The Face Behind The Name: Tara Quigley - Little Dipper Leather

One of the best parts of how Tool & Eye Collective has been structured is the fact that it's heavily based off of "friends helping friends." I had the privilege of meeting Tara (Little Dipper Leather) through my friend Natalie. The process was seamless and with the cosign of Natalie, I knew Tara would already be an awesome maker to work with. Tara is a brilliant mind as well as an amazing maker that decided to dive into leather working and leave the world of Neuroscience. Here is a little bit about Tara, I hope you enjoy!

What education or path did you choose for education before you started working with leather?

 Before I started working with leather, I studied Psychology and Neuroscience for my undergrad and went to grad school for Neuroscience. I got about halfway through my Masters before deciding to take a break and ultimately leaving before finishing to start my career. My big sister passed away in my last year of my undergrad. Losing her was one of the big reasons I left before finishing school and took up leather working. Losing her was a big wakeup call to seek happiness everyday instead of only banking on future happiness.

 What moved you into the neuroscience field?

 Neuroscience is so cool! I love people so much. I think my true career goal is getting to know people and making connections with them. One of the big drivers for me going into neuroscience was wanting to better understand how people think and feel on a fundamental level. I am also a tinkerer and nerd in general. Neuroscience really satisfied my "nerdiness" and changed my whole perspective on how complex the world really is.

 What was your dream job when you were involved at school/how has that changed?

 For a long time I wanted to get my PhD and become an academic. The atmosphere of academia and the politics definitely drove me away from it. I also felt a lack of connection to people despite studying minds. I spent all my hours in dark basements away from people and their stories and the impact I had felt very slow and distant. I left school to take a project management and business development role in a STEM company. I found there that the environment still wasn’t the right fit and I wasn’t ever able to dive into my creative self and my desire to master skills and work directly with people.

 I think my dream now would be to continue working with people and connecting with them to make their product come to life. I also want so deeply to dive into skills and truly master them. Working with my hands and taking an idea and making it into something functional and beautiful has been incredibly rewarding. The business is in its baby stages, but I can definitely say I hope and dream the business shapes into something that can support me and my family for years to come and – maybe one day – I can pass on my skills and mastery to someone or a handful of someones who want to find peace and mastery in the craft.

 Working with leather is a challenging field - what have you learned since you began (little tips and tricks)?

 I have learned an incredible amount… Almost every leather that shows up on my doorstep is surprisingly different. Even all the way down to the most fundamental skill, cutting leather, can be completely different based on how stiff or stretchy a leather is. Making designs and actually bringing them to life is probably one of the biggest improvements I’ve seen in the few years I’ve been leather working. Having an idea in your head, putting it on paper with measurements, and then shaping the leather to do what you want is becoming more streamlined. I guess that demonstrates that my predictions of the leather are getting better and better.

 Hand stitching is another big improvement I’ve managed in the past couple of years. It seems like such a simple thing, but getting a good consistent stitch-line in a belt or shoulder strap that can take hours to do is a point of pride for me now!

 What is your favourite part of creating leather goods right now?

 One of the best parts about working on a project with someone is checking in with them as I work and make design decisions. I’ll ask people at the start of the process, once a rough design has been finalized, if they want the rest to be a surprise or if they would like updates. If they chose updates, I’ll send them pictures and videos as materials arrive, or as I decide on small choices and give them the chance to weigh in. Getting to feel their excitement and seeing that continual investment in an item for themselves or a loved one makes that end product so much more rewarding and makes me feel like I’m part of their circle.

 Moving into the higher quality of leather and actually creating pieces - do you ever go to a store that sells designer and find you're surprised at the cost of some of the goods vs the quality they provide?

 Yes I do! There is a huge range of prices for leather goods. I find there is a bit of a bell curve for product pricing, a lot of the lower end I think comes from the quality of the materials (and sometimes the labour depending on where in the world it is made). Fast fashion can really pump out thousands of low quality leather bags from an area of the world where labour is cheap, and there isn’t much competing with it in terms of price (though, quality is definitely lower). Then you get into the market where the leather quality is nice and the hardware is good, and a person is making it by hand and is paid a fair wage. You can definitely tell when good quality materials are being used and some real thought has gone into the design. Not to mention when choices are made like reinforced areas where lots of wear and tear happens and when stitching has been done by hand rather than with a machine, which is stronger.

 How much of this do you think is branding/marketing vs actual product quality?

 At a certain point, I think the price starts to reflect the brand rather than the quality of the good. Certain big brands I would say aren’t putting that extra thought and love into the piece and may not be as concerned about where that leather and hardware is coming from. It is very much manufactured and the brand carries more of the value rather than the quality. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a person liking a brand and buying for it! But I wouldn’t say you are getting better quality by going with that brand over a maker who is dedicated to the craft and has gathered a lot of life skill in it.

 Do you think people lean more towards the branding side of products or are more gravitated towards quality?

 I think it’s hard not to lean toward companies that do a great job branding and promoting their style. I think fast fashion also puts a lower value on getting items that last a lifetime over getting the latest and greatest style. That being said, I think there is a lot of value in custom items (which is a lot of what I make), and there are pockets of people across different ages who want to support local makers and get good quality items. A lot of what I hope to make special about my company and brand is how much the buyer can select about the product. For example, having a variety of choice in the colour of the leather, thread, and hardware of a project. I think that can take a purchase from ordinary to very special. It really excites me how much joy people get out of that collaborative process and the uniqueness of their product over this fast fashion. So I have hope despite it all!

 What direction do you see for Little Dipper? Do you want to move into apparel at all or just accessories?

 For now, I would like to focus on accessories. I think apparel is its own beast that is going to take years of practice to get the hang of. But I also don’t want to limit myself! The whole joy and appeal of this craft is feeling like the sky is the limit and that there is always that next step I can take to improve. I love fashion and the joy people find in expressing themselves through their wardrobe. To be a part of that scene would be so rewarding for me. But I don’t want to stretch myself too thin to start!

 What is one of the biggest challenges you have had to face in the business that you didn’t expect?

 Two things really stand out to me as a small business owner and creator. One is the cost and difficulty in shipping items. I had no idea it was so expensive to ship within Canada, and I find it difficult as a small shop to balance the price of shipping with the sub-100 dollar items I sell. I also find it difficult at times to compete with the speed that bigger companies can ship out items. Because a lot of my goods are custom and made-to-order, it can take me weeks to order in materials, make the item, and get it to the shipping stage. So far, I’m finding people are willing to wait that time for the chance to have something special and more custom than competitors, but it’s always a worry of mine that – as I grow – I’ll be competing with the next day shipping market.

 Do you think the actual making side of a leather jacket is completely different to an accessory line? Obviously there are liners and things that make a jacket more functional but do you see the actual leather working side of things different?

 I have some experience designing and making clothing for myself. What I find exciting and intimidating is the deeper understanding of how to design for a body and the variety of movements one needs to make. With a purse, the shoulder strap is the only point of connection, so not much thought needs to go into how that strap goes over a shoulder, or for a belt, only the waist measurement is really needed. To understand how shoulders move and how much material needs to be given as extra for that movement, and how elbows bend and neck size might vary etc would be the biggest new element to consider. I imagine the steps of thinking required to make a 3D idea of what you need, then transferring that into the 2D pattern you need to cut out the leather pieces, is a whole new beast of trial and error.

 I would absolutely love to make items like jackets one day! Think about how rewarding and cool that would be, to be such a big wardrobe choice in someone’s life. But yes, I think that is diving into a new level of design that I look forward to some day.

 Moving forward, did you want to work with more sustainable companies or sources? What important values do you have with a little dipper?

 Sustainability and fair labour are two things I care deeply about. I see other companies who have grown and found success taking that extra step of visiting tanneries and farms where their leather comes from to make sure the animals are living good lives and that those extra steps of care are taken. At the moment, I am very small and am covering all the bases on my own, so playing that role and having that security is something I hope to do in the not-to-distant future.

 Leather itself is a material that requires the use of animals that can be environmentally expensive to raise. Because of that, I am interested and have been researching upcoming businesses that are developing leather substitutes from plants. These companies and products are in their beginnings, and I may not find that the substitutes offer the quality and features of animal leather that I look for. But I never want to be closed off to a possibility of providing a more sustainable option to the world.

 As the small beginnings of a business that I am now, I do source non-plastic packaging and use recycled materials when I can. Lots of paper and boxes and other packaging find their way to me through material orders anyway, making decisions like reusing that packaging when possible and keeping simple but impactful choices like this in mind are the step I am and can take for now!

 What advice do you have for new makers that are looking to get into the craft or into something else?

 No matter your level of skill today, make the thing you’re thinking about making. The only reason I have improved and continue to improve is because I power through and make things everyday. I want to offer everyone the best experience and the best product possible, and this idea and value of a business is so, so important. But you can’t let that desire keep you from making things and knowing that you need to improve on a skill or quality. Putting in that work and being vulnerable is the way to mastery!

Thanks again so much to Tara for doing the interview and starting the process off of collaborating with our first product. 

Tara's Socials are:

Instagram: @littledipperleather