Meet the Maker: Maarja
How did you end up at Stella Soomlais studio and how long have you been here?
I found the job advert through the Estonian Academy of Arts mailing list. I managed to muster up some courage to apply as I had graduated from the university and I didn’t have any specific plans. I had seen one of Stella’s job adverts also when I was still studying but I was too scared to apply then. I started working here in the summer of 2017.
What did you do before you started working at Stella Soomlais studio as a crafter? How did you discover leather?
Before I started working here, I studied scenography at the Estonian Academy of Arts. I loved the subject I was studying but as voluntary subjects, I chose to take some leather design and binding classes. I ended up liking it so much that I even considered reapplying to university to study it further. I decided against it because I started working at the studio – practicing is the best way to learn! I don’t regret my decision because I’m learning more here than I ever would in a university. In addition to that, every day is exciting and I never get bored as I sometimes did at university.
How long does it take to acquire all the skills needed to make Stella Soomlais bags?
As I didn’t have much experience with leather before I started here, it definitely took me longer to make my first bag. You acquire the basics of leather and get to know its characteristics within a year and after that it depends on your own willingness and motivation to learn. I was certainly motivated but I had some trouble with my health so my skills haven’t developed at the pace you’d expect which means that I don’t make more complex bags yet. But I’m sure I’ll know how to make all the products by heart very soon. I’m currently concentrating on smaller products and checking the quality of the products that other crafters have made before we send them out to the customers.
What does your typical work day look like?
My working day usually starts with looking through all the products that are awaiting quality control. I either remove the flaws or send them back to the crafters to ensure that what we send out is of the highest quality. After that, I’ll do the work that has been assigned to me – cut patterns out of leather, make small products, etc. After lunch, we sometimes have a small exercise break which is needed in our line of work. At the end of the day, I check the hardware quantities and, if needed, order some more stock. And that’s how my days flow from morning to evening.
How long does it take to make a bag?
This depends entirely on the person, their speed, their skills, etc. It also depends on the complexity and the size of the bag. Not everything always goes according to plan and you might encounter different challenges along the way. We all help each other out and sometimes you might need to prioritise some more urgent tasks. Larger and more complex bags usually take around 1-1.5 days.
Have you got any interesting stories to share about making bags?
I can’t think of any stories with new bags but it’s always exciting to work on the bags that come back from the customers for maintenance. It’s nice to see how the bags start to look like new again with every little step you take. It’s such a fascinating process!
What do you like about being a crafter?
I like that I can plan my own time. I always try to strive for perfection in my leather work and I enjoy being creative. We have a lovely team in here who’s always there for you if you need some advice or help. Everyone is so supportive!
Is the work hard?
Leather crafting is a male-dominated field which means that the work isn’t easy. It requires a lot of strength so you don’t have to do any lifting in the gym! You also need to think a lot, especially when cutting and developing new products. Despite all that, it’s an exciting job and none of these challenges are insurmountable.
Which Stella Soomlais bag is your favourite?
I was looking forward to this question. And the answer is that I LIKE THEM ALL! I’ve got a few backpacks and some smaller bags at home and they’re all my favourites. I don’t own any bags from any other brands any more.
What do you like the most about working at Stella Soomlais studio?
Again, I have to say that I like everything! I’d like to point out that Stella herself is so lovely and all my colleagues have been carefully selected. It’s a bonus that we can be flexible with our working hours. We enjoy our lunches together where one member of the team cooks or we get takeaway. But the main thing is that I never feel like a small cog in a system but as a friend and co-thinker in a team without a hierarchy. We are all equal and are working towards a shared goal.
Which designers do you follow?
I keep an eye on a lot of unique Estonian designers. I’ve also recently discovered a brand named Ranzel Bags from Russia who use leather alternatives to make their products.
What do you enjoy doing outside work?
I wake up very early in the morning to exercise before work. After work, I’m usually quite tired. On weekends, I like to cook – I never follow recipes though, I like inventing new flavours on my own.
Do you eat meat?
Yes, I eat meat but a lot less than I used to. I prefer seafood – I’d never be able to give it up.
What does the future hold for you?
I definitely want to continue working with leather at Stella’s studio. I’d also like to travel to South America and wander around there for a little bit.
Photos by Tõnu Runnel, Patrik Tamm, Maarja Rõivassepp