I grew up in Thomasville, North Carolina, a small furniture and textile town. My parents kept me extremely busy; piano lessons, Girl Scouts, dance, band, tennis, youth group, mission trips, art and sewing lessons. They wanted me to have all of the opportunities they could offer. In addition, my parents taught me the value of a dollar, the value of family and friendships, and the importance of giving back and being humble. Most importantly, they taught me that working hard builds character, integrity and dedication to your craft. Hard work was always something that I never shied away from, learning at an early age that it takes a lot of hard work to create something special. My mom’s motto is “you always go towards what you focus on.”
My parents’ dedication and drive toward the success of their own companies encouraged me to follow in their footsteps. Through their continued support and guidance, I confidently launched my own jewelry business, The Blythe Collection, at the age of ten. Launching this business was truly the beginning of my adventures into the world of art and creativity.
The first showcase of my jewelry was on Labor Day in Oak Island, North Carolina. Under a sprawling oak tree, I quickly discovered an intense passion for expressing my creativity that would eventually impact a broad range of cultures and ages. Without a doubt, I had fallen in love with the hands-on process of being able to mix different textures, materials and colors to create something really beautiful.
It wasn’t until I sailed on to my next adventure at Savannah College of Art and Design, otherwise known as SCAD, that I fell in love with a specific material all over again; this time leather. I was truly blessed to have had the best masters in the industry to teach me almost everything about design, art, construction, functionality, client profiling, leather types, and the accessory design industry. I even had the inner satisfaction of designing for a global mass market company which reached millions of clients easily. But even then, I knew that one day I would own my own brand and that I would design one great bag, one at a time and one of a kind. My heart and thoughts began mentally planning for Blythe Leonard LLC while in school, honing in on my craft and soaking up every bit of knowledge I could while in attendance. The freedom of creativity, the personal connection with the client and the physicality of manipulating leather were too strong of a passion to deny.
My voyage sailed me right back to my hometown, Thomasville, NC, where I began to build my company on the foundation of my great grandparent’s legacy. Together, my great grandparents began multiple businesses over the years, but the most prominent ones were the three textile mills that my great-grandfather built brick by brick; Hill Spinning Mill, Hill Hosiery Mill and Celand Yarn Dyers.
Hill Hosiery and Celand Yarn Dyers (BL headquarters) closed in the early 2000’s due to overseas production competition. Hill Spinning Mill is still in business and employs forty-five families from Thomasville and surrounding towns. June 1st, 2015, I stood in what used to be the office of Celand Yarn Dyers. As I stood there imagining the possibilities, my first words were, “I can make this work”, and with the help of friends and family, we did.
Blythe Leonard LLC was federally established six days later, on June 7th, 2015 and we began to clean that 15x10 foot office space. Within a few days we had one large table, one sewing machine, one shelf to dye leather and a rack for the sewing thread in our first room. I created a mustard yellow shoulder bag with a tassel on the side, which is now our namesake Jane Bag. The first bag was born and sold the same day. I turned right around and bought materials for the next two bags.
Fast forward almost three years and we have accomplished a plethora between being named a Finalist in the Martha Stewart American Made competition in 2015, winning an Honorable Mention in the Our State Made in NC Awards for 2016 and 2017, selling downtown Manhattan in an All American Made department store, and shipping worldwide. I am truly blessed. Every day I get to design and create beautiful works of art for clients and it serves a real purpose in life. I am also able to share my business morals and thoughts on manufacturing with the world, trying to make a difference, one bag at a time. I stand on the firm foundation of kindness, honesty and dedication but most of all making a difference in my community through the process of creating art in all shapes and sizes. The true American dream is to be able to do what you love every day because you wake up and say to yourself “I am going to work hard today...learn from my mistakes and create something beautiful.”
The ultimate goal was and continues to be the revitalization my great-grandparent’s dreams, through determination and hard work to succeed at my own American dream. The end-goal is to be able to provide jobs to my community, restoring occupations that were lost to overseas production and help people along the way by doing what I love to do every day, which is to make beautiful leather goods.
The BL brand didn’t just become what it is today overnight. Each day in passing is another stepping stone in learning my craft, developing my style, your style, learning what works and what doesn’t, giving back to the community, making friends, and trying something new.