Jess Goehner considers her Directive handbag line “art you can wear.” And indeed, her crossbody bags shaped like half-moons, sleek circle purses and envelope clutches are delightful shapes that stand out from a sea of totes and basic bags.
The Milwaukee-based Goehner started Directive in 2012, first making totes out of painted canvas that she sold at art shows. She switched over to exclusively crafting leather goods in 2016.
“Leather becomes part of a wearer — a unique patina develops based on their lifestyle. And leather can be refreshed and restored; it’s made to last,” she explains.
Goehner admits that although beautiful, leather isn’t the easiest material to work with.
“You cannot make a mistake [with leather] — you can’t undo the stitching and redo it. Once the holes are there, the piece has them in it. So that was an interesting challenge, learning to work with it by practicing and adjusting.”
Her years of practice have paid off in her craft, she says. In addition to owning her business, she also teaches leatherworking at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Teaching others has motivated her to continuously evolve her talents.
“How I approach my business is continuing to push my own skills and figure out designs that I find interesting,” she says.
Goehner incorporates of-the-moment colors into her timeless silhouettes with new handbag releases in the spring and fall. This spring’s zingy lime green, azure blue and deep plum shades are smile-inducing. Her line also has staple leathers that are offered year-round, including matte black, honey and an aged brown leather. While her bags aren’t custom, they are made to order — the customer chooses the silhouette and color, and Goehner whips it up in about two to three weeks.
And Directive has built up a following, she says — her loyal customers collect bags in multiple colors.
“They end up buying one bag, and then they might buy a fanny pack because they’re traveling or going to a concert. They may have started with a basic bag, and then they graduate to others.”
Directive is sold at several boutiques in Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago (check her website for stockists) and online at shopdirective.com.
By Shayna Mace | Photography: Dahyembi Neal (left), courtesy Jess Goehner (right)
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