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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Willow & Fig’s Leila Garrett

Mar 23, 2017 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema

One Stitch at a Time

April 2017
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by Kelli Avila

Simply put, Leila Garrett describes Willow and Fig Leather Company as leather goods for children, especially moccasins and purses. While her business really began to take off in June 2013, she started about a year earlier by attempting to make bows.

“But I never sold any,” she says with a laugh.

In 2012, Garrett submitted her daughter for a modeling job with Petunia Pickle Bottom, which required making an Instagram account. It was her first time on the social media platform, and Garrett began following people who were advertising and selling their own DIY products. She decided she would try to make some extra money by making and selling bows.  “So I opened up an Etsy shop and I literally sold zero bows.”

Though Garrett’s foray into bow making quickly came untied, she still discovered the DIY world of social media, where a pair of moccasins had caught her eye. With a price tag of $65, she decided she could make her own.

“So I bought an old leather jacket from a garage sale, took it apart and made some moccasins for my daughter. I had scoured the Internet for some basic baby-type shoe patterns, and from that I manipulated it. I had no clue what I was doing,” admits Garrett, who practiced using felt before using the leather pattern.  

Her first pair of moccasins, “well, they looked like crud.” She still posted a photo on Instagram, and through hashtags people began contacting her, asking if she would make more. After about 10 offers, the thought must have crossed her mind: I’m going to need to get more jackets.

In 2012, Garrett sold her first moccasins for $20 a pair, saying she couldn’t sell them for more with a good conscience. “It just kind of started from there,” she adds.

“So where am I going to get the leather to make this, and where can I get brown suede?” Garrett had no clue where to start. “I actually messed up by ordering whatever brown suede I could find online,” a gnarly, stiff material that she couldn’t even use. So she drove to the fabric district in Los Angeles where she bought a box of scraps for around 10 bucks a pound.

“I had this huge bag, I think it cost me $120, and from that first bag I think I made my first year’s worth of moccasins,” says Garrett.

“The first year was all mistakes,” she continues, full of learning curves like how to work with leather, finalize a pattern and pick the right material. “Also, working with leather on a regular sewing machine is not a good idea,” she stresses.

The last step was branding, creating a logo and choosing the name of her business. She wanted to create a name that meant something to her, so she used her children’s nicknames. Her son was always long and lanky, “like a willow tree,” says Garrett, and her baby daughter, “I always called her my little fig.” Willow and Fig.

As business picked up, and Garrett put the final touches on her patterns, “things just kind of got out of hand.” She was also working as fulltime nurse, taking care of two children, and making moccasins between 10 o’clock at night and 2 in the morning. 

“I was just getting sick all the time. I had to close down for three months. So I tweaked my pattern to make it look more professional and I developed a plan where I would make collections ahead of time,” says Garrett, in order to have stock on hand. 

At the recommendation of friends, she also adjusted her prices. “Now they sell for $35 on my website,” she says, though retail stores in the valley mark up her products.

Garrett is a one-woman leather-making crew. “I have to cut all the leather, I have to paint all the leather,” she says. In 2014, she even expanded her collection to include purses, which is where she really gets creative. “They actually outsell my moccasins,” she says. 

These colorful purses are both seasonal and culturally relevant, like holiday inspired purses that are colored and shaped into unique patterns. She created a collection of Ziggy Stardust purses, as well as fantastic creatures like unicorns and trolls, animals like owls and foxes, and more classic and streamlined styles.

Willow and Fig Leather Company currently offers purses and moccasins, but if the arc of Garrett’s career has taught her anything, it’s not to count out that she might expand her collections to include other patterns and products. Anyway, with social media these days, there are plenty opportunities to find inspiration, and followers to ask you to create some new design.

Willow and Fig Leather Company  

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