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Meet Lisa Nihiser of Ransack Leather in Northside of Chicago

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lisa Nihiser.

Lisa, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I learned how to sew in 7th grade home economics class. Then, at 13 years old, landed my first job at the coolest fabric store on the east side of Cleveland, where I grew up. Originally, I wanted to design clothing, and once my skills were improved, I started making prom dresses, then wedding dresses. And then I decided I really didn’t enjoy sewing that much. I also wasn’t very interested in keeping up with the ever-changing trends, it just seemed like so much work.

What I really love to do is simply “make things,” and I always have. It wasn’t enough to just sew clothing, I wanted to make something between useful and art. When I began making bags, they were all just little “artistic experiments ” made out of fabric combos cut and appliqued into different designs. I then added other materials, like bamboo or vintage buckles and from there my passion for reclaimed and recycled materials blew up. I wanted to make something new out of everything old.

Each bag that I make is one of a kind and I use as many scraps and recycled materials as possible. I often use belts as the adjustable shoulder strap, buckles as adornment, torn apart coats for appliques… whatever I can use, I do.

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?
There are always going to be struggles… having your own business is hard. You put your heart & soul into it, and never really know when it’s ok to step back and take a break. It’s always on your mind. That’s the hardest part- separating myself from my business and taking the time that I need to refuel & relax.

Ransack Leather – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Ransack Leather began with my love for vintage combined with the desire to create. The whole idea behind the brand is Reclaim, Reuse, Reinvent. For me, the creative process starts the moment that I walk into a thrift store, estate sale or flea market. I love the thrill of the hunt as much as the execution of the product. Almost every piece that I make- whether it be a bag, wallet or jewelry- has something recycled in it. Whether it be the belt used for the adjustable shoulder strap, the adornment on the front of a clutch or the entire bag made from a vintage bomber jacket, I do my best to incorporate it all.

People know of and recognize my company for different reasons. Many of them love and appreciate my use of reclaimed/recycled products, while others simply want a fashionable, well-made, one of a kind bag. I have also gained respect for making custom pieces out of the customer’s items. These are often my favorite kinds of projects. Sometimes it might be a belt buckle, other times an entire jacket, but usually the items are meaningful to that person and they just can’t bear to throw them away, yet they no longer use them as intended. One of my favorite custom pieces was a bag made out of an old motorcycle jacket from the early ’90s. I had so much fun tearing it apart and making it into something that would be so unique and equally cherished. (photo included).

My favorite thing about my business is that each and every piece is one of a kind, I may make items similar to each other, but never the same. I think of each item I make like a little piece of art, rather than “another purse.” That way, it’s so much fun for me, and people love having something that NOBODY else has.

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
Tough question! I think that I have many proud moments… Any time someone tells me that they’ve been admiring my work and are ready to start the “custom” process. Every single time that I see someone wearing/using one of my bags (never gets old!) When I receive customer photos… just knowing that my work is appreciated and loved gives me the desire and drive to keep making more!

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