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Meet Jess Goehner of Directive in Milwaukee

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jess Goehner.

Jess, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Directive in its original form started in fall of 2012 with a line of hand-painted canvas bags. I have always been interested in sewing and making work to sell but never quite had the right piece to get started with. Directive began with a canvas bike messenger bag I made to replace my broken old bag. I had no idea what I was doing, how to make a pattern, how to sew through thick canvas, how to utilize hardware, but I applied for a local holiday show with my rather rough canvas messenger and they accepted me. I spent three months in my home studio preparing totes, wallets, and messengers for the show which was a bigger success than I expected. I kept going. The evolution of Directive has been slow but steady. I dabbled in “vegan leather” for bags, still had the hand painted canvas, and tried out a ton of different styles, some with success and others rather cringe worthy. At that same local holiday show in 2014 I met a man who worked at my local tannery. He started dropping off small pieces of leather for me that year and I slowly learned how to work with this rather unforgiving material. Once you put a hole in it you cannot undo it. For much of 2015, I regularly drove to Chicago to get discounted hides from a fabric store selling upholstery leather before I finally made the move to using my local tannery here in Milwaukee. I pushed my leatherworking skills (still do), and started making all leather bags shortly after that. Today I am working to bring back the hand-painted or printed canvas to the line while still keeping the all-leather classics.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Directive is not an overnight success. My path has had ups and downs but mostly I just keep plugging away at it and people want to buy my work. I think most creatives would say that cash flow is always a struggle, especially when you start selling at bigger and more expensive shows. You need the materials to get there but the money to pay for the materials sometimes comes later than you expect. Thankfully, it’s always worked out and I can expect to sell everything I make at this point. Having time is the hardest part of working for Directive. At times I have had up to four part time jobs to support myself, pay off student loans (all done!), and provide me with the breathing room to create. Sometimes, I have only a few hours a week to get in the studio for myself. And that means I often am working all the time- days, nights, weekends, to get orders and inventory done. Unfortunately, I think I like to work all the time which isn’t the most healthy of habits. Learning how to have a bit more balance in my life has been a challenge, but I chip away at it, take unintentional breaks and some very intentional ones.

Please tell us about Directive.
Directive is a leather accessories line focusing on hard wearing, simple bags and small goods. It’s a one-woman show here- I make all of my patterns by hand, cut and sew every bag, manage to be moderately ok at admin work, and haul my show displays around the Midwest usually alone. Because it’s always just been me I can look back at my early work and see how much my skills have grown, how I have found my aesthetic, and see the hundreds of products that have been made with my two hands. That always gets me excited to keep going.

Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
I have so many great memories from childhood- we lived in a pretty magical part of Milwaukee when I was very young. Our duplex had a double lot filled with trees and bushes and behind the houses on our block was a thin patch of woods. My brother, my friends, and I would run around wildly in the woods and I spent many days playing solo outside, letting my imagination wander while I clambered around bushes and trees.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Megan Yanz
Studio 29 Photography
Sophia Branen
Mann Frau

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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