Today I am featuring my second shop. Alicia from Cu Totes is a San Diego girl who handcrafts gorgeous bags. I have one of her mud cloth marketplace totes and have used it for a few months as my regular purse/diaper bag/road trip travel bag/etc and it has held up to the daily wear like a champ. I'm so impressed and knew I had to ask Alicia if I could feature her good work. Here goes!
What's the story behind your shop names?
So CU is the scientific name for the element Copper- My daughters name is Copper. After I had her I was so inspired to create and be creative- I first started making plushies and baby rattles from recycled textiles like denim and wool. About 2 years later I decided to make my first tote bag and from there I started CU Totes. I also love the color of copper and how it patinas over time- thats why I try to use hardware made from Copper.
Tell me more about your love affair with textiles.
I actually majored in Fiber Arts in collage. My degree Applied Design focuses on Fiber, Clay, Metal, and Wood. But I have always loved sewing, surface design on textiles and beautiful fabrics. I would collect pieces of fabric that I love, especially from places I have traveled- I’m drawn to the colors, textures, and patterns you will find on different textiles from around the world. I love textiles that are handmade from different countries that specifically relate the textile to the place it’s made- There are so many artisans and beautiful textiles from around the world that I’m constantly trying to get my hands on! I also love to reuse and repurpose fabric and textiles- I’ll be collaborating with another jewelry designer/shop owner on some repurposed denim and leather totes.
I have one of your bags and am really impressed with the quality and little details like the copper stamped rivets. Tell me about the very *first* bag you ever made.
The first bag I made was beautiful black leather and a cotton twill lining- Of course I dived in to sewing a very tough type of leather but I did it! The design and types of leather/suedes and textiles have changed. The first bags I sold were done with pendleton wool because I was so obsessed with the quality/patterns/beauty you find with pendleton wool. Lots of makers work with it so I didn't want that to be the only textile that I was working with. I followed trends and decided denim is a sturdy fun textile to work with as well as the african textiles that are very popular now. I starting to look into Kilim Turkish rugs, Hmong textiles and am thinking about some Peruvian textiles.
Have you experienced some small business growing pains as you now stock local shops and sell direct to your customers? How do you handle work flow?
Well It seems like every time I produce a ton of stuff it’s gone or off to a store so I guess thats a good thing. I do have a full time job as a Art teacher in Middle and High School where I teach ceramics, art, and yearbook so time is never my friend- but being a teacher means lots of time off to work in the workshop and my daughter joins me in there and we create together!
You are having coffee with someone who wants to share what she makes but is feeling shy about it. What do you tell her?
GO FOR IT!! I was soooooo nervous about selling things that I made- I’m always so paranoid that it’s not good enough. YOU have nothing to lose- I thought I would not get accepted into some of the top Craft shows and markets and I did which helped me to see that I’m doing something that people like- If I never tried I would never be here today. Putting yourself out there as an artist or crafts person is very hard because you will take criticism from someone but you shouldn’t create to please or impress others you should make because it’s what you love to do. I get lost in the process and so inspired by others and it’s just in me to make! If you are someone that loves to create, do it- you have nothing to lose, life is way to short! Don’t look back and say why didn’t I try! I spent a lot of years pondering these questions but once I had my daughter I had that super mama courage to get out there and be apart of this amazing handmade movement here in AMERICA.
Will you share one of your secret, huge goals that you have for your business that you feel funny even saying out loud?
Oh I just dream of a little back house studio where I can spend all my days sewing and creating and making amazing handmade bags. My husband and I have both dreamed of owning a brick and mortar shop for his surfboards and my bags and maybe even add some food to the place- But right now where we are is just where we need to be and I think little by little if I just keep going one day I might be able to make something bigger out of this little shop. To be able to make a living doing something you love is the American Dream- I actually love teaching art so I’m really lucky to get to go to a day job that I love too.
>> Check out Alicia and her current work at @Cu_Totes <<