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  • Jamie Ramsay

Life on Mars

After a long, dark winter, hunkered down in the studio, hours and hours of cutting, sewing, experimenting, scrapping, hammering, and listening to countless BBC news shows, I’ve finally emerged with the humble beginnings of what I hope will become a central location for inspiration, education, conservation and practicality, rooted in handmade goods.

Welcome to Life on Mars: Handmade goods that are conceived to be both utilitarian and engaging products for everyday living that connect us back to the land, the water and the beings around us, through leather, cork leather and other organics.

I have visions for this endeavor that stretch far beyond selling some bag. I am aiming to get people thinking about the kind of goods they use and how they come to be. I would like learn about people’s stories and needs and share them in interesting ways.

Modern manufacturing has made great strides for humanity, but at a cost to the Earth and our own well-being. Maybe so much so that one day we will have to look to terraform the red planet in hopes of living on Mars. For me, I love this Earth. I would like to be part of the movement that returns us to interacting more with the world around us in a more symbiotic and harmonious way. Spending a lot of time in Norway over the past few years, I’m inspired by the Norwegian notion of Marka and its vitality to a fulfilling life.

I started working with leather about two years ago, after finding an online deal for an introductory class at the Chicago School of Shoemaking. I decided to share the class as a gift for my crafty Mom. I remember looking around studio at all the practical applications of leather - how storage fixtures were hung with leather straps, how cases were created to protect a wide array of tools and devices, how leather took on all sorts of characteristics from supple to rigid. The studio was filled with materials that were once a living component of the Earth: leather, cotton, metal, minerals, oils.

After a few years of professional work in sometimes windowless, offices, screen pixels burning my eyeballs, under the hum of fluorescents, surrounded by plastic and polymers, I felt like I was disconnecting from the living world. Workspaces felt foreign, like life on Mars, and full of the disillusionment portrayed in the Bowie song of the same name. By contrast the leather studio environment was beaming with textures and colors and light familiar to life. This fit. And I was invigorated.

As I got more familiar with leathers and the tanning process, I realized there was a lot more I needed to investigate in terms of the sustainability of modern tanning processes. Some places produce great quality, but a ton of waste. Some places were out and out toxic polluters. Some places were innovating some really fascinating techniques. My wheels started turning.

I’ve made deliberate steps in reducing the amount of chemicals I put in my body by eating organically grown food. I’ve tried to eliminate the toxins around my body, through plants and by using more natural cleaners. Why couldn’t those same sustainability and holistic concerns apply to the things I wear and use on a daily basis? How could this versatile material leather return to its roots? Were there alternatives or more eco-friendly tanneries? Could other organic materials be used to match the durability and character of leather?

I’m just beginning to scratch the surface. I’ve learned a ton and have had some fascinating discussions with tanneries, chemists, artisans and other organic material makers from all over the world. There’s miles to go, but I’m already thrilled by this leg of the journey.

For now, I am working with materials that are durable, show some of the nature of their source and just like you and I, age and change with time. Many of the leathers I use are not highly processed with chemicals, so they may darken or lighten over time. I like rugged edges and character so each product might have imperfections and rawness. The touch of the human hand in the creation of these goods is vital to me. Just like life in the real world, my goods are not intended to be pristine and plastic. But they are made to thrive and endure. And overall, I want to use the inspiration of people and forms around me to make goods that solve problems, make life easier, and with which people connect.

My first major design is the VV Hip Pack and was born from one of my own needs. As an athlete that traveled frequently, and always had to lug and extra bag of equipment and uniforms, I was constantly searching for a handsfree solution for accessing necessities like ID or phone. I hated digging in bags, swinging around a backpack and unzipping a pocket, and frankly, I wanted to keep that stuff on my person. So, the VV has a compartment large enough for mega-large Otter case I put on my phone, it is snapped for security, has a slot for a passport, has clips for keys, and sports a ring for clipping additional lanyards or hanging sunnies. It doubles as a belt and can moonlight as a cross-body holster type bag. At the hips or around the chest, it’s hands free and, generally doesn’t get counted as a carry-on item for over-packers like me. ;)

I began by my designs addressing a personal travel need I found wasn’t out there on the market, with the details I longed for. I hope that by researching the needs and interests of friends and specialized professions and hobbies, I can expand my line and share the stories of my inspirees in the process. And because it resembles the elegance of a horse’s mane and tail, rest assured you’ll find a lot of fringe. Who doesn’t love ponies?

It’s the freakiest show…and so begins, Life on Mars.

*New web site in the works. For now, check back here, under the "Life on Mars" tab and visit my shop on Etsy

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