Handmade, Made Accessible
Kurier's bags and shoes offer affordable luxury, made in Portland
The name for Jasmine Clayton’s line of small-batch handmade leather goods was inspired by her Polish grandmother, a mother of ten and farmer’s wife in Central Maine. “She never learned to drive a car, but she always had her hair done. You don’t have to have a lot to look nice. You can be everyday but still be fantastic.” The name means “courier,” and the theme of carrying is continued in the brand’s carrier pigeon logo as well as its function-first handbags. They have simple, elegant shapes, minimal hardware, and colors that are gorgeously saturated but muted enough to attract the color-curious.
They also have remarkably modest prices. “I try to keep close to wholesale prices,” Clayton says. “Not having a lot of money shouldn’t mean that you can’t have handmade, nice, ethically made things.” She is committed to keeping her wares at a price point she could afford herself. After watching a documentary about IKEA, she adopted a process called reverse design, in which she decides each item’s price in advance and uses it to guide the design process. At the same time, handmade work takes time, materials matter, and she is committed to ethical sourcing, so she knows her creations represent splurges for many of her customers. If a bag costs $150, “that’s grocer- ies for the week,” she points out. “But we all deserve to treat ourselves, and to have stuff that we didn’t get because it was on clearance.
Clayton got her start in design at the Maine College of Art. Her focus there was on photography, but she also took in a lot of lessons about how to make a living as a creative person. “All of our instructors were active artists, so we really had an opportunity to get to know people that were trying to live by their art,” she says. After college, she held a variety of jobs but was always sewing on the side—from quilts to wedding dresses. Once, out of money but needing a bag for a night out, she sewed one out of a piece of cotton; her friend insisted on buying it immediately, and eventually Clayton went home with her wallet and keys in a plastic grocery bag. Soon she started making bags out of leather. “I decided I was going to treat leather like fabric, because that’s what I knew,” she says.
She eventually sought a job with Jill McGowan, one of Portland’s most recognized makers of high-end cloth- ing. “I remember putting on Facebook that I’d found my dream job—I was going to work there forever,” she says. “I learned so much about how produc- tion works.” At the same time, however, she’d been keeping up a sideline sell- ing leather bags and wallets through Etsy and at local retailers, and finally realized that she needed to move her workspace off her kitchen table. With a shoestring budget, a lucky break or two, and the help of friends and family added to her constant hard work, she launched a retail establishment on Congress Street in 2013. Now Kurier occupies a charming space on the East End, where Clayton still cuts and sews on the same tables a friend built her to support that original leap of faith.
Clayton took another leap last year, expanding her line to include hand- made clogs. “I’ve always loved clogs. I have so many pairs. They’re so comfortable, and fash- ionable in the right way,” she says. But it’s not easy to get into the clog business; making them requires specialized, custom-made tools. In January of 2020, she launched a Kickstarter campaign that funded the necessary equipment and convinced a Swedish clogmaker to teach her the craft via the Internet. With time on her hands (and stress to manage) during the pandemic, she honed her shoemaking skills until she was ready to release Kurier clogs. There was another issue to resolve: “It really bothered me, cutting down all these trees,” she says. “So for every pair of clogs we sell, we work with One Tree Planted to plant a tree.” She now offers the wooden-soled shoes in two heights and many styles, with leather or wool felt uppers. “There’s a clog for everyone and every occa- sion,” she says. “Not everybody needs to look like the quintessential hippie wearing clogs.”
The clogs aren’t alone in their broad appeal; Clay- ton’s leather goods and the curated objects that fill her store attract customers with a broad spectrum of tastes. For anyone who appreciates handwork, good design, and ethical practices, Kurier is a brand to watch.
Jasmine Clayton gives
her advice for choosing
and wearing beautiful
- Stick with natural fibers: leather, wool, and cotton won’t let you down. I try to make everything as functional and simple as I can, so you can use it every day.
- Try not to worry about what the dictates of fashion are. If you like something, wear it. Every- body has their own style, whether they recognize it or not. If you’re pleased with how you look, you will show that.
- My closet is full of gray, black, and navy blue. But it’s okay to have bright pops of color! People some- times don’t treat themselves to colored things because they don’t work in all applications. But if some- thing’s small, why not have it in green? For larger things, you might stick with more sedate colors.
- Shoes and a purse are always my number one way to treat myself: they will always fit!