I first met Belle Hilmer, owner of Maine Leather Co., through my good friend Cora, who offhandedly mentioned she had a friend making leather goods here in Portland. “TAKE ME TO HER!” I demanded. Since becoming friends with Belle, not only do I have a newfound respect for the craftsmanship it takes to work with leather (she made me this custom coozy) but I’m amazed that nearly four years since launching Fore Front Fashion, I’m still discovering talented folks all the time. Get it, Portland.
I asked Cora to swing by Belle’s studio one morning and talk to Belle about her process, being her own boss and why doing what you love is awesome.
Belle first started working with leather as a hobby about two years ago and in the past eight months morphed it into a business. “Teaching yourself a craft is very thrilling, but can be scary at times. Whenever I make something I am really proud of, that doubt turns into confidence. I’m getting pretty good, which must have something to do with genetics. My ancestors were definitely creative people,” she says. ” You should see my early stuff though…experimentation and a lot of practice is key. Actually, what I am making today should still be considered early work.”
Every item Belle makes is made to order and is custom through and through. She hand selects the leather from a tannery outlet in Central Maine and uses leather conditioner from Quoddy. The occasional buckle or snaps come from local hardware stores. She currently works out of her home – which has its perks. “I get to listen to my own music, eat all day, I get to do whatever I want!” she says. “Being your own boss is awesome. I treat myself really well!”
Though Maine Leather Co. isn’t her full-time job yet, she hopes it might be one day and intends to keep growing and perfecting her craft. “By doing something you really like, you create better work,” says Belle.