Based in Montreal, Molly Spittal handcrafts The Stowe’s stunning leather bags and accessories. Trial and error led to her creating the perfect tote, designing out of a need to meet her own minimalist and practical aesthetic. We sat down with her to learn more about the evolution of the brand, why she loves working with leather, and how things will be changing for The Stowe in future.
Q: How long have you been designing bags and other leather accessories, and what led you to starting The Stowe?
A: The brand began out of necessity in 2012. After the extensive search for the perfect handmade tote bag came up empty, I noticed a large gap in the category. I wanted something streamlined and functional. Having a background in fashion design, I didn’t know how to manipulate leather in the ways I wanted to, so my first couple of bags were a total disaster! I eventually mastered my craft and filled up my own tiny spot in this huge industry.
Q: Where do you seek inspiration? Are there particular influences that inform your designs?
A: Inspiration comes from daily life. I’m very much a city girl and I gather inspiration from observing how others move around the city. I try to make a product for the people I see every day in the market, on the bus and at the gym.
Q: The Stowe designs are a beautiful blend of traditional craftsmanship and modern sensibilities. How does a design begin to form for you, and what matters most in terms of you being happy with the final piece?
A: The initial shape and ideas are usually pretty far from the end product. I find that my brain overcomplicates things, and when I’m going through the prototype process I shed detail after detail – until the final product is as minimal and streamlined as possible. I don’t want anything to be fussy or over-done. So less is more, in my opinion.
Q: What are your favorite and least favorite aspects to working with leather? What’s your process for selecting materials that are both high in quality and ethical?
A: I absolutely love working with leather. Watching my bags evolve and change based on the owner’s’ daily routine is such a beautiful thing. Ethically sourced leather is a huge challenge, to be perfectly honest. The tanning process is not exactly environmentally sound. Veg-tanned leather is much better than chrome tanned leather though, and we primarily use veg-tan.
There are many challenges to face as a leatherworker as far as waste, eco footprint, etc. We try to do what we can to respect the environment while putting out a high quality product. The only downside to working with my chosen medium is constantly being covered in glue and paint! This is why I can’t have nice things!
Q: As a small business owner, you probably have a strong connection to the local community up there in Montreal. Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs who are looking to make their mark? Have you found it a drastically different experience to when you were living and studying in Vancouver?
A: The experience couldn’t be more different between Montreal and Vancouver. Both cities are just amazing in their own way, but Montreal has better infrastructure to support the artistic community. Montreal has amazing shows and maker exhibitions, which encourages budding local makers to get out in the public eye. The city is very supportive of ‘Made in Montreal’ and ‘Made in Canada’.
My advice would be to get involved with the vast local maker community in any way you can, people here are so open and friendly. They want to help your brand develop and grow. I’ve noticed in other places designers can be quite guarded about their process, suppliers etc. By contrast, Montreal is about lifting one another up. I attribute all of the amazing locally made products to that ethos.
As far as our growth – we’re starting to focus more on global reach and as a result there will be some big changes in the future. I embrace this change and know I can rely on the brand loyalty of my customers because most of them have been with me from the beginning!
Shop The Stowe at Craft and Culture.