Treasure Mallory is a Los Angeles-based bag designer, leathercraft instructor and maker. She went to fashion design school to learn how to make clothes but discovered that her true love was making bags.
She is entirely self-taught when it comes to working with leather, and sharing this hard-won knowledge with others brings her so much joy. We are thrilled that she came to the Creativebug studio to film leathercrafting classes with us and are honored that she let us get to know her a little better in this Q&A.
Your personal style is chic, modern, and bohemian-inspired, and it’s clear that this aesthetic also informs your design. Where do you get your inspiration from? What would your mood board for 2021 look like?
Can you tell?! I didn’t think my attraction to bohemian chic was that evident! [laughs] Who am I kidding! Yes, it’s VERY evident. I love the minimalist, Scandinavian, bohemian style. I used to be obsessed with color, mixing and matching – correction – I never matched, it was almost embarrassing to match. I always felt like the Black Punky Brewster, so standing out with color and prints was my life’s mission. Then this weird thing called adulting took over me [shrugs] and suddenly I became very inspired by bohemian decor; it went from colorful to minimalist boho. When I started meditating and practicing yoga, it was almost like the chaos in my life exited and was replaced with warm tones, clean lines + calm atmosphere. Not sure what my infatuation with home decor is but that’s what got the boho party started. My 2021 mood board is a mixture of boho vibes, 90’s vintage; travel, art, lifestyle + community imagery. A newly renovated design studio that looks like a Bohemian Joshua Tree photoshoot in a Vogue magazine (weird I know). New York city type high rises and a mix of Cali palm trees which represent new levels, new heights and new opportunities. Surrounding the entire board would be the beach/ocean. It’s the one place that keeps me grounded and serves as a reminder to be free and let life flow as it’s meant without worry.
Let’s talk about your brand name, Nikki&Mallory. Nikki is your nickname and Mallory is your last name. You’ve mentioned that these two names represent two different sides of you and your brand. Can you tell us more about what these two different sides are?
Well growing up, the people closest to me knew me by “Nikki” which came from my middle name Nicole. I was an introvert to the 100th power who would observe everything and say nothing. A true artsy weirdo in a shell, unless I was comfortable around you. But underneath it all, I was a goofy, free-spirit, wild heart, rebellious, smart mouth, balls-to-the-wall spontaneous individual. However, anyone besides family/close friends knew me as Treasure (Mallory). Treasure is the more sophisticated, responsible, sensible, get the job done type of person. I am literally Thelma & Louise in one body. In establishing my brand, I wanted my pieces to be indicative of the two. The solid colors with clean lines is definitely Mallory, whereas the animal print and pops of color would be Nikki. Combining those personalities is the overall makeup of Nikki&Mallory.
You were extremely organized and tidy while shooting with us in the studio. Are you the same way in your own studio?
Oh it’s ridiculous and amazing how organized I am. I actually blame my mom for having me at 17 and not knowing what to do with me. I became responsible at a very young age. When you’re washing your own clothes at 9 yrs old and learning how to drive at 12, you have officially become a mini adult. My mom was very militant in her raising, so, if something wasn’t clean/in order, I would hear about it. It’s a characteristic that stuck but fortunately, it has gotten me a lot of ‘detail oriented’ opportunities because, I guess, most people are a mess lol. I really don’t know but people always applaud me for it. My studio does get messy but mess is a huge distraction to me so, my space is always clean before I leave out and when I start work.
What was the most recent project that you made just for yourself?
Oh wow – it’s been a while since I’ve made anything for myself on purpose. I normally don’t get time to create for myself. Most of the projects I make in collaboration with brands are pieces I can keep for myself because they’re not being sold. So if that counts, the most recent would be a Hair-On Hide Butterfly Chair + matching Ottoman. It’s my most loved project. I had no clue what I was doing and it came out perfect.
Is there a new leather working technique or new craft that is exciting you right now?
For a couple years I had been eyeing the craft of punch needle. Something I had never tried and recently decided to incorporate it into a leather traveler bag. Besides making pom poms, working with yarn is very new to me. After finishing this punch needle and leather bag, I fell in love! It’s way easier to punch needle than I assumed, very time consuming but extremely therapeutic.
What is one of your most memorable or favorite career milestones? What do you hope your next one is?
I’ve come across a few amazing milestones, but truthfully, the most memorable milestone was Nikki&Mallory turning 5. I’ve changed my career twice since college and while I have always believed in myself, along the way there’s been a number of naysayers and doubters. I categorize this energy as: people who don’t believe in themselves definitely won’t believe in you! So, to be in business for 5 years and counting, by myself, against all odds and challenges, it’s a great accomplishment. I love to move in silence but I also believe in speaking things into existence so I’d have to say my next milestone will include having my own workshop/design space outside of home, with a team to assist and my bags in a few stores. Unless the universe has something else in store, this would be big for me.
On the About page of nikkiandmallory.com, you mention that there are very few women/men of color in the leathercrafting community. Why do you think that is? Has it affected your own path? Do you see the community growing or changing?
That’s a really great question! You know, there are very few women/men in the leathercraft community, and it’s definitely not because we don’t exist. I knew this starting out, but it never stopped me from wanting to learn the skill. I always looked at it as, “Welp, looks like I’m in a lane of my own, and since I’m driving while Black – great – how can I be the car with the loudest horn and the most precise of parallel parking because I’m about to park in front of places that I don’t belong, blatantly?” It was nothing that I allowed to affect my path because as a Black woman, having the odds against me is nothing new! It’s something that most people of color learn to live with, and while it’s trash and unfortunate, we adjust our boot straps and keep it moving like the resilient individuals that we are. I really just wanted to create beautiful leather goods and perfect my skills, but unbeknownst to me, I was starting to build a reputation of this “Black woman leathercrafter/bag maker” that people of all ethnicities were seemingly inspired by! I literally had a white woman commend me for “keeping up with the boys, being as great as them and creating a lane for women crafters.” And while I thought that was amazing that people even noticed, it wasn’t until I started getting messages and emails from women/men of color thanking me for essentially paving the way and how happy they were to now learn from someone who looks like them – it made me realize how under-represented and unacknowledged we are in this community -OR- maybe the right person hasn’t come along to purposely change the narrative! I don’t know. I personally haven’t seen it change, but I’m hoping to create that change because leathercrafters of color do exist, and we’re amazing.
Many creatives struggle with work-life balance when work IS your life and you’re conditioned to believe that your productivity is your worth. Can you talk more about how you found your light and your balance?
Whew! For the love of balance. Something I’m learning daily. Finding a good work-life balance is definitely not easy. Especially when you work out of your home. I’m starting to see that I need to separate the two in order to truly differentiate work vs. rest. However, if that is your situation, you have to utilize it to the best of your ability. If your work is smack dead in front of you daily – there’s no excuse to not be great at what you do. And that’s how I look at it. My work is my life but I know how imperative it is to find balance so I create it, even if it’s subtle. I’d go crazy if I didn’t. Took me a while to realize how/when to put the work down – go outside, stretch, eat, go out of the country just because. I’m a workaholic by nature but in order to remain in the game for the long haul, I have to take care of me first, emotionally + mentally because the work will be right there where I get back.
What is one piece of advice you’d give to a beginner leatherworker or someone who is curious about getting started?
My advice to someone starting out would be, start with small projects working with sample pieces of leather before moving to bigger projects. There are a lot more leathercraft classes available now than there were when I started out – invest in them! Save yourself the time you spend not knowing and trying to figure it out and invest in some classes! Never compare your productivity to the next, we’re all unique individuals for a reason. Lastly, put in the work and do the research before asking for assistance. I get a lot of people who reach out to me expecting all the answers, not realizing that the perfection of your craft comes from trial, error & actually putting in the work.
To learn the basics of leathercrafting from the vibrant and talented Treasure of Nikki&Mallory, take one of her classes right here. More are coming soon!