Maker Profile: Carolyn Misterek, Designer of MATINE
Hi Carolyn! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Carolyn Misterek, founder and designer of MATINE, a line of handmade handbags based in Washington, DC.
What led you to begin MATINE?
I started MATINE in 2012. It was a side project I started while I was working full-time as a UX designer. My day job required a lot of creative thinking in terms of strategy, but not much making. I had some ideas for a few bag styles that I didn’t see anywhere else in the market, so I decided to try my hand and making them. I rallied a few friends together for a photo shoot and launched the first collection pretty quickly.
Tell us more about the origins of the brand’s name.
MATINE is modified from the French word for morning—matin. I love the sound of it, the ideas of clean slates and clear potential that morning conjures up for me, and the former digital consultant in me also loves the off-kilter spelling so we’re easy to find online.
How do you source your materials?
I work with a number of suppliers, but this year in particular I’m trying to expand our use of American leathers. I want to reduce our environmental impacts, and there can be a lot of waste and potential damage tied up in the supply chain when materials come from other places.
What inspires your designs?
What inspires my designs can be almost anything. I could be walking down the street and see something like the way a person’s shirtsleeve falls, and immediately imagine a new bag closure. When it comes time to pull a new collection together, I sift through all of those random thoughts and try to create things that feel cohesive, interesting and new, and yet still deliver what I know my customers really want.
You're currently traveling around to different shows. Could you tell us about that process?
Running a very small business, there’s only so much time in the calendar each year to fit everything I want to do in. At the start of 2017 I sat down and decided I wanted to pause for a couple of seasons on wholesale trade shows, and instead put that time and energy into getting out to meet with more customers directly. I thought it would be fun to bring the brand to new cities and get out of our D.C. bubble. So far it’s been a very rich experience, and it’s alway fascinating to hear the thoughts and feedback of new people interacting with your work. Plus, I love any excuse to travel!
How do you connect with your customers and community?
Connecting with customers primarily happens online, through social media, email and the lookbooks and campaigns we put out each season. This year, I’m trying to expand that by getting out to retail shows and interacting more with the customer face to face, in and out of D.C. We’re also working on a brick & mortar pop-up location later on which would be my dream space to welcome customers in and bring our online presence to life.
Why do you think it’s important to shop small and support local makers?
I think that where we spend our money is an investment into the life and community we want. If you want the great coffee shop in your neighborhood to continue to exist, then you need to go support them. When I look around my city, the things that contribute most to my happiness are absolutely the small businesses and the creative community. If I imagine life without them, it’s a sad, homogenized place (without great service), so I’m happy to spend my money locally whenever possible!
What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
There is space to spread out and make a bit—or a lot—of a mess.
What role has DC played in the development of MATINE?
So many roles! My designs are inspired by my life here and the things I see on a regular basis. I think there’s an appreciation for simple, sophisticated design in this city that certainly suits my aesthetic. There’s also the fact that since moving here in 2013 I’ve worked with local creatives to photograph my work, sell my work, market my work, collaborate on work—pretty much every element of the brand has been touched and shaped by the community here.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I’m truly a chronic maker, so I’m happiest when I get to create things and work with my hands on a regular basis. Reaching a point in my life when I can actually support myself by making things is something my 12-year-old self would be very, very excited about. I try to channel her regularly and remind myself how special this is. I also find it so energizing to take an idea, make it real and see others get just as excited about it as I am. This year I’ve been traveling to more retail markets and interacting with customers in person. It’s honestly a little surreal to see the joyful reactions that people have to the work, but knowing they get to feel that way every time they carry their bag is another layer of fulfillment for me.
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting MATINE?
To be honest, I started MATINE under such low-risk circumstances that there weren’t many setbacks or challenges in the beginning. I was just making things in my spare time, paying the Etsy fees as the sales came in. It was just my job to continue making work and trying to get the word out. The challenges really started once the business started to grow and I needed to figure out solutions for workspace and scaling production.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Throughout my life I’ve seen how women are so conditioned to compete with each other. We often look around, assess others as competition and get to work trying to outdo them, which is completely unnecessary and counterproductive. I’ve found that everything is simply better, more productive, more fun and more fulfilling when we’re working together and uplifting each other. One of my favorite parts of my job is getting to work with other women artists and makers, I love to collaborate on projects, and also to connect people and see the women I know get to know each other and find new ways to put their talents to use together.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
I’m most inspired by the women who appear to be doing exactly what they want to do, taking risks with their creativity and doing it all on their terms. I think of women I know like Kathryn Zaremba or Leah Beilhart, and women I don’t like Jen Gotch or Elizabeth Suzann.
What have you learned from owning your business that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
You don’t need to do everything yourself! Asking for help and outsourcing work have been the best things I could possibly do, for my business and for my personal wellbeing. When you start a business, and especially when you do creative work or are the primary maker of a product, it’s easy to take on too much. I think the same traits that make us successful in business, because we want to push ourselves to do more, can also hold us back. We have a vision for the way we want things to be, we think we’re the only ones who can execute on that vision, but when you let go of the things that don’t truly need your hand or your eye, you free yourself and your time up to use your talent where it can do much more good.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
Opening our first brick & mortar space!
What do you wish more people knew about you?
I think a lot of people assume that leather work must be my entire life’s passion because I happen to be pursuing it right now, but I’ve had what feels like a lifetime’s worth of careers before this! I was an oil painter and went to college for fine art, I was a copywriter, a UX designer, and I have a Master’s degree in art history which I once intended to use as a museum curator. I love to explore new interests and curiosities and seeing where they might lead next.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
I’m not sure if I truly have balance, or rather a constant shifting of priorities. Since having my daughter two years ago, my priorities have certainly changed overall, and on a day-to-day basis, that means I’m all about time management. I’ve gotten better at asking for help and trying to delegate. During the day when I’m at the studio, I try to really be there mentally and when I’m home, it’s the same thing (or at least the attempt). I want to focus on my family, and give my husband and my daughter my attention rather than being too distracted. Of course there are times when I bring work home, but I’ve gotten more protective of my evenings and weekends, and I’m less inclined to work straight through every available hour like I might have in years past. I’ve also gotten very comfortable saying no to things!
What are some of your favorite places in DC?
This city has really been churning out some fantastic coffee shops and restaurants in recent years, so it’s hard to narrow down the list! I live pretty close to the H Street neighborhood which has really been booming in particular. I love Sally’s Middle Name for family brunch on the roof deck and the Wydown Coffee Bar is outrageously beautiful. Shopkeepers is a beautiful little shop and cafe that opened nearby as well. I love seeing all the ideas others are working on and bringing to life for us in unexpected little corners of the city.