Maven founder, Emma Thieme, grew up in rural Maine. She founded Maven Leather and Design in Dec. 2015 and began her label while living off the grid in Maine's eastern region. But during a winter of traveling around the United States, and living and working out of her van, she found herself on the Central Coast of California in March 2020.
Read the story in her own words below.
Many people ask me where I learned to do all this. When it comes to sewing, I have to thank my mother. I grew up in a small river town in Maine and my mother passed a generations-old knowledge of sewing down to me. Before I could store memories, I knew how to sew, and I've never grown tired of creating something new out of pure seams.
But when it comes to sewing with leather, I’m self-taught. My journey began in 2008 when a friend gifted me a bag of leather scrap. I used this scrap to create earrings and pouches, selling them on sidewalks in Portland, Maine, where I lived for some time.
In my 20s, I bounced around my home state of Maine, bringing a sewing machine with me to every room I rented. If there wasn’t space for a table, I would set my machine up on my bed and use my hand to operate the foot pedal.
In 2015, I purchased my first motorcycle: a 1980 Honda CM400. If you've ever owned a bike, or a vehicle that you loved, you understand the immediate pull to make it yours. I was drawn to reupholster the seat. I blew a sewing machine motor in the process, but I completed my first motorcycle seat.
Later that year, on an almost complete impulse, I moved to Hackensack, NJ to study custom auto upholstery for real. The knowledge that I gained in my training, combined with my experience with leather, fueled my professional career in leather design. I launched the Maven label soonafter.
My first real studio was an uninsulated cabin in a remote region of coastal Maine, not far from the Canadian border. I was living on 12 acres of beautiful raw land that inspired me every day. The space where I worked had a cement floor, poor lighting and a stove made from a steel barrel. I loved it. It was on that land that I dove deepest into my creativity. The trade of auto upholstery carried me through in a desolate area. The Maven label began with leather motorcycle seats, and I made dozens in that first workshop. Clients from all over the country would send their seats to be upholstered in my tiny cabin in rural Maine. I am so thankful.
Those years that I spent living in the woods, were filled with solitude and devotion to my craft. When I wasn’t working on a motorcycle seat, I was designing a new bag from my cut-offs, or experimenting with plant and insect dyes on my hides.
In the summer, when upholstery projects fizzled, I would travel around the East Coast selling my designs at fine craft shows, living out of my van.
In Jan. 2020, I left Maine for a show and didn't come back. I left with my entire body of work, my tools and my dog, and traveled to the southwest with no set plan of where I would go or when I would return. I bounced from a music festival, to farmer’s markets, to sidewalks, taking every opportunity I was given and making just enough to keep going.
In March 2020, I arrived on the Central Coast of California on a whim. I was between shows and killing time, but I was immediately drawn into the local art scene. I felt inspired. I continued to travel all the way to Portland, OR but the camradery I had found with other artists on the Central Coast compelled me to return. After bouncing around in the area for several months, I opened a studio and showroom in Cayucos, California the following November.
My space is open to the public and exhibits my leather designs, as well as the jewelry and art of my peers. Above the showroom, is my leather and dye studio where all of the purses and bags that you see in the space begin. I work with American bison leather because it is strong and shows signs of a life lived. The North American bison is also a free-roaming animal, with a significantly less environmental impact than cattle.
The affinity I have for our environment inspires me to protect it for future generations, which is why I use every piece of the hide and incorporate natural plant and insect dyeing into my work whenever possible. Many of the colors you see in my work were achieved sustainably through my own natural dye experiments. For these, I use plants and insect pigments that have provided the human race with color for millennia.
The word “maven” is defined as “someone who knows how,” and it is my continual quest to seek out this “knowing.” I create each Maven leather piece to be loved, used and passed on as an heirloom for generations to come.
Through your support, our journeys have become intertwined. I am humbled to a part of yours and I thank you for being a part of mine.
Founder | Maven Leather + Design