Simple yet elegant; classic but timeless. Juste Leather’s handcrafted creations have been gaining a small following, and its founder, 26-year-old Jasmyne Koh – an unlikely pioneer in pursuing leather work in Brunei.
As she carefully rolls out leather imported from Korea and Italy, she denotes her choice to use exclusively vegetable tanned leather – as opposed to leather processed with commercial chromium which some quarters have argued results in a toxic waste water slush that has to be treated.
“We really wanted to set the leather apart,” said Jasmyne, whose authority on the subject believes her collective experience of under two years in the craft. “Vegetable tanned is much slower to produce, and is made by more experienced, almost artisinal workers. So it’s more expensive, but the leather can last a lifetime and is environmentally safe.”
On the back of an unsuccessful design start-up, Jasmyne founded Juste in January 2016 with an investor and advisor, but it wasn’t until she moved two months later into the Collective’s Makerspace in Batu Besurat – a sort of creative haven for up and coming arts and crafts designers – that sales and inquiries began to come in.
“I didn’t want to give up the first try,” said Jasmyne of her first start-up focusing on developing 3D prototypes of custom designs. “So I went back to the drawing board.. I found leather to be universal; if you think about it, it’s almost timeless, in terms of designing possibilities.”
Though public events organized by the collective, Juste – which simply means ‘Just’ in French – began to gain attention, slowly building up their social media following which now tips over 5,000 on Instagram – and serves as the main source of their orders.
“We’ve received about 300 invoices so far, most for orders above $50 since that’s what we’ve set as the minimum for free delivery,” she said, adding that the products are often bought as gifts or by office executives. “That (the invoices) combined with direct sales at events, and we are keeping a steady pace. But there is much, much more room to grow.”
Jasmyne’s initial outlay was $1,000 spent evenly for tools, buttons and accessories and some leather, and almost purely through tutorials online, she began to cut, sow and hammer her first products; a keychain, clutch and wallet – which were admittedly very much a work in progress.
Juste are branded as ‘raw leather’ products – which means that aside from connecting metals and fastening buttons – there are minimal fabric inserts that normally come almost standard in more commercial, mainstream leather products.
Pricing generally starts at $15 for a key chain, going up to the $150 range for laptop cases, with a tote bag and a work styled briefcase, her largest items made to-date, set to debut at the 1st Made in Brunei Market Fair from May 4-6 next month at Bridex.
“We’re moving away from taking purely custom orders to having a straightforward line-up offering customisation in the details like initials, logo or name,” said Jasmyne, who remains the sole hand crafter of her business. “If we standardize our line-up of products, we can focus on increasing our output. We’ve invested in a machine to help us cut more easily and I’ve managed to shorten production time significantly. A key chain can take 30 mins now, as opposed to hours.”
To learn more follow @justeleather on Instagram and Facebook.