This year, Boston Fashion Week’s opening night, Sept. 30, is dedicated to the powerhouse women of the local fashion scene. Accessories guru Gina deWolfe, who runs the artisanal shop and studio deWolfe Leather Goods, is one of the six female Boston designers shaping the future of the business.
DeWolfe’s creative outlet—tinkering with leather—blossomed into a side gig selling bags at the SoWa outdoor market. Now she runs the business full time from her retail store on Newbury Street and makes all her products on site.
DeWolfe designs and crafts each bag, belt, and wallet by hand for the ideal mix of fashion and function. The artisanal, androgynous line serves all genders and ages with neutral colors and streamlined silhouettes.
Exhale: Tell us your origin story. How did you get into the leather goods game?
Gina deWolfe: I designed the first bag because I was searching the market for a leather backpack that was chic enough to carry as an everyday bag but also sturdy enough to really use. I had my heart set on a backpack because I love hands-free options. I searched everywhere, and I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so that sparked me to make one myself.
I had a history in clothing design, and after college I inherited some leather-working tools that had belonged to my grandfather. I played around with them and made a bag, and people reacted positively to it, so I made a couple more. It snowballed from there.
What role does custom work play in your business?
I do tons of custom. I’d say it’s probably 50/50. You can come into the shop and you can buy off the shelf, or you can say, ‘I love this bag, but I want this color or this hardware.’ Everything is customizable.
You’re not limited to just what you see on the shelf in my store. A few years ago, this adorable elderly couple came into my shop and commissioned me to reupholster a vintage safari chair that they had purchased on their honeymoon in Africa 50 or 60 years ago. That was a really fun, cool custom order.
How do you keep the local maker experience alive in the digital age?
Boston used to be full of shops like mine. And it’s important for me to try to keep that spirit of the maker business alive, which is why I’m choosing to stay on Newbury Street even though a bunch of the street has become more corporate.
I think the craftsmanship is easier to grasp, for customers that haven’t experienced that, if they come into the store and they see it happening in front of them. It’s very interactive. The tools are all over the table, there are leather scraps all over the floor. It’s a really fun, energetic environment.
There’s a tannery in Massachusetts, north of Boston near Lowell, and a tannery in Maine, and that’s where I get most of my leathers. I try to make sure it’s all ethically sourced, so all of the leathers are by-products of the food industry. That way none of the animal is being wasted.
What’s a major challenge you’ve experienced in your career, and how did you overcome it?
The most consistent challenge is balancing the making of the products with the business component. I’m making all of my products and also doing all of the bookwork, as well. I’ve been trying to dedicate certain time to making and certain time to e-mails and orders and all of that. You can’t have one without the other. I’m doing my best to find that balance, and it changes all the time.
What can we expect to see from your line and your business this fall?
I’ve actually had a lot of fun doing larger, briefcase-style bags targeted more toward men. I’d like to put a couple of those out for fall, more of a weekend bag. I’m constantly rolling out new styles. You could walk into the shop at any time and find a brand-new, one-of-a-kind piece.
I also have a lot of fun bringing in other artists and makers whose products complement mine. Right now, I have a jeweler, Julie Darnell, who makes all the jewelry right here in the store. It’s a really nice complement to the leather—it’s all sterling silver, very organic. So, I’m constantly looking for new ways to bring in other makers.
deWolfe Leather Goods
12 pm–7pm-ish and by appointment, Tues.–Sun.
331 Newbury St.
Hynes Convention Center T stop, limited street parking
We caught up with the six powerhouse female fashion designers who are being honored at this year's BFW to discuss new collections, overcoming challenges, and finding balance.