The Woman-Helmed Leather Shop Making Timeless Handbags in Rhode Island

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Lindy McDonough knows leather.

She’s been making handbags for 15 years — for a decade, she worked at nearby Lotuff Leather, as co-founder and creative director. She’s taught at her alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design. (She’s the first Rhode Island-based designer to become a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America.) Her favorite designer is Charlotte Perriand, and she refurbishes mid-century furniture for fun. 

It’s fitting, then, that McDonough’s latest endeavor is a leather shop based in East Providence making vegetable-tanned, naturally-dyed objects meant to last a lifetime. The project is called Lindquist, which is her full Swedish name. (“It’s like my secret name, what Lindy is short for,” she says.) But in two years, the technically-namesake brand has grown far beyond the person it’s named after.

“It’s always been the dream of a brand, but now it’s its own world, with 15 people,” McDonough says. “It’s so much greater than I imagined it ever could be.”

As the story goes, the idea for what would become Lindquist began on a beach walk in the summer of 2020, where McDonough, husband (and co-founder) Conor MacKean and Kate Gronner (now head of production) were musing about whether it would be possible to make bags in the United States — right there in Rhode Island, even — in a way that was sustainable, that compensated employees fairly and offered them healthcare and benefits. McDonough had left Lotuff earlier that year, and was plotting her next move. She wanted to honor traditional craftsmanship and manufacturing, but do it in a way that was forward-thinking and centered the human practice. 

“I read a book called ‘Small Giants,’ which talks about small companies that have non-financial goals — you have things that are more important to you than the late-stage capitalism, doubling every year, hitting these milestones of growth that you need when you have investors for larger things,” she says. “We’re self-owned, so when we started, we were able to be like, ‘This thing has to be functional at four people, and as functional at four people as it is at 20…’ We’ve hit this really nice stride of steady, and it’s not the star trajectory story I think that a lot of people look for, but I’m so much more interested in something that’s going to be meaningful over time.” 

That philosophy is reflected in the product, too: Lindquist specializes in vegetable-tanned, naturally-dyed leather handbags that are meant to be functional and timeless. The hides come from California, are dyed in Brazil and assembled at the brand’s East Providence, Rhode Island studio. Prices start at $185 for the Pal, a small crossbody designed to fit a phone and a card, and go up to $950 for the Chelito, a classic carry-all tote. 

Lindquist HQ in East Providence, Rhode Island. The space serves as the brand's atelier and showroom.

Lindquist HQ in East Providence, Rhode Island. The space serves as the brand’s atelier and showroom.

Every single step of the process is thought-through, from the hardware (made in Japan) to the thread (sourced from a 200-year old French company) to the cutting machine (a big investment early on in the business, as it offers more flexibility in design and isn’t as hard on the body as the traditional apparatus). 

“I had this group of RISD students walking through, and one of them asked me, ‘Have you ever felt like you needed to compromise that vision somewhere?,'” McDonough remembers. “We were talking about the glue that we use — there’s a traditional glue that everybody uses, but being around it would make my practice unsustainable. So, at the beginning of the business, we tested every type of glue and landed on the water-based glue we use. It’s a slower process — it takes longer to use, you have to wait for it to fully dry — but it works for what we’re doing, but it’s also, at the end of the day, the better decision. It’s better for everybody around you and everyone that works for us.” 

Lindquist works in a way, too, where no scrap is wasted. If anything is left over, it’s donated to RISD or the local recycling center. 

The brand officially launched in October 2020, a few months after that beach walk. At that point, the founding team had recruited Kat Cummings, a longtime friend of McDonough’s, to help write copy. (She came on when “we realized we actually had to sell things,” per McDonough.) She came up with the name for Lindquist’s biggest hit: the Faba ($390), a curved-bottom crossbody reminiscent of a bean. If you’ve ever e-mailed the brand, you’ve likely reached Cummings — who’s now the head of sales and marketing — on the other side.

“We had a thing that was real at that point. It was starting to move,” says McDonough. “It was a really special time, and it was a scary time, too, because you were almost scared of other people in a way. It was very isolating. I feel like we had this little bit of community at that point — we had Emily and Mackenzie, so it was about six of us. Now, we’re 15.” 

The Faba was a part of Lindquist's launch collection, and it remains a part of its core offering. It's also a best-seller.

The Faba was a part of Lindquist’s launch collection, and it remains a part of its core offering. It’s also a best-seller.

“We use the word ‘nimble’ a lot,” says Cummings. “There are certain things that aren’t going to change. But we may make a decision to introduce a new style or to work on something based on what we’re feeling, something we’re excited about, something our clients are excited about.”

“When we decide which pieces to bring in or people to join, it’s very thoughtful,” McDonough adds. “We try not to do anything very fast. We’re always working, which is different than rushing. You can create a great company now — with the internet, with selling things through Instagram — that aren’t dependent on the things they were even 10 years ago.”

McDonough’s experience in traditional manufacturing and in retail (in addition to her decade at Lotuff, she worked at famed Brooklyn boutique Bird in her early 20s) informed a lot of the decisions that set the tone and the direction for Lindquist. The brand doesn’t operate on a seasonal calendar, like most fashion companies. It doesn’t do large-scale wholesale, instead opting to work with owner-operated independent shops. It sells primarily through its own e-commerce and its studio. It’s also invested in teaching everyone on the team how to do every job.  

“The traditional manufacturing technique is always the lowest cost — everybody stays in their lane, you don’t teach them anything outside of their thing, you don’t want them to get too good at everything. We’re really about training everybody in everything, and getting them good,” McDonough says. “There’s a lot of people that do things better than I can do them, personally, and I think that’s a real positive. They truly own their art form.” 

Lindquist also won’t make more than it sells: The team will cut a group of bags, sell them until they’re gone and then determine whether they need to add more to the next batch and, if so, whether that requires adding another person to the production line. 

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“There’s a lot of freedom within having certain constraints you’ve set for yourself,” Cummings says.

One thing Lindquist won’t compromise on is its material: fully vegetable-tanned leather that’s formaldehyde- and chromium-free.

As McDonough explains in a follow-up e-mail, the tannery the brand works with in Brazil transfers the hides from the meat processing facility in salt, and uses plant tannins derived from Acacia and Eucalyptus trees. If the leather’s meant to be a specific color, Lindquist will work with the tannery on a custom shade achieved through the translucent, water-based dyes, which the leather will then sit in for at least 30 days. Lindquist crafts with both Vachetta leather and Milled leather; once dried, the Vachetta leather’s pressed to finish, while the Milled leather’s tumbled, to give the material its texture. 

Leather at Lindquist HQ.

Leather at Lindquist HQ.

“All of the bags will patina because it’s naturally-dyed, so they settle into their color in this really special way,” Cummings says of the California Proposition 65-compliant leather. “In particular the Vachetta bags are so open to transformation; every time somebody posts a picture, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God. That looks amazing.'”

This is all different from the more-pervasive chrome tanning method, which is quicker but involves acid, salt, chromium sulfate and other chemicals that have environmental and health implications.

Lindquist lead with its processes in its communication with the customer base, whether that’s through marketing, social media or face-to-face interactions with clients. “That’s the foundation of what we’re doing,” says Cummings. “We’re starting with this material that’s the highest quality we can source. There are repeat customers that’ll come to the studio and ask, ‘How do you choose what colors to do?’ And I’ll say, ‘We decide on colors and send samples and reference materials back and forth.’ We’re ordering them very specifically. It’s a very dialectic process — nothing’s just like, ‘We’ll take six of those.'”

Capturing the making of a Lindquist object.

Capturing the making of a Lindquist object.

“It’s great when somebody comes and doesn’t realize that we’re making everything by hand in-house. It’s an amazing opportunity to share more details about that process, because then that’s just value-added,” she continues. “They come across something on Garmentory or they buy it from one of the boutiques that we’re working with, but all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘Wait, this is amazing. You made this?'”

The word also gets out from the customers themselves. “I’m so thankful to all of them, because they’ve got great style and they’re just out here flaunting their bags,” says Cummings

McDonough’s favorite Lindquist bag is her original Faba. (She, Kate and Kat have three of the original four samples, and they still use them.)

“It’s cool now to see some of those from the original [run] — they’re out of their awkward teen years and they’re in these really beautiful 20s,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘Keep using it. It’s just going to get more beautiful…’ We do small runs of every color, so you see all these people who have the same object in different colors and different stages of wear. It’s not just like everyone has the same exact bag.”

Though the Faba is the brand’s best-seller, a close second is the Po crossbody, with its accordion-like construction that makes it deceptively spacious. “It’s this ode to minimalism, where every single thing is function,” McDonough says. “There’s nothing extra. There’s nothing more than what you need.”

The Po in Leather Brown, which is currently sold out — though, it's still available in Pine, Vachetta, Chartreuse and Black.

The Po in Leather Brown, which is currently sold out — though, it’s still available in Pine, Vachetta, Chartreuse and Black.

For the team behind Lindquist, the focus is on “continuing what we’re doing, keeping the magic and not overstretching or getting too thin,” says McDonough. “I love the idea of showing up to work every day, doing the work and in 10 years being asked, ‘Oh, how’d you build that?’ Literally, because we went to work every day. We showed up, we did our thing and then we left and had our life. Continuing that balance is one of the most important things for me and for most people. It’s how it keeps the quality and keeps it special.” 

That’s not to say the brand’s staying still: There are dreams of creating furniture, of taking the collection abroad to where its customers and collaborators are — Japan, France, Denmark, the U.K. 

“It’d be so cool to go to have that opportunity, where we’re leaving the U.S. and bringing what we do on the road,” Cumming says.

Lindquist world tour: coming soon? 

All images by John Hesselbarth of Apparition, courtesy of Lindquist.

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