BABE #272: ANNSLEY EDWARDS - Owner/Creator, Anney Life Designs
Annsley is a music teacher (piano, violin, viola), choir director and owner/creator of Anney Life Designs, a Jacksonville-based handcrafted leather goods company. This talented lady is equal parts creative, kind and tenacious. She puts countless hours into her various pursuits, and the results speak volumes. We’re excited to work alongside her at next week’s Babe Exchange Workshop session where she’ll showcase her skills and teach attendees how to work with leather. Don’t miss it – grab your tickets here!
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.M. Musical Performance, Classical Piano
Very first job: Teaching piano
Hustle: Music Teacher (piano, violin, viola); Choir Director; Owner/Creator, Anney Life Designs
Babe you admire and why?
Emily Bates, owner of Queen B Home. She hustles like nobody’s business and makes it look so easy (even though it’s not). She’s extremely personable, organized and incredibly dedicated to the things she loves. Emily inspires me every day to become a better person and business owner.
How do you spend your free time?
I spend a lot of time at Bold Bean Coffee by day, and always look forward to playing goalkeeper for my women’s indoor soccer team once a week.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
Single-o Espresso and a pour over from Bold Bean, or any cocktail with whiskey. A glass of Glenfiddich served neat is my ultimate fav.
What’s something most don’t know about you?
My goal from the age of 9 was to become a traveling concert pianist. I gave my orchestra debut in 2011 and couldn’t get enough of it. After three summers in Italy working with an incredible opera program, I made the incredibly difficult decision to step away from that dream, due to realizing that although I love travel and performing, I didn’t want to live out of a suitcase month-after-month without the ability to go home. Is it possible to be an extroverted hermit crab?
What are some of your go-to resources + tools?
NPR’s “How I Built This” podcast has helped me push through times when I’ve doubted my ability to build a business. It’s like having a ton of different business coaches, and the best part is, it’s free. My stand-sit desk is amazing for doing leatherwork—total jitter-bug, over here!
Tell us about your hustle.
As a leather artisan for my business, Anney Life Designs, my job consists of designing each piece and bringing it to life, completely by hand. Each design is made into a pattern, cut, prepped and finished by hand—no machinery is used. A lot of time and effort goes into the design and meticulous crafting of each item. Aside from handcrafting each piece alongside my intern, I handle the social media, finances, marketing and take part in markets every weekend. Photoshoots happen quarterly when we’ve created new product and inventory, and we always try to make a fun day of it by choosing a fun location. Our favorite is historic St. Augustine.
What does your typical workday look like?
Each day is quite different, and I really try to do leather work when I have the most energy—this tends to be in the afternoon or evening. Most days begin around 8:30 or 9:00 a.m., and a few days a week I’m up at 6:00 a.m. to exercise and get going to be more productive with the non-leather side of work. As a choral director, I run rehearsals on Monday evenings, plan the music for each month and play piano/direct the music for mass each Sunday morning. Tuesday through Friday, I teach private piano, violin and viola lessons for anywhere between an hour to three hours. After lessons, it’s back to leather work, building inventory and fulfilling custom orders, often late into the night. Each Saturday, I have a booth at Riverside Arts Market, and some weeks we add on other events or take part in larger, two-day markets. (Is it nap time yet?)
When did your interest in leather making begin?
During my three summers in Italy, I bought my first leather bag—a backpack I still use quite often and love. I became obsessed and added to my collection each summer (haggling is too much fun). After college, I was given the opportunity to become a music teacher at a private school, where I worked with students in pre-K through eighth grade; about 450 kids a week in addition to the 30 private students I taught each afternoon. I got my creative itch in my second year of teaching and began making infinity scarves. I then found some vinyl while fabric shopping and made my first bag out of it. After receiving many compliments (and it being mistaken for leather), I learned there was a leather store in town called Tandy Leather. I walked in and was immediately hooked. Over the next year and a half, I began making more finished products and really learning the craft. In the spring of 2017, I finished my fourth year of teaching at the school, and in August I did my first pop-up.
What inspired Anney Life Designs?
I’ve always loved creating and was taught to sew by my mom when I was a little girl. I found it difficult to find a bag that really suited my needs. Pockets are great, but I tend to fill them and not really use them for their intended purpose. I love classic, clean looks and wanted to create something I could still use and love 15 years from now. Anney is [one of my nicknames], and Anney Life Designs is also a play on words. (I believe you can live any life you choose). Eventually, I’d love to own a space that can be a workshop, store front and large enough to hold classes and events. You really can live the life you dream of; it just takes hard work, consistency and time. My vision is all about creating a community of people who are always rooting each other on and enjoying life together.
Tell us about your background in music.
