This once was a classroom full of rambunctious schoolchildren. Now it’s a bright studio where Lisette Eggink turns sheets of supple leather into playful grapefruit-slice purses and raccoon-shaped shoulder bags for her Amsterdam-based Etsy shop, La Lisette. Lisette’s space sits on a road fitting for her line of work: Nieuwe Looiersstraat, or New Tannery Street. The quaint, tree-lined street acted as a lively area for trading leather hides in 1665. The abandoned school was originally built in the 1920s, but renovations allowed Lisette to bring a new creative energy to the classroom when she moved in last year.
Lisette’s mother always sewed clothes for the family, and eventually taught Lisette the craft at age nine. She first started experimenting with leather as an adult, when she created some large, synthetic leather pillows for a friend. At the encouragement of her friends, she bought some genuine leather and started teaching herself by watching online tutorials. The material’s malleability enthralled her, as she discovered that she could cut leather into any shape she wanted.
In 2010, she opened her Etsy shop for her animal bags and smartphone sleeves while working part-time at a restaurant. She found inspiration for her products in everyday life experiences, and ideas often struck her in simple moments like walking down the street or hanging out at a friend’s house. In 2013, she quit her job to dedicate all of her energy to La Lisette. “Otherwise it’s a safe back-up and you’re never really going to go for it,” she says. “I’ll try it out, see what happens. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll search for a job again.” Four years later, she’s hired interns, sold wholesale to 12 retailers all over Europe, made over 600 sales on Etsy, and given birth to her three-year-old son Otis.
Lisette found her current studio space through a company that renovates abandoned buildings for use by artists and small businesses. There are six other renters in the school, including an event planner and gymnastics teacher. The brick structure is nestled between old houses, with a play yard in the front and a garden in the back. Upon entering the building and walking down the hallway, Lisette sees student names that still line the coat racks leading to her bright yellow door.
Opening the studio door unleashes the scent of leather, which Lisette sources from a local supplier who sells deadstock and overproduced pieces from European tanneries. She hangs completed bags on hooks to add splashes of color to her clean, white walls. Daylight fills the 506-square-foot space thanks to three soaring windows, a feature Lisette says is her favorite. Peering through the metal-framed glass, Lisette gazes upon trees, bikes, a crooked little house, and a playground. She appreciates little quirks like her room’s old school bell switch, and perks like getting to eat lunch in the backyard garden.
Lisette’s schoolroom studio is the largest area she’s worked in so far, and it’s changed her workflow for the better. “When I had a smaller space, I was always cleaning up my table to pack an order.” she says. “It’s definitely more streamlined.” Now, she has a space for every step, tool, material, and machine involved in her process, including a designated corner for packing orders and a custom-made working table for cutting leather. Plus the natural light from her 12-foot-high windows provides the perfect setting for her product photo shoots. She simply rolls down some white paper for a seamless backdrop and a draws a thin fabric curtain to diffuse any harsh light.
Lisette spends four days a week at the old elementary school, typically Monday through Thursday. She dedicates the rest of her time to her family, so she and her boyfriend will take Otis on trips to the beach, forest, or countryside. On workdays she drops Otis off at daycare in the morning, then bikes 10 minutes from her house to the elementary school. She starts work around 9 or 10am and leaves at 5 or 6pm to pick him up.
To create a La Lisette bag, she begins by drawing the pattern on cardboard. She cuts the pattern out with a utility knife on her long, white working table, designed by Lisette and hand-crafted by her carpenter boyfriend. There are two layers of shelving in the middle of the table, where Lisette keeps the cut leather pieces so they’re easily accessible throughout the process.
Next, Lisette cuts the leather pieces using a rolling knife, then stamps her gold foil shop logo on each item with her hot foil transfer machine. She sews the bags together using one of her sewing machines—either her old industrial machine or newer, free-arm one that allows her to experiment with different sewing techniques. She then opens the chain links and attaches the chain with her pincer tongs, a hand tool that uses leverage to pinch and pull objects. To finish each bag, Lisette adds brass rivets or small belt buckles to decorate the strap.
As she works, Lisette can often hear music drifting in from fellow tenants. She doesn’t mind, since she enjoys listening to some tunes to help her focus—usually alternative, electronic, jazz, or hip-hop. Sometimes she’ll take a break to chat and talk shop with Frankie Boateng, her studio neighbor and fellow leather-working Etsy seller.
These days finding time for herself is rare, but Lisette is grateful for her growing business. “I’m proud of what I’m doing and what I’ve built up,” she says. “And now I have this big classroom, with an area for every part of the process. I can finally work efficiently.”
All photos by Jeffrey Flu unless otherwise noted.