Meet MKE Maker Jess Goehner of Directive

This fearless one-woman operation is dedicated to the details in handmade leather and canvas goods.

Jess Goehner. Courtesy of Directive.

Meet our next MKE Maker Jess Goehner of Directive. 

Name: Jess Goehner

Age: 31

Hometown: Milwaukee

Family: Raisin, my Coonhound

What do you make? Directive is a leather accessories line for men and women focusing on clean lines and shapes, solid construction and hard-wearing materials. Directive introduces hand-painted canvas prints and limited-edition styles seasonally, with classic styles always available.  Every piece is made in Milwaukee using leather and finishings sourced from decades-old, Milwaukee-based manufacturers.

Favorite type of material to work with and why: Of course, I would say leather, always! I love how it gets more beautiful with wear, its scratches and scars.

How did you learn/what type of schooling did you have? I’ve been rather obsessed with learning new things since I was young.  My dad taught me how to sew when I wasn’t hammering my thumbs in his workshop or running around in the woods behind the MPS offices. I spent much of my childhood making weird clothing, doll accessories, and other odd little things. (I even spent one summer obsessively embroidering cat faces onto tiny homemade pillows). Being an artist of some kind was most important to me growing up and I went to art school in Boston where there was no need to pick a major or main medium of focus. I started Directive with a just an above-average level of knowledge on sewing and construction, and the majority of what I know now has been learned through trial and error, books and inspecting many, many garments and bags.

Lovely leather bags. Photo courtesy of Directive.

When did you start doing this? Directive’s first show was Hovercraft 2012. Those four ladies accepted me based on two photographs of some rather wonky-looking canvas bags and I very quickly had to figure out what I was doing in order to have anything to sell.  The show was a huge success and I am forever grateful to those customers, especially when I see some of those first bags out on the streets. I officially began working with mostly leather two years ago, which really challenged me to push the line, my skill set, and to view myself as an actual business.

Where is your merchandise currently sold? Locally, I’ve been working with Milwaukee shops like FORM Fine Goods and Orange & Blue Co. for a few years now and have added LocalMKE and Indigo B’lu in the Iron Horse Hotel. Often these shop owners are interested in customizing the Directive goods they carry which gives me the opportunity to test out new designs (duffle bags, computer bags, etc.), potentially teach some classes this fall and, most importantly, prevents over-saturation of my work. I am planning to have my online shop stocked up for the holidays.

What’s been the most difficult thing about being an independent maker? The work is never done when you have to wear all the hats of a small business, which can be quite daunting and rather isolating at times. Exhaustion and burnout are very real when you regularly have to choose doing work over having a day off or burning the candle at both ends in order to have some semblance of a life outside of work. I am working on finding some balance with this, but it’s always going to be a life that is a bit different than the norm.

Directive hand-painted canvas and leather tote. Photo courtesy of Studio 29. Wardrobe/styling by Plume and jewelry by CIVAL.

What’s been the most surprising thing? Honestly, sometimes it’s still surprising to me that I have come this far. I have always told myself to follow the “Yes” moments which tend to pop up right when I most need them. For example, heading to a show out of town and realizing that new customers are coming out specifically to buy from me totally blows my mind. That and the immense amount of support/inspiration I receive from an ever-widening circle of creatives and various business owners.  I would not be where I am today without all of the people who have my back.

Where do you find inspirations for your original designs? I have never been short on ideas and plans. If anything, I need to learn to rein it in a bit. But, more formally, my multidisciplinary art background has a major influence on Directive – painting, photography, film, literature and music have all been direct influences on the shapes, colors, prints and even photo shoots of the collections. Every bag is an opportunity to test my skills, push my little personal envelope further and explore new things. For the end of 2017 collection, I am looking to have my canvas screen printed by The Factory (a shop just below my studio), which will allow me to incorporate more detailed line work and multiple colors like I have wanted for some time.

Favorite part about doing business in Milwaukee? Milwaukee is big enough to support many small businesses like Directive, but also small enough to be affordable and extremely interconnected.

Men’s leather suspenders and duffle. Photo courtesy of by Megan Yanz with King Courteen.




Jenna Kashou is a writer, storyteller and journalist specializing in lifestyle and culture feature writing for print and web. She is a frequent contributor to Milwaukee Magazine, MKE Lifestyle Magazine, The Business Journal and more. She was chosen as the fifth writer in residence at the historic Pfister Hotel where she wrote about and photographed guests and events. A Milwaukee native, Kashou has lived abroad and visited far-flung locales like Greece, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, and Argentina. She has always had an enormous sense of pride for her hometown and spreads this Milwaukee love everywhere she goes.