Growing up in Winterport, Emma Thieme, a fourth-generation Mainer, was surrounded by design. She inherited her mom’s sewing machine when she was only 5 years old and was soon making her own clothes and doing crafts with her mom and sister. What she didn’t know was that her passion and talent would evolve into a career.
“I never really got into jewelry making until I was in college and my friend Amy came across a big bag of leather and she gave it to me. And I was like, ‘I don’t know what to do with this.’ I tried sewing on it and making cuffs and wallets, but nothing really turned out the way I wanted it to,” Thieme said. So she tried making earrings, something completely new to her. “I realized it was a great way to put colors together and put designs together.”
When friends and fellow students began noticing Thieme’s leather designs, she started selling them. She has used marketing and Web skills she learned as a journalism major at the University of Maine to promote her designs, build a website and turn her passion into a business, now called Local Girl Leather. The business and the designs are an expression of Thieme’s style, which she describes as “feminine yet tough.”
“I love spikes. I love grommets. I’ve always loved harder things and combining them with feminine. I think it’s really great. You have to have a little bit of an attitude to wear it, and I think that’s a little bit like me. I can be really sassy when I want to be, which I love about myself!”
Although her designs are a bit bold and edgy, Thieme tones them down for anyone who isn’t into shoulder-dusting earrings and studded cuffs. She makes smaller leather pieces for her mom and welcomes custom orders.
The material Thieme uses for her jewelry is all recycled leather that she gets from “all over the place.” Thieme loves working with old sample books of leather because they have “all these funky patterns,” but since samples can be hard to find she relies on salvage leather from belts, purses or jackets.
All Local Girl pieces are handmade at a small workspace in Thieme’s apartment. It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to make a pair of earrings or try out a new idea. There’s a lot of trial and error in her process, but Thieme doesn’t mind taking the time to put out a unique product.
“I literally just sit down and I take different leathers and put them together and see what works,” Thieme said about her creative process. “Every pair of earrings is the only pair of earrings like that.”
Thieme now sells her earrings and bracelets in several area stores, including Metropolitan Soul in Bangor and Orono, Frock Affair in Downtown Bangor, Material Objects and Merchant Company in Portland, Macey’s and Seaside Souvenirs in Bar Harbor and Silver Willow Gallery in Winterport. In the coming year she is looking to settle down a bit more and continue expanding Local Girl’s reach. Since Thieme is the only designer, it can be tough keeping up with orders.
“I’ll sit down and make earrings all day long if I need orders filled. Maybe I’ll make five pairs and I won’t like any of them. What I really love is when I let my mind be free and I’ll make a color combination or design that really works well,” she said.
In her 23 years, Thieme has lived in Winterport, Belfast, Rockland, Portland, Bar Harbor and on a sailboat. Moving around has inspired new designs and color combinations. She worked with birch bark after taking a walk in Bar Harbor and she credits the art in Portland for “some really abstract bracelets.”
“I still keep thinking of new things. And peoples’ love for it and people complimenting that, it keeps me going and makes me want to find new designs,” Thieme said. She also loves getting pictures of people wearing her earrings through Facebook or email. “[The pictures] make me so happy. It’s amazing that so many people go to the Facebook page and go to Etsy. It just amazes me that I could be one person and it could be a business and it’s something I love.”
As far as the future is concerned, Thieme is looking to stay put.
“I’ve tried to put myself in different places when I do have the chance,” she said. “It’s kind of difficult to have your stuff constantly moving and not feeling like you’re going to be somewhere for a long time. So I’m excited to move to Portland and get an apartment for a year and have my stuff there.”
In Portland, Thieme plans on going back to school at the Maine College of Art in the fall for metalsmithing and jewelry design, since she never has formally studied jewelry design. Thieme is going to keep working on incorporating more spikes and grommets in her jewelry and branching out into watches and hopefully design shoes in the future. She also hopes to rent studio space and really dedicate a year to her business. Thieme is confident that she can make it work and is fueled by her love of leather.
“I love leather. I just want to be around it,” Thieme said. “It’s just such a wonderful material. It’s super malleable, it can do whatever you want it to and it’s durable — it can last forever.”