Name: Natalie Brooke Gulyas
Passion Project: Manitou Bags
Current