Heather Hird is a Toronto designer who focuses on hand-made leather goods. Heather grew up in Vancouver, BC and studied Kinesiology and Marketing in university. She later found herself missing that special something in her life. Growing up she had always loved crafting things by hands; from making and gifting candles, to handmade cards for loved ones. She decided to take a leap of faith in order to go back to what made her most happy. With just a few classes at a local sewing school and a lot of research, Heather taught herself the ins and outs of hand-making leather goods. She’s a great example of someone who is following her passion and hopes to turn it into a full time career.
What do you do?
I make leather bags and accessories using locally sourced genuine leather.
What inspired you to become a designer?
My inspiration has been life-long. I’ve always liked creating things, whether it was sewing, or making candles. I would then gift my handmade products to everybody. I would always make everyone’s cards from scratch. I guess you could say that I was the kid who was always tinkering with arts and crafts. For me, it was just a matter of channelling that into something a little bit more productive.
Is there anyone in your field that you look up to?
There are a lot of people in my field who inspire me. Leather work and leather craft is one of those specialty areas I didn’t realize many people were still partaking in. While doing research (on Instagram and elsewhere), I found out that there are many people who are getting into the craft. It was great to see that as for a long time, it was a dying art. There’s an underground movement of leather workers who are learning the craft and picking up pieces here and there where they can, that’s really inspiring. Everybody is kind of learning it piece by piece because there really isn’t a specific place to learn everything at once. Generations ago, you would have learned it from your family. It was something that would be passed down from your grandfather and so on. It was mostly men who did it. Some of the older brands like Louis Vuitton still use the techniques that I’m learning to do. I really look up to the smaller artists when learning the craft.
How would you characterize your style?
My personality is all over the place and it translates into my style. I love the look of really rugged manly leather, and also that of girly bright colours and fringe. With that said, I don’t think I have a specific style, I just go with what I like. I’m not trying to please anyone; it’s just that my interests vary so much. Sometimes I know that not everyone is going to want the pinks, yellows and other bright colours, so at times I have to tone it down a bit. I take what I would want and dial it down a notch sometimes.
Do you or did you have a mentor?
When it comes to sewing and design, I’m pretty much self-taught. I took the standard ninth grade home-education course and learned a little bit of sewing there. I took a leather class here in Toronto at “The Make Den” a few years ago. Besides that, I started sewing when I was a kid, hand stitching things for my dolls. My first sewing machine was given to me when I was about eleven or twelve years old. I figured out how to use it and began to make my own clothes and Halloween costumes.
Do you recommend a mentor?
Definitely! It probably took me a lot longer to learn a lot of the techniques than it should have because I was re-inventing the wheel. I was young and didn’t really know who to reach out to. Back then; there wasn’t much of a hand-made movement, like there is now, so it made it more difficult for me to reach out to seasoned pros. Now, with social media and other digital outlets, it’s a lot easier to find people in your community with similar interest.
Looking back did you ever fathom you would be where you are now?
No, definitely not. I’m originally from Vancouver and I’m now living in Toronto. I studied kinesiology and marketing and was always into sports while growing up. I thought that’s where I would end up eventually. It wasn’t until about three years ago that I realized that the creative piece of myself was missing. I have an analytical side, which I’m happy about, but I’m happiest when creating.
Where do you see yourself/your business in the next 5-10years?
In 5 to 10 years, I would love to be doing this as my full-time job. I would like it to be big enough for me to employ local individuals. I want to be able to mentor people and help them with their careers, especially high school students. I want to teach people that they don’t have to follow the mould to have a successful life.
What advice would you give to someone that is trying to pursue his or her dream?
Keep at it and don’t give up. There is going to be more obstacles and roadblocks than you could ever imagine. You’re going to fail many times, but that’s only part of the process. You can’t learn without failing. We live in a society where we’re brought up to fear failure. Failure is the key to success. Successful people have failed more times than they have succeeded, but they keep trying and that’s why they’re successful. We have to get away from thinking that being wrong and failing is bad thing.
Do you regret any mistakes you have made, or have they made you who you are now?
Yes, there are definitely things I regret but wouldn’t change. My mistakes have made me who I am today. If I were put into the same situations again, I wouldn’t make the same decisions as I’ve now learned my lessons. I have my regrets, but I don’t wish I could take them back.
Why do you love what you do?
I get to be me. Nobody is standing over my shoulder telling me what to do. The art of creating and getting into the zone is what I live for. I sit at my sewing machine and zone out. When I’m focused, hours can go by but I don’t notice it at all.
Who is your motivation to keep going?
My grandmother is my motivation. She is the strongest person I know. She has survived cancer multiple times, always coming out stronger than she was before. She overcame so many obstacles and is one of those people whose personality is very empowering. Through her life, she got knocked down, but those obstacles only made her a better person. She persevered. When things get hard, I always call her. She always reminds me that it’s not the end of the world.
What is your take on this generation’s entrepreneurs?
I think the biggest difference is that there are more of us. More people from our generation are realizing that the typical nine to five for the rest of your life is not really the way to live. Also, we don’t have the same job security that our parents had, pensions and job security don’t really exist anymore. When you hit a certain point in your career, you get bumped out for someone younger because they can be paid less, or your position gets outsourced.
We’re also realizing that we need more of a work-life balance. When you’re an entrepreneur, the first few years are filled with crazy work hours, but it’s different because you’re working on your passion. I feel that entrepreneurs in this day and age also want to better their community. We understand what people want and work hard to create products, and jobs to better serve our community. We have a different mentality and mindset than those of past decades.
What is the one thing you cannot leave the house with minus your cell phone?
Lip gloss, or chapstick. Especially in the winter I cannot leave the house without it.