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MEET THE DESIGNER: ALL HANDS

All Hands
Jennifer Stilwell SHOP ALL
At first glance, Jennifer Stilwell’s journey from working for a luxury designer in New York to starting her own line of bags in slouchy, pebbly leathers and washed-out neutrals is a simple one. But the part that came in between—which involves a brutal breakup, three years spent living on a ship, and an epiphany in Antarctica—is truly epic. “I always tell people to be careful what you wish for—you really might get it,” says Jenn, who spent much of her Argentinean childhood aboard the natural g... READ MORE

At first glance, Jennifer Stilwell’s journey from working for a luxury designer in New York to starting her own line of bags in slouchy, pebbly leathers and washed-out neutrals is a simple one. But the part that came in between—which involves a brutal breakup, three years spent living on a ship, and an epiphany in Antarctica—is truly epic. “I always tell people to be careful what you wish for—you really might get it,” says Jenn, who spent much of her Argentinean childhood aboard the natural gas tankers her dad captained. “In the middle of this terrible situation, I came across a job that required spending seven months a year on ships, curating handmade goods. It was like the universe pulled together to just completely extract me from my situation,” she says. “All my friends thought I was losing my mind, and at the time, I kind of felt that way, too.”

Lots of solo time at sea gave Jenn a chance not only to find her footing again, but also to practice her nascent leatherworking skills. The decision to start her own handbag business, though, took a bit of a nudge from a feathered friend. “One day we were in Antarctica, and I was standing on the deck. Albatrosses are beautiful birds, but they have these really human-like eyes. One came up to the side of the ship and creeped his creepy head towards me, and all of the sudden I was like ‘Oh, I’m okay now. I’m going to start a business.’ And I went back inside and e-mailed my boss that I was quitting,” she remembers. Even though she’s graduated from making her first samples in a tiny ship’s cabin, her ethos is still to keep things small, creating only shapes she can sew by hand. It’s an approach that’s served her well, from the moment she set foot back on dry land. “I launched by walking into a few shops and talking to the owners—I think it was a such a crazy story they felt like they had to give me a shot!”

www.allhandsny.com

DESIGNER'S WORK

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Hunter Canvas Sailor Tote
. 34 OF A KIND .
Hunter Canvas Sailor Tote BY All Hands
$ 250

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Cover photo jan 07  11 00 13 pm

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