My mom began teaching me piano at the age of 5. Being the youngest of three, I wanted to be just like my brothers and play like them (or, better; I’m a little competitive). I became a bit obsessed with piano and began practicing for about an hour a day when I was 10, and bumped that up to two hours a day around age 12. I had made the decision when I was 9 that I wanted to perform concertos with an orchestra, and that was the driving force behind the practice time that I put in. This goal was accomplished in 2011, and was most certainly a highlight of my life. High school consisted of about five competitions a year, including one that consisted of 30 minutes of solo repertoire, and everything always had to be memorized. I added in the violin at age 10 and joined the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra under the direction of Scott Gregg. [...] As an adult, I play regularly but haven’t given a recital in a while. Once this business is full-time, I’ll be able to dedicate more time for practicing, and hope to eventually put on recitals more regularly.
What’s your approach to running and growing a successful business?
For a niche market like leather goods, the best way I’ve found to build clientele and grow the business has been participating in markets. From the end of January 2018 to now (April 2019), I’ve had a total of four Saturdays off. So many times, I just wanted to give up. I was exhausted, sales were low, people make rude faces when they see prices, the list goes on. For my friends and family who’ve encouraged me and stuck with me through the tough times, I can’t thank them enough. Pushing through the first full year of running this business has taught me so much, but the most important piece of advice I can give is be patient and keep going, no matter how little you accomplish. Something is always better than nothing, and if your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough. A quote that I always keep in mind is by Elizabeth Gilbert: “Onward ever, backward never.”
How do you decide where to source your leather and materials from?
All the leather I use is sourced through the food industry and would be in the trash, otherwise. I only use full-grain leather, which is the highest quality available and much more durable than the average “genuine leather.” Full-grain leather is the outside original hide that has had the hair removed. It has not been corrected or altered, which is why it possesses the original grain of the cow hide and includes marks, branding and scars. Most people think genuine leather is the “best” kind of leather, however, they’re spending their hard-earned money on what is typically a low-grade leather that can technically be made from any kind of animal. Pretty disappointing, right? I work hard to find the very best hides, and even if I’m just going into the shop to purchase one hide, I’ll roll out every single one they have in stock to find the very best for my product. Tandy has been a huge help to me, and they’re always willing to work with me to be sure I receive the very best.
What’s one of your favorite pieces you’ve created thus far and why?
One of my favorite pieces is still the Transition Bag. After tons of prototypes and refining the design, it’s one of my most popular pieces due to its versatility. It functions as four bags in one, and all you have to do is move the straps around.
What’s been your biggest career milestone?
In June of 2018 I hired my intern, Victoria. Because of her dedication to learning the craft and an incredible work ethic, we were able to triple the sales goal I had set for the year. Not only does having help make building this business possible, but having someone to teach has helped me in ways I never knew, and I’ve learned so much, too! So, now I don’t just have an intern, I have a friend and someone I can trust to get things done and grow with. It’s helped me dream even bigger for this year and I can’t wait to see how things will change by the end of 2019.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
As a leather artisan, I feel like I can create a classic, clean product specifically for women. The leather crafting field is mainly filled with men, from my experience, and although their product can be amazing, the ones who successfully create bags and items for women are receiving assistance from—you guessed it, a woman. Those who don’t have a female behind the scenes tend to focus more on items like belts and wallets. Women can build the leather goods industry by encouraging others in it and actively supporting female entrepreneurs. When a friend can’t afford a bag, they can find something smaller they like, such as earrings or a bracelet. If they’re not able to buy, they can show up at markets or events, share posts and tell others about the business. Word of mouth is the best way to grow a company.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
The leather community is quite small, especially those of us who don’t use machinery. From my perspective, it tends to be more male-dominated, but is starting to evolve with the movement of women supporting women. As a woman, selling handbags comes a bit more naturally, and I think companies are seeing this and making more effort to bring women to the forefront, making their business more relatable to customers.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
Someone I really look up to is Teddi, of Teddi Joelle. She’s taken an idea and kept things very simple by providing a limited amount of designs, rooted in mindful and intentional consumption. Although her bags are finished using machinery, her product is top-notch and something I strive to match.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Take every critique with a grain of salt and find a way to apply it. You can always get better at something with time and patience, and nothing happens overnight. If you really want something, give it a year of true effort, then decide if it’s the right path to take. The answer at the end of a year is typically quite clear. Always take time to care for yourself, no matter how full your plate becomes. If you’re not healthy enough to function well, everything around you will suffer, too.
Join us at The Babe Exchange ft. Anney Life Designs!
The Babe Exchange is a Babes Who Hustle workshop series spotlighting local movers and shakers in an enriching, intimate professional setting. Join us next Monday, May 13th as Annsley Edwards of Anney Life Designs will share her story of building her side hustle as a successful designer of handcrafted leather goods using full-grain leather without any machinery. Grab your tickets here! (Pro tip: bring your mom for Mother’s Day!)