This new series will highlight local makers owning their craft and making a living doing it in the Cream City.
What began a public art project in college turned into Kamryn Boelk’s career as an independent accessory designer. Permanent Baggage goods can now be found at local and major retailers and at the Permanent Baggage Studio and Boutique (914 Hamilton St.), open seven days a week. Read on to learn more about this hometown success story.
Hometown: Oakfield, WI
Family: Jesse Meyer (husband/bff/fellow artisan), Brynlee (daughter/little favorite/little stinker) and Baby #2 due January 2018
What do you make?
I create various types of leather goods including handbags, dopp kits, sleep masks, card cases, keychains and jewelry. I tend to describe my work as bohemian with an urban edge – feminine and fierce.
How did you learn your craft?
I learned sewing basics from my grandma and from my mom. Otherwise, for the most part, I’m completely self-taught in sewing, especially leather. I do have a bachelor’s degree in sculpture with a minor in design from The Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD). I’m now 10 years beyond college and though I often wonder if I would have been better served in a fiber or jewelry program, I can still look back at the various things I learned at MIAD and see how they show up in so many things that have gotten me to where I am today. I think people would be surprised to know that my senior thesis was on woodworking, bronze casting and fashion with a fiber component in each of the three pieces.
When did you launch?
Permanent Baggage actually started in 2006 as part of a class project while attending MIAD. Then it was called the Permanent Baggage Project where I was creating eco-friendly, reusable totes from woven plastic bags. Plastic bags never fully decompose and become a permanent component in our environment hence, Permanent Baggage. The bags gradually became more refined and continued to evolve through varying degrees of repurposed materials. I started to incorporate leather in 2009 as repurposed floral appliques on the bags and from there, my love for discovering how to work with leather exploded.
Where is your merchandise currently sold?
I’ve built Permanent Baggage from the incredible support of Milwaukee’s love for locally handmade goods. Now close to 10 years later, I’m so grateful to say that you can still find my work in such fabulous locally owned establishments as The Waxwing and Sparrow Collective. I’m also proud to say that in 2015, I opened my own brick and mortar storefront, Permanent Baggage Studio & Boutique. We’re just a couple blocks north of Brady Street and display not only our work, but the work of over 100 local and national makers. I also maintain an online Etsy shop and have my work in Boston Store and Younkers throughout Wisconsin.
What’s been the most difficult thing about being an independent maker?
Hands down, finding time for myself. Owning a handmade business can easily engulf every moment of your life. There is always something that needs to be done or improved upon. It’s imperative to always have fresh new work in order to stay interesting and relevant. In 2014, I started to bring on staff to help with the workload and it was the best decision I could have made, not only for the growth of the business, but also to allow me some down time. It’s hard to create good new work and make smart business decisions when you’re a frazzled ball of nerves. I started with one part-time assistant and now have the extreme pleasure of working with six amazingly talented women who are all creatives in their own right. I owe a good portion of PB’s success to their talent and devotion.
What’s been the most surprising thing about your career?
That I can actually do this! I grew up in a middle class farm family in small-town Wisconsin. Becoming a designer and maker of fashion accessories was something that I thought I could only dream of having. That’s something for people in big cities that have advanced skills, exposure and more know-how than me. I think that’s a fear that many young creatives or aspiring entrepreneurs have. Of course, you have to make great things, but honestly that doesn’t mean anything if that’s all you’ve got. I do believe that anyone with quality work who’s willing and able to tackle the business side of things too, can find real success.
What’s new for Permanent Baggage?
We just released our brand new collection of bags and jewelry for the fall season. I think it’s our most exciting collection yet with dusty muted hues of sage green, lavender and slipper pink, along with rich emerald green and brushed rosey copper. We’ve also introduced some new leather goods such as dopp kits, sleep masks and lavender sachets. The full collection can be viewed in our Etsy shop.
Favorite part about doing business in Milwaukee?
First of all, we’re so fortunate to have such a great and supportive handmade community in Milwaukee where you can find tons of fellow makers who are all working passionately at their craft and are willing to share info and learn from each other. I think that’s a big part of why Milwaukee’s maker scene is so successful. We’ve also got a number of great venues, brick and mortar shops and art events, that offer makers numerous opportunities to get their work out there and make a living off of what we love doing.