As one of our artisans, Honore uses her background in metalsmithing to meticulously help us make each of our bags the best it can be. Here, Liz interviews her on practicing yoga and what she's most excited to learn next in the studio.
You were born in Newport, Rhode Island, spent most of your childhood in Puerto Rico, and then moved back to the Ocean State. What was it like growing up on an island, and what are your favorite things about each place you’ve lived?
I was born in Newport and later relocated to Puerto Rico because my mom was in the Navy; I lived there for ten years and pretty much grew up there. I went to a Montessori school that focused on super independent learning, so the curriculum is just really geared towards independence as far as being able to dictate what you do yourself. It really fosters your independence and creativity. I was also very much exposed to a different culture from a young age. Puerto Rico is very Catholic and I got the opportunity to participate in someone’s Quinceañera. I was basically a flower girl (laughs).
I loved being outside, too. I absolutely loved that. I legitimately went to the beach probably five days a week! There were coconut trees, mango trees, iguanas and lizards everywhere. I even went to the rainforest a lot with one of my good friends that lived off-base. I went back [to Puerto Rico] once for a vacation, just to see everything again—it was really nice. I also traveled for three weeks in Europe once, seeing Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin and Rome all on the same trip. I loved Amsterdam… it was gorgeous and really similar to Newport, with lots of beautiful homes, small shops, and great views of the water wherever you turn.
One of my favorite things about Newport is the architecture and the way the town looks. It’s super historical and beautiful. Newport is a destination for a lot of people who visit the state, so I like the accessibility of having it right there outside my door. I prefer to go out for runs in Newport, but I like the art scene and food scene in Providence, like most people! I definitely prefer to go out to eat in Providence. With all the gallery space and all the arts stuff going on, I think we’re additionally really lucky that we get these great keynote speakers that come to Brown and RISD, as well as artists and writers that come here and do events. It’s nice. As far as Rhode Island in general, I really like being on the coast.
I often see you with a book in your hands as you’re heading out on your lunch break. What are you reading right now? Have literature and the arts always been meaningful to you?
Right now I’m reading The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. I’m almost done with it. It’s about their coming together for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday in India and having talks about how to cultivate and find joy in your life in the face of adversity. Since he’s a refugee from Tibet and Tutu is from South Africa during apartheid, one is Catholic and the other Buddhist, they have some differences of opinion and beliefs about the afterlife and yet they’re still able to come together and understand each other. My interests are pretty varied when it comes to books, but part of the reason why I picked up this particular one is because I’m diving more into mindfulness and building my yoga practice. I really like the benefits that I get from it.
I read a lot… I usually have multiple books going at a time. At work I’m currently listening to The Invisible Man as an audiobook. I definitely grew up in a household where reading was encouraged. My mom had these huge bookcases, and getting books for Christmas as a child was always exciting.
I’m going to school at RIC (Rhode Island College) right now for art, basically, just taking classes that interest me. I’ve always had a lingering interest in art, dating back to the Montessori curriculum. I’ve done both theory and hands-on courses like drawing, as well as a few literature courses. I like constantly expanding on my skills and doing so more for the love of learning rather than for the purpose of keeping an end goal in mind. It’s much more about letting the actual process be the reward rather than actually working towards some goal, I guess— it’s an opportunity to push myself. I also think based on how my life has gone, it makes more sense to structure my day around being really happy and seeing where things take me rather than having a big idea of where I “need” to end up.
As you alluded to earlier, you’re a wellness and yoga enthusiast. What made you get into practicing yoga, and how else do you cultivate mindfulness in your life?
I started doing yoga hardcore this past fall. I had started running and lifting weights and decided to also just kind of try out yoga, too, mainly because it was winter. Running outside was really not feasible anymore—too cold and dark! I found out more about Bikram yoga, which is a type of hot yoga, so I thought, “This is perfect for the winter!” And from all the benefits I started to see, I got really focused on yoga and it’s now just become an entire “thing” for me.
I started out with Bikram yoga at Boiler House (which is no longer open), and now now I go to Providence Power Yoga. I primarily do Vinyasa flow classes there now, but they also have Baptise yoga and restorative yoga. Vinyasa flow is very focused on breath-guiding postures, with a lot of inhaling and exhaling as you move into a position. So out of all the yoga I’ve done, I find it’s the most meditative. With Bikram, it’s easy to get focused on executing postures correctly, while Vinyasa is more thoughtful. It really utilizes all of your muscle groups, and it’s really easy to level up and level down in postures. If there are areas you’re tight in or more flexible in, you can slowly build strength.
One of the things I really love about Providence Power Yoga is that there’s easily seven different teachers and each one always has a very unique approach to their teaching. It’s also wonderful because they actually have two studios right next to each other and their classes start in intervals, so there’s always a variety of things happening and it’s easy to fit a class or two in with your schedule.
I have a ton of plants at my house, and I really think there’s something very therapeutic about taking care of them. It’s good as a routine and it creates an ability to zen out and focus on something small. I often like to start seedlings and propagate from cuttings. And I like to bring my extra plants into the studio—they really do make the space beautiful! I think it’s important for workplaces to have that, living things to make a space visually appealing and clean the air. I’m a pretend botanist (laughs).
Having previously worked handling orders for inventory management systems and dabbling in metalsmithing, you came to Lotuff already having a synthesis of both administrative and studio skills. How has this benefitted you?
I’ve had a lot of different jobs. I first got my cosmetology license and worked as a hairdresser, then I did antique restorations and from there I went to school to be a teacher. So I was a preschool teacher for a while, but I very much consider myself a lifelong learner and I’m always interested in learning skills and trades and things of that nature, so when Lotuff came up, I was like, “Why not?” I actually ended up here because Anna gave me a recommendation, as she and I had previously worked together in another studio.
Quality control is something I have a lot of experience with because at my most recent job, we had so many clients and were always shipping items out. I’m very familiar with shipping in general and as for the skills with the studio, I came in with an understanding of the basic safety rules when it comes to using machines or hand tools. I was also aware that there needs to be a very serious attention to fine details.
I find my work very meditative, actually to the point of keeping both sides of my body strong. That’s a big thing with yoga, so especially with turning and burning, I try to swap out the sides I use and I focus on the tasks I’m doing rather than keeping it totally repetitive work. It really enables you to focus on fine motor skills and minute details.
From packaging to zipper cutting to turning and burning, you do quite a few different things in the studio and are still continuing to add new capabilities. What are you most excited to learn next?
I’m really excited to use the cutter machine and figure out how to take the full hide and utilize it to the best of its ability, finding the optimal places to cut various parts of a bag and to be able to think about the full bag in a really deconstructed way. Lindy’s been training me on that and has been explaining things to me like where we cut the hide to save pieces for the straps. She’s already showed me how to do that, and then has demonstrated where the most flawless leather pieces are to use for the front and back covers.
I’m very interested in assembly and learning to use the hand tools to put hardware on each bag. That’s something I have some experience in thanks to the metalsmithing I used to do. Using fabric rather than metal seems interesting to me and I feel like those skills translate really easily into other projects. You learn how to fix your own things with those same tools.
At Lotuff, I really appreciate that the upper management is open to helping people really find where their strengths are and where their interests are. They really cultivate that, guiding you on a path of learning more in those areas you find interesting rather than trying to take people and just shove them where they’re needed. They work with you to find a path that merges with your skills and set you up to learn things you find interesting. Being able to do things that you love makes the work day really pleasurable.