Tell us about yourself.
My name is Amy Malcolm and I am the owner, operator and entire staff of Opelle Creative, my line of handcrafted leather bags. I live in Toronto in an old Victorian house with my boyfriend, our cat Bean and way too many plants. I spend the majority of my time in my attic studio, washing, sewing, cutting and crafting leather.
Apart from creating, what do you do?
Fantasize about new and exciting post office locations, “renovate” my bathroom (for 2 years now!), ride my bike around the city, go to the art gallery… I love to entertain and I hold diner parties once or twice a month, although I often regret them in the morning. I spend a ridiculous amount of time using string to play with my cat, which has to be one of the finer pleasures in life. But truthfully, I often have to remind myself that there’s more to life then sewing bags — indeed, I’m often reminded of that by concerned friends.
What would be the title of your memoir? Why?
Not to be Read Until After my Death. That’s how full of secrets it would be.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Desire, mostly. I guess you could say I am a covetous person and more than anything I’m inspired to create what I would love to see either in my hands or out in the world. I take most of my cues from nature — my house is rammed with plant life and rock specimens, and those shapes and forms definitely find their way into my work. I love working with leather because it’s so malleable while still having a will of its own. It lends itself beautifully to the rounded unstructured shapes I favor. That’s not to say I don’t troll fashion snoops, but I know what I like and what I don’t, so you’re not really going to see many trends in my work.
What does handmade mean to you?
To me, handmade is about maintaining autonomy in what I find to be an increasingly global and industrialized environment. There is a big disconnect between people and the processes behind the gazillion commodities we purchase and identify with. There’s a saying that you’re casting a vote with every dollar you spend, and in many ways I think that’s true. For me, creating and selling handmade products is about offering an alternative to that, adding some diversity. When we invest in something handmade, there’s a value to it beyond just the monetary price tag.
Who has been most influential in your craft?
When I was first in the creative stage and learning to work with leather on the weekends and after work, I happened to share an office with two wonderful women who had both worked with leather in the past. One was a drafter for a quintessential Canadian bag maker and the other made all of the leather stage costumes for a Canadian rock singer. I picked their brains as much as possible and gleaned knowledge that might have taken me years to figure out on my own. There are a lot of tricks with leather that you really only learn from experience, and they gave me a head start. I am also very lucky to live in a major city with an awesome leather supplier who I hassle constantly. They’ve been around for 40 years and have a wealth of knowledge and experience.
When did you know you were an artist/maker?
I’m sure everyone else knew I was an artist before I did. Growing up, my family was always very encouraging and supportive of my creative proclivities. Not that they had much choice — I was that kid that had to do everything my own way or not at all. In high school I’d stay up until 2 a.m. every night making myself a new outfit to wear to class the next day. I think when I was maybe 12 I had a moment of rebellion and temporarily thought I might be a scientist, but I soon came to my senses.
How would you describe your creative process?
Focused and frenetic! I tend to jump in head first, turning paper and leather into finished objects as quickly as possible. I’m not one to sketch. I tend to gravitate to one idea and brood on it in the background until I have a clear concept and an idea of the best way to approach it. From there I work backwards, make adjustments, reworking and finally finalizing the patterns. In design school they taught us to sketch first, research, write assembly guides, and then create patterns and muslins. If I worked that way, I’d be bored of the thing before I got anywhere with it.
If you could peek inside the studio of any artist, designer or craftsman (dead or alive), who would it be?
Does Kate Moss’s closet count? Honestly there are so many people I admire, past and present, so it would impossible to choose just one.
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
My bike. It was made for me by my dearest friend from a found road bike frame and parts handpicked from all over the city. I’ve been riding it for almost 12 years now and I’ve only had to replace the tires. It’s light as a feather and super fast for a 13-year-old fixed gear bike. Cruising around the city on my bike for an hour is almost meditative.
How do you get out of your creative ruts?
My problem is I don’t have enough hands — the ideas are always there, burning holes in my head, especially when I am really engrossed in a project. There’s something about the momentum that occurs when you’re working that creates this perfect empty space that the ideas can flow into. I always have my best inspiration when I’m knee-deep in creating.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
My dream is to buy a storefront in Toronto. I want somewhere to work, but also a venue to hold shows and workshops. I love the idea of a creative center to collaborate with other artists and designers and offer a much needed community studio space. I’m a pretty savvy entrepreneur and was really lucky to take advantage of creative programs when I was younger and unfocused. I’d love to be able to provide similar resources for established and emerging artists and help keep Toronto’s creative spirit strong and diverse.