Read My Interview with Voyage Denver!
Voyage Denver reached out to interview me for their Trailblazers series (shout out to Tori Patton who sent them my way!) a few weeks ago and I’m just now sharing the article here!
Here’s the short interview where you can learn more about my background (we’re going WAYYY BACK) and how this whole thing got started.
Life and Work with Megan Combs
Today we’d like to introduce you to Megan Combs.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I’ve been creating art since I was old enough to draw. From the first time I was asked: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I always replied with “I want to be an artist.” There’s a book that I loved as a kid and I remember getting it signed by the author and illustrator. I told him I wanted to be an artist when I grew up and he signed the book “to a young artist” and I remember a quote that stuck with me: “you don’t have to grow up to be an artist, you already are one.”
So, I always knew I would have a creative role, I really never had any other path. I loved art all through elementary school and won a few local awards for art entries in newspapers and fairs. I would draw with my dad often. We had little critiques where we would draw something in the house or drive around and find an old barn or landscape we loved and then swap sketches and give each other feedback. My dad taught me a lot about what I learned regarding composition and color theory before I had even realized it. We’ve also always been serious DIYers with home improvement projects and furniture builds so that set me up to be a “maker” and I knew my way around woodworking tools. By middle school and high school, I had time set aside for what was basically an independent study in art. I remember shadowing a local artist on one weekend and it was so incredible to be in her studio and see her work and her process. She and her husband did these amazing mixed media pieces with texture and found objects and I think that was when I really started experimenting with mixed media work. I also started getting really invested in photography around 15 or 16.
In college, I studied fine art with a concentration in fiber art and film photography. As much as I had played and experimented leading up to my college years, this was the time to really get my hands dirty. We had to dive into every medium in the art department, so I took drawing courses, color theory, painting, printmaking, art history and specifically, history of photography, sculpture, and of course, years of fiber and photography courses. I worked with materials ranging from fabric and black and white 35mm film to wood and metal. I learned techniques like shibori dying, silk painting, weaving, intaglio printing, welding… the list is long and exhaustive. I also minored in theater and worked on designing costumes and doing stage makeup for productions.
After I graduated with my BFA, my boyfriend (now husband) and I moved to Denver from Pennsylvania and I got a job that left me desperately wanting a creative role. I opened an Etsy shop just for that outlet and ended up turning that into my leather goods brand, Stitch & Shutter. I started working with leather in 2014 and it just clicked. I love how you can use leather for so many different applications, in so many ways and it is such a strong and sturdy material. I’m also drawn to slow, intentional processes with simple tools and things that require great attention to detail, and I find this in leather work. I try to mix in my fine art background and mantra of “a delicate strength” in every piece in the collection.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I can’t think of anyone who would say it’s been a smooth road with no hurdles along the way and I certainly can’t say that of my story to this point. While I’ve been fortunate to always feel that I had a relatively clear path and never questioned whether I should pursue a creative career, that has come with plenty of obstacles. I constantly struggle with feelings of impostor syndrome. I still have trouble saying I’m an “entrepreneur” and feel like a complete fraud if I use the phrase “small business owner.” I always find myself qualifying those things with “it’s a really small leather goods brand” or something along those lines to further diminish what I’ve built.
Getting to a place where you’re actually generating an income in a small handmade business feels like the most impossible struggle and while I’m working through a lot of money mindset issues, I try to always take a beat to recognize where I started and note how I’ve grown and how the brand has grown since the beginning.
Always be sure to take that personal inventory. Look back, reflect, appreciate your growth. Even when (especially when) you feel as though you are no closer to achieving your goals. I think we’re all constantly looking for the next “thing”, the next move, the next big milestone and it’s so much easier for us to obsess over the negatives or the distance we feel between where we are and where we want to be but really recognizing and feeling pride in the present and what you’ve accomplished is so incredibly valuable to anything you may be building.
Please tell us about Stitch & Shutter.
I make handmade leather goods and accessories for the modern minimalist. I apply my fine art and fashion backgrounds to the pieces I create, and I’m known for making functional, minimal leather goods that celebrate classic shapes with a bit of a twist.
Stitch & Shutter has grown into an entire collection of bags, wallets, jewelry and other small leather accessories for women and I don’t know that I ever imagined it would be the full collection and brand it is today. I am really very proud of that fact, and the work it has taken to get where I am now- I strive to never stop learning and improving and just a few years ago it was too daunting to even imagine making some of the bags I recently added to the line.
Were there people and/or experiences you had in your childhood that you feel laid the foundation for your success?
When I was growing up, it was constantly emphasized that no matter what, you always try and you always do your best and that will be enough. Regardless of the outcome, it was just important to give each task or challenge everything you’ve got and then in the end, if you could honestly say you put your all into it, that was what mattered.
So, from that experience, I realized that what I do well is to always commit to doing the hard work. I try to pour everything into whatever I’m passionate about.