Jessica Ulrich's passion for natural history, anthropology and discovery informs all her work for Kertis, the hand made leather bag company she runs out of her Ridgewood, Queens studio. Her mom may have something to do with it too. "My mom taught me to sew when I was young and I’ve been making things ever since."
We sat down with the designer behind these incredible hand painted bags to learn how she got her start, what fuels her creativity, and where to get the best tacos in her 'hood.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
I didn’t study fashion design in college, but did take art classes like printmaking and drawing. After I graduated, I took sewing and pattern making classes in my free time or taught myself new things. My line is kind of a mix of different techniques that I’ve learned and enjoyed over the years.
Tell me about Kertis. How did it originate? What led you from blogging to making leather goods?
I started the line a couple of years ago as a side project in my free time. I was making dresses and tops here and there, occasionally posting my projects on my blog or selling them on Etsy. I was always on the lookout for great textiles, but finding them only occasionally. I really wanted to create my own prints and started experimenting with painting on silk. Around that time, I discovered paints just for leather and began experimenting with those materials. After lots of trial and error, I started selling a few painted clutches and my line grew from there.
There's obviously a lot of natural influences in Kertis. Why are you drawn to nature and how do you stay inspired each season?
I’ve always loved the outdoors and spent a lot of time running around the woods as a kid. I just feel refreshed when I can be outside on a little adventure. I also spent 6+ years working at the American Museum of Natural History here in NYC. It’s an amazing place that definitely deepened my nerdy fascination with the natural world and in many ways influenced what I was making. I think I would be pretty happy as a botanist in another life.
Each season I find myself drawn to particular colors or textures, whether its a single leaf or the shape of a flower, and I use that as a starting point. Sometimes a photo will catch my eye or even leaves growing in the neighborhood.
What's your favorite part of the design process? Do you ever find yourself hitting a wall, and if so, how do you get over that hump?
I love looking for inspiration and gathering new ideas. My favorite part of the process is when I try something new for the first time and somehow it just works. It’s a really energizing feeling.
I definitely hit a wall from time to time! When that happens, I try to take a step back, play around with new materials or ideas, or give myself time to relax and find new inspiration. I just got a new library card and am anxiously awaiting the arrival of a bunch of art and design books. When I have an afternoon to spare, I like to spend a few hours checking out an art exhibition or wandering around a museum.
Do you have a specific person in mind when you design? Who do you envision using and wearing your pieces?
I don’t know that I have a specific person in mind. I tend to create things I like or would want to wear and kind of go from there.
Which designers and artists inspire you?
So many! I love the imagination in Samantha Pleet’s work, the amazing textiles used by Ace & Jig. I can’t help loving the amazing flowers by Sarah Ryhanen (Saipua) or Amy Merrick. When thinking about fall this year, I was particularly inspired by some of Paul Gauguin’s work. I also just reserved a bunch of books on the Wiener Werkstätte so I’m excited to flip through those!
What's next for Kertis? Are there any materials you're excited to start working with?
This fall, I’m looking forward to creating and offering more clothing. Lately, I’ve been really inspired by different linen fabrics and am excited to try out some new ideas. Otherwise, I hope to add a few new bags to my little collection of leather goods.
Let's get personal–What are some of your favorite spots to get a bite or grab coffee in your neighborhood? What can we find you doing on a lazy Sunday?
Ridgewood is a beautiful neighborhood - it seems like more and more people are moving here every day! A bunch of great spots have opened up over the past couple years. For coffee, I usually head to Norma’s on Forest Ave. I like Kermes for tacos and tasty street corn and Queens Tavern for a casual drink. If I feel like hopping on the subway, Allswell tends to be my go-to for dinner or brunch, and if I feel like splurging on a great cocktail, Maison Premiere is always a treat.
On a lazy Sunday, you’ll find me sleeping in, making coffee and breakfast or eating at the diner a few blocks away. Then, ideally reading a book in the park or on the beach and finishing the day off with a delicious dinner at home.
Thanks so much to Jessica for chatting with us! You can shop the entire Kertis collection here.