Artist Feature: Mean Jean
We caught up with Lyndsi and Nick of Mean Jean to hear more about their making process! The Duo lives and works in the Echo Park neighborhood of LA, where they handcraft their leather wares. Read on for more info about this LA power couple and the labor of love that goes into Mean Jean:
Mean Jean! We have to ask, where did the name come from? Who is Mean Jean?
Lyndsi: Years ago, a few gal friends and I stumbled onto this box full of antique pins at a vintage shop in Los Angeles. There were names inscribed on each one so we jokingly picked out pins for each other. The gals pulled Jean and it just kind of stuck. The “Mean” part is actually because of my last name though. They all call me Mean Jean McGee. So to answer you question, I am Mean Jean. I didn’t make my first bag until a few years after all this but when it came time, I knew exactly what I needed to name the company.
Like us, you're a couple that lives together and works together. It can be tough sometimes to put work aside and let off steam. How do you guys navigate this together?
Nick: Lucky for us, we’re into a lot of the same shit but our love for music is something we’ve always bonded over. Needless to say, there are always a pair concert tickets on the fridge. As far as letting off steam, we definitely make sure to turn off our brains and have a good time on those nights. I’m sure you guys know you have to make a conscious effort. When you own your own business, there’s always something that needs to be done but regardless, it’s important take a little time for yourself. Even if it’s just beers and pinball for a couple hours. We love that too.
We had a studio visit with Nick a few weeks back, and were impressed by the time consuming and thoughtful process y'all employ. Can you touch on what you think sets Mean Jean apart from other leather makers?
Nick: Lyndsi’s stamping, 100%! In the beginning, I don’t think we did enough to capture all the hard-work that stamping each piece requires but recently, we’ve been tinkering with videos to shed light on the process. She really put in the hours that it takes to stamp as well as she does and she does so without guides or rulers. Stamping is like music, it’s just better when it isn’t lined up to a grid. More human. At this point, the tools are an extension of her hands. There’s constantly a stamp in one and a hammer in the other. I still manage to goof off though.
Your stamping and design work is beautifully composed on each piece, do you usually sketch these out first, or work straight onto the leather?
Lyndsi: As far as stamping, I am constantly coming up with or attempting to come up with new patterns. I’ll usually have an idea in my head and then start tinkering around with it on pieces of left over scrap leather. We do a lot of tinkering. Once I create a stamping pattern that I like, I just roll with it. When it comes to design patterns for our bags, backpacks, etc. that’s more of Nick’s world. I’ll often come to him with an idea of something I think would be rad to make and he turns it into something tangible. Often from scratch. He just has a knack for it.
Your bags are what really created a name for Mean Jean, and I can't help but drool over the hand stitched clean edges. How have the bags evolved, and where do you envision things going in the future?
Nick: Well, each time we create a new bag design it always seems to be larger than the last. I don’t foresee making anything too large though. Neither of us are fans of those giant sacks you see people lugging around. Do you really need all that with you? Recently, we’ve been doing a lot of work outside of handbags and we both love it. It’s never scary creating something new because we have this unspoken shared vision that keeps us stylistically rooted. I can’t explain it, all I can say is that when you put it into words you get, “Mean Jean.”
We all have a favorite, and least favorite, aspect of our work. What's yours?
Lyndsi: My favorite aspect of our work is the stamping portion because it’s a creative challenge. I enjoy watching the stamping on a project through its different stages (stamping, dying, antiquing, finishing). It’s a great feeling when it finally comes to fruition. I am not a fan of hand stitching though. It’s very unforgiving and can get extremely monotonous!
Nick: My favorite is finishing the leather. You never really know what you’re going to get until those final moments but it’s amazing every time. It’s truly breathes life into it. My least favorite is waiting for things to dry. There’s a fair bit of waiting involved in leather craft and I’m usually antsy to finish because I’m excited to see the final product. The upshot to the waiting are breaks (a.k.a. Pinball).
Any tools you're geeking out over lately? Or just wish you had gotten sooner?
Lyndsi: We’re headed to a trade show at the end of the month. I’m really excited to pick up new stamps for my collection. They’re something that’s best purchased in-person. You can expect some rad new designs come the spring!
Nick: Full disclosure, I just bought a sewing machine. It’s not for our handbags as those HAVE to be hand stitched but I’d been wanting one so we could start creating other new products. There’s a bit of a learning curve but I’m picking it up fast.
Do you guys have a favorite product your making at the moment?
Lyndsi: It’s hard to answer that because we’re are constantly striving to creating new pieces. One week it’s a backpack, next week it’s a purse. Recently, we’ve been focusing on expanding our line of homewares. That’s been a lot of fun for me.
Nick: We’ve been R&Ding these double-sided guitar straps and they are fucking awesome! Haha. In all seriousness, I think my excitement stems from the fact that until now, I haven’t really been able to wear any of our products. Purses don’t look good on me.
Shop Mean Jean's Homewares Here
Check out Mean Jean on Instagram: @MeanJeanLeather