In Blue Handmade, Inc was founded in 2008 when Mary Lynn Schroeder was 24 years old. Possessing a degree in Philosophy and being a highly qualified bartender and music business entrepreneur, Schroeder decided it was time for a change. Having saved enough money to live on for several months, she rented a small farmhouse in Makanda, Illinois where she bought a sewing machine, took a few lessons, and learned to stitch. I initially planned on learning to sew in order to make my own curtains. It had not yet occurred to me that I might have a career in this field; I just intended to be a bit more self-sufficient.
Coming from the great cold North, Schroeder eventually moved to Asheville, North Carolina. The community is diverse and innovative filled with talented people who are awe inspiring. I think it would be impossible to be a part of this community and not be challenged and intrigued by the growing artisan movement. It is an amazing place, one I’ve been searching for my entire life.
In the beginning, Schroeder made small purses, little soaps and handmade goods sold on consignment at the Smelly Hippie in Makanda, IL. Eventually, that turned into her own little shop and an etsy shop–www.inblue.etsy.com. With the move to Asheville, In Blue now resides in a brick and mortar shop, a large shared studio space overlooking the French Broad River.
In Blue has a team of five full time employees who spend their days crafting handmade leather journals, wallets, belts, flasks, and a multitude of other items all with travel themes. What makes these items so special is that each customer has the option to customize the prints that go on the item at no extra charge. From several different leather colors to a bank of 3000 image choices plus the addition of up to ten words of text, each item is unique.
The leather varies. Some is pre-dyed upholstery weight used to make books, wallets, and bags. The undyed leather is specifically for belts, cuffs, instrument straps, and other bags. There is a ten step process in making each piece, and a unique technique for every step. The one I find most interesting is our printing process. We use rubber stamps to print on our items with an ink that is specific to leather and is permanent and unwavering. It took quite a bit of trial and error to determine the right kind of ink. Right now, I love making bags. It is an exciting new challenge for me, [but more than this] its not just a job to me. I make hospice journals, songwriter composition books, logs for soldiers who are stationed overseas. I am so lucky to be able to get to know many of the people I am creating these items for, and every story has an impact on each piece I create.
The last six years has had its challenges; however, growing up with a company, starting a business venture and realizing that it was time to grow up and get it together has made all the difference for Schroeder. Knowing that she had a staff dependent on her ability to follow through and provide a paycheck has been good for her. I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was when I started this journey.
Meanwhile, In Blue has become the number one leather seller on etsy.com and distributes to over 200 boutiques and chains internationally. With a new merchandise debut planned at Mast General Stores, as well as a West Elm Local spot light at the Charlotte West Elm store, Schroeder could not be happier. I love the direction we are heading, and I love our pace. Our goal has always been to keep things at a rate of production that we can handle, and to keep that production local. So far, we are making that work, and I, for one, feel very lucky.