Creator Profile: Kristen Rieke Morabito, Visuals and Storytelling at Mohinders - San Francisco
Hey Kristen! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Kristen Rieke Morabito. I’m a designer, painter and self-taught leather worker, and run the creative side of Mohinders Shoes. I live in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco, atop a fish market + restaurant Hook Fish Co.
What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
In college I majored in studio art. Every summer I waitressed at the same pizza place, and traveled for things like a rainforest ecology course in Costa Rica and interning with a textile nonprofit in Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.
I later worked as a copywriter at a tech company, then snuck my way into the graphic design department so I could learn on the job. A couple years in I needed a hands-on creative project which led me to experiment with leather. I sought out the skills to make leather goods I wanted, and launched a small side business around it.
When I left the corporate world in 2015, I continued following my curiosity about leather. I worked behind the counter and taught leather working at a shop called Case for Making, a magical store around the corner from where I live. That’s where I met Michael, the founder of Mohinders, when he stopped by one afternoon three years ago.
What is your position at Mohinders and what does your job entail?
I run the visuals and storytelling of Mohinders: packaging design, writing, social media, collaborations … since our U.S. team is pretty tiny, I also do a bit of everything. I’ll plan a photoshoot and also be the one running around styling wardrobe pieces, and post to Instagram each day! Each season you can also find me toting leather slides to popups and events like West Coast Craft, Mercado Sagrado, or Field + Supply. With eight styles in seven sizes each, it can be a lot of schlepping!
You create beautiful shoes that are noticeable as Mohinders. What is the design process like?
Last year, my job stretched into new terrain than before: shoe design.
It’s important to note that the Mohinders collection wasn’t invented or designed by our company—each style is a collaborative, close variation on an heirloom design iconic to Athani, India. Every pair is still made by generations of master shoemakers there (read the full story here).
Athani’s shoemakers also make traditional open-toe sandals, and we decided to try something new—a single-strap, minimalist sandal design, heirloom technique in a more modern shape. It was a challenge to get the dimensions just right, and I almost gave up several times.
I was re-energized (and learned a ton) in a workshop with Rachel Corry of Rachel Sees Snail Shoes last spring, highly recommend! Now, a year and one trip to India later, we’ve perfected and released the sandal.
What goes into creating brand recognition and brand trust?
As I run our visuals, or write captions and website or email copy, I try to create the kind of voice and brand personality I want to encounter. This means consistent, honest, warm, not taking myself too seriously—giving myself and others permission to experiment / mess up / enjoy the process.
For me this process is pretty intuitive. If I have a gut feeling about something, aesthetic or as a brand personality fit, I usually regret it if I don’t listen to my inner voice.
And, as a people pleaser / over achiever, a big lesson has been learning to say no. I’ve realized that what we say no to is as defining as what we say yes to, and our time and energies are limited! And this isn’t a bad thing.
Prioritizing, and being comfortable with not every idea happening, is important and actually also satisfying.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
For me, inspiration comes when I balance inner and outer learning, or taking in new material, plus alone time in the outdoors.
I’ll get immersed in conversations, stories and news about humans and the world through books / news / podcasts (recent faves: the Juggernaut, Design Matters, Still Processing).
But I quickly burn out if I don’t also have swims in the ocean, trail runs, or solo art-making time away from phone + distractions. A freezing-cold saltwater dip or sketchbook session in the park give me life (and restore sanity after too much time on Instagram!).
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I began with a passion for design and materials, which I still feel today. Beyond that, I’m excited by artists and businesspeople who are shifting the dominant business narrative away from disconnectedness and winning, toward collaborative and humanizing possibilities. I’ve never really wanted to be “good at business”— and I’m not even sure I still do, in the conventional sense—so this shift, to re-imagine business in new and artistic ways, fuels my energy to participate and look toward the future.
What are some brands/businesses that you are excited about that we should know of?
Case for Making - workshops & handmade watercolors! Nerd heaven for all kinds of pigments and papers
Rachel Corry - sandals and sandal-making workshops from a true wizard
Minnie & George - for stunning leather goods
The Juggernaut - for expansive, engaging news stories
Diaspora Co - single origin, direct trade turmeric + spices
Blockshop Textiles - beautiful design + commitment to transparency and an equitable supply chain
One Stripe Chai Co - the most delicious, all day long. (p.s. if you like chai and are not Indian, like me, this summary of chai history is necessary reading! Scroll about halfway down.)
APPRVL - genius bag designs, made + naturally dyed one by one in NYC
Fibershed - Rebecca, the founder, knows volumes and is so committed to regional, regenerative fiber systems … one day I dream about this kind of effort for leather and leather tanning!
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?
When you are raised as a woman, there are so many pressures and rewards for certain qualities: compliance, cooperation, “being nice.” For me it’s been meaningful to be around women who are bold, creative, and unapologetic in following their path.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
So many … of late, artists and facilitators like adrienne maree brown, Beth Pickens, Rebecca Solnit, Anne Friedman and Aminatou Sow, Sandra Kim, Beyoncé (Homecoming!), Emi Ito’s project @buyfrombipoc (more on that here!), Krista Tippett, Mary Oliver.
In my personal life, friends who are brave and creative learners encourage me. My older sibling Ell, my childhood best pal Cassidy Russell, my mothers and grandmothers. Neighbors like Alexis of Case for Making, Rachelle Derouin, Shaine Drake, Cameron of Saint Clair Jewelry, Rachel Kaye, Annie & Orlie of 3 Fish Studios… Plus, many of them are up for an Ocean Beach body surf even when it’s foggy and cold out.
How do you manage your time?
Perhaps counterintuitively, I’m a lot more productive when I take time away from the screen to run in the woods or get in the ocean. Remembering to prioritize those things helps me work productively, especially when things get crazy (holidays, events, emails!).
That said, I love making lists … it’s a borderline unhealthy habit. I use Trello, Airtable, and radically, pens and paper, so let me know if you ever want to talk about pens … current internal debate for best of all time is between Pilot G2 0.38mm and Pilot G Tec C Drafting Pen in 0.4mm.
What's something that you're wanting to learn?
I am a bit learning-obsessed. If I could be in school forever, I might do it! So, I take any opportunity to learn through work projects. Latest interests include: the complex histories of color naming and chemistry, the relationship between natural dyes and leather tanning, the natural dye work of A Verb for Keeping Warm, leather tanning by Shele of Hollow Bone, and ink making by the Toronto Ink Company.
What are some of your favorite places in San Francisco?
As a biased Sunset dweller, here’s my neighborhood list:Outerlands,Trouble coffee orAndytown,Establish, General Store, the Perish Trust, Green Apple Books + Blackbird Books,Mollusk,Hook Fish Co (my husband’s spot), Body Philosophy Club vintage, Yo Tambien Cantina, Pho Huynh Hiep 2 - Kevin’s Noodle House, a game of backgammon and drink at theLittle Shamrock. TheJames Turrell Skyspace. Oh, and check out Kamei restaurant supply on Clement sometime—it’s a magical wonderland.
How is Mohinders growing? What's coming up next?
We’ve grown organically thus far, through word of mouth and social media. Every pair is made by hand by a group of master shoemakers in Athani, India, and that’s not going to change—so production limits are real, but there is still room for growth. This spring we’ve released two new colorways, so 12 new styles (!) in our men’s and women’s collection—Iron-Dyed black and Oiled leather dark brown, as well as a brand new women’s sandal.
Earlier in the year we did our first limited batch artist collaboration, too; stay tuned for more of those to come.