There are very few people in the world as determined and focused as Blythe Leonard, and it is undeniably inspiring. Unfazed by any challenge, she started her own namesake label straight out of graduating from University. Fashion, design, and manufacturing are in her blood — and she takes constant inspiration from her family’s textile mill, with the goal of reinvigorating America’s Manufacturing Industry and reducing her business’ own carbon footprint.
Aside from managing her own successful business, Blythe also contributes to her local community through a variety of social and charity work. At the very least, Blythe Leonard is a very inspiring woman indeed, but I think she is gearing up to take over the world — one fabulously made leather good at a time.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background. What inspired you to start Blythe Leonard?
You could say that my passion for fashion and design began even before I could walk. Even from my stroller, I would snag any velvet garment and jolt my mother to a quick halt. My professional career started at the age of ten, when I established my own jewellery company, The Blythe Collection. Designing bespoke pieces for clients has been in my blood for a long time. Wanting to further develop my design skills, I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia, where I graduated in 2015 with a B.F.A in Fashion Design and a minor in Accessory Design.
As a student, I was able to season my skills, follow my heart and ultimately pursue the American dream, to own my own company. I established Blythe Leonard because of my desire to create, and my need to explore different textures, shapes, styles and aesthetics on a daily basis. I am a very hands-on artist. Being able to develop clients bespoke luxury accessories is such a gratifying feeling. Each leather good is a work of functional art. I could not see myself doing any other line of work. It’s my love.
How important is the ‘Made in USA’ label to the ethos of your brand?
I grew up in my family’s textile mill, seeing first-hand how important it is to keep manufacturing jobs in my community. By supporting other American Made companies for supplies, it ultimately provides jobs throughout the town, county, and country. By sketching, patterning, and sewing everything myself, I get to experience the joy of walking through the design process eloquently while satisfying my passion for hands on creating. Not to mention a heightened awareness of attention to detail and quality. I also feel it is very important to reduce our carbon footprint.
You’re all about community and philanthropy. How does your brand help your own local community?
Blythe Leonard LLC gives back to the community in many different ways, first through my talents and second through my time. I serve on a local emergency services non-profit and food pantry board, raise funds to purchase design equipment and software for local design clubs, collect toiletries for the homeless and toys for under privileged children at Christmas, and continue to fight for the restoration of our once vital manufacturing city. My company also donates regularly to hundreds of silent auctions throughout the year helping to raise funds for various causes.
Sustainability is also a very important foundation for your brand. Could you give us some insight into how your handbags are produced?
Building on the foundations of my great-grandfather’s textile dye house, I was able to repurpose the manufacturing plant into a beautiful, creative, and productive design workshop and flagship store. Each BL leather good is handmade, one at a time, and always one of a kind. They are constructed without the use of harmful chemicals and adhesives, while being free of various stiffeners such as cardboard and Styrofoam. This makes our products very lightweight and long-lasting. It is also very important for us as a company to use the entire hide, not just parts of it. We utilise every square inch of leather to manufacture various smaller items to accompany each BL bag.
You started Blythe Leonard straight after your graduation. What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as an entrepreneur so far?
Owning your own business means that you wear a lot of hats, usually all at the same time. The hardest thing for me is to relinquish tasks because I have had to do it all myself for so long. Trusting those you work with and loving them like family makes it much easier to surrender some of the daily tasks that owning your own business requires.
What advice do you have for women who would like to become a GirlBoss like yourself?
My biggest piece of advice to anyone wanting to start a business is to follow your instincts and your heart. Don’t let anyone tell you that you cannot do something; it just takes hard work, long hours and strict dedication to go towards your goal. As my mother has always told me, “You always go towards what you focus on.”