a welcomed road bump and disrupted the cycle.

Packing everything up, including Shep the dog, Emma drove off and started a new chapter in life. Her idea? Sell work wherever she could, and open herself, and Maven, to endless possibilities. Soon she ended up at music festivals, on sidewalks, at farmer’s markets, art shows, and eventually in a few galleries. Selling work and doing exactly what she set out to do. With no concrete plan, and following each day where it took her, Emma soon found herself in California.

I asked Emma what lead her to make Cayucos her new home, and her answer was pretty spot on, “I think what struck me about the Central Coast was how real it was.” If there is one thing I love about the central coast, it’s for exactly that reason. This area is down to earth and we locals are real.

Cayucos marked the beginning of a new period along the journey. There was instant gravity from the moment she came to town, and that’s when everything came together. Cayucos is full of unique individuals funneling art into the community and sharing it with local tourism. It’s a small fierce community that welcomed Emma with wide-open arms. The town has introduced her to so many artists with whom she feels at home with.

Finding yourself in a foreign space is one of the most challenging things a person can do. One of the first steps is to open yourself up to change. What can you learn from your new surroundings? Where can you find new inspiration? The west coast is such a colorful and vibrant place. The drastic move almost immediately played a huge influence on Emma’s practice in Maine and on the road. Moving has made her color choices bolder and her stitching more elaborate. “I think my time on the east coast has helped me to build a solid foundation of quality, while life on the west coast is encouraging me to be brave and to go further with my ideas and experiments.”

Maven Leather Motorcycle Seats & Purses

When I started running my mouth with all the questions, my biggest interests laid with what got her there. What got her to maven. Why leather? Who got you into it? What drew your attention to the materials? How do you get those vibrant colors?! And what is going through your mind when you’re stitching?

12 years ago, Emma decided to start working with leather when Amy, a friend, handed over a large bag of off-cuts and samples from her summer job at a shoe company. Emma was 20 at the time. In her mind, she thought Amy gave her the scraps because she was constantly making things. At the time she was using her mother’s hand-me-down sewing machine. Her mother taught her how to sew when she was very young, and since then, it has always been a big source of expression for her. Before anything else, jewelry was how she got started. Earrings, bracelets, little hand-stitched rings. Before long sewing gravitated back into her life, just with a newfound medium of leather instead of fabric. And that’s when leather really became a challenge.

Through the developing stages, it wasn’t uncommon to have a sewing machine blow up in the studio. She went through too many to count trying to work things out. The challenge was intriguing, however, and she wasn’t about to back down. Enter auto upholstery school. The obvious place to learn the ins and outs of industrial sewing.

After that, it was a natural segway into motorcycle seats. Then eventually cycling into bags as a refreshing way to experiment with custom design with the off-cuts from my motorcycle seats. “I remember loving leather immediately for the freedom it gave me. As a medium, it is both rigid and forgiving. It allows me to create and experiment, while at the same time, holding me to some unspoken and unique code of quality. After twelve years of working with it, I feel like I’m still in the entryway. There’s a lifetime of experience to gain.”

American Hides & Natural Dyes

Emma primarily works with American hides, focusing on bison because of the character and life it shows. A perfect hide is too boring, it tells no story. Besides leather is not meant to be a perfect medium. In its purest form, the leather shows scars, wrinkles, spots, and patina. Each ‘scar’ is welcomed, “…because to me, these markings are what makes leather sacred and special.”

This mentality carries into the natural dyeing processes. The intention is to get deep layered colors to compliment the depth and layers of the hides. The hand-dyed colors are created with plant and insect dye pigments, branching off of recipes that date back centuries. In the world of natural dyeing, you can never truly recreate a color, and therefore it’s a practice of letting go. On the other hand, sewing is a precise art form, especially when it comes to leather. The contrast of the two processes complements each other, creating a perfect marrying. “I can follow instructions and measure ingredients out just right, but the results are always going to be different. I love that.”

Where Can I Buy Maven Leather?

Need I say more? These bags are incredible. Made by a kickass woman killing it at her craft. For wallets, purses, belts, bags, and special orders visit, Maven Leather + Design. For custom motorcycle, seats visit, Maven Custom Leather & Seats. Support small businesses. Support woman-owned.


Teresa LoJacono Photography

Maven Leather + Design

Maven Custom Leather & Seats

Cayucos Collective

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Abe Hiro Toké

Christie LaRussell

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