Sarah Butala is the Minnesotan designer and entrepreneur behind Strey Designs. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota and her career in art has been a long and multifaceted journey. While Sarah now focuses on leatherwork, she has drawn inspiration from her past training in painting, drawing, woodworking, textiles and sculpture. She worked as a puppeteer, art teacher, muralist and set designer before embarking on her new passion in fashion and leatherwork.
With passion and care, Sarah prides Strey Designs on delivering on the concept of being a quality hand-crafted, artist-designed leather company based in Minneapolis. Each cut of leather, each time Sarah sets a rivet, she is engaged with the process. Leather-working demands concentration and being in the moment. She loses herself in the craftsmanship.
Talk about the beginnings of Strey Designs. What inspired you begin this endeavor?
I've always loved creating things! After I graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in art, I thought I was going to be a teacher. I ended up teaching, set designing, puppeteering, painting murals, doing photography, and dabbling in leather work. After a while my car was so full of every kind of art equipment I decided I need to specialize in one thing! I chose leatherwork - I love art that has a useful purpose and I could see so much potential in having my own brand!
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?
I think my first biggest honor was in 5th grade having my poster chosen for the D.A.R.E. calendar! I was really proud! I used to consider myself a "mixed media" artist. At this point that might be an understatement. From paintings to welding, woodworking to knitting, graphic design to doll making, I think I have explored most mediums.
How have your bags evolved? How have you evolved as an artist and businesswoman?
When I was a student at the U, I found a couple scraps of leather laying around the art department. I bought a hole punch and stitched the red leather together with a pale pink yarn! My hands were terribly sore and I was in love with the process. Since then, I've thoroughly researched every material component, as to ensure I use only the highest quality for each product I make. I'm constantly thinking of the engineering of the bag, how to make it more ergonomic and more durable, while still aesthetically pleasing.
What is your artistic process like from start to finish?
Typically I begin by asking questions: where will this bag be used, who is the audience that it will attract, and what will it carry? These questions will determine so much of how the final product will look. Often I will "make" the bag in my head, considering what parts need to be assembled first and so on. Then I will think about the joints, how will the bag hang, how will the closure function, how will the zippers, and pockets flow with the main aspects of the product. Then a little measuring, a few cuts and stitches, assemble, and some intensive strap making process and the final touch is adding the zipper pulls. And BAM! A bag is born!
How has living and making in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through Strey Designs?
I have found that there is a lot of support in the maker community in Minnesota. People are willing to share their wins, loses, and tricks. We all are in it together! We all realize the ramifications of so many items manufactured overseas. And how devastating it can be on our environment and economy. As a self taught leatherworker, I've found, unlike so many other things, leather working isn't as easy as YouTube videos and and Google searches. It's a craft that tends to be shared best verbally. I've met so many interesting and inspiring people on my journey.
Do you like to experiment with different materials or techniques in your work?
Regarding techniques, mostly I will do it wrong 15 ways and then finally find the right way to do it and stick with it! In terms of materials, I love finding new materials and seeing how current designs translate with a different material. My newest obsession is cork fabric and a pineapple leather alternative!
Do you feel like your work allows you to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
Most definitely! The Maker Movement is exploding and people are really starting to understand the importance of shopping local and buying products manufactured in the USA. I feel so lucky to be apart of this ideology and movement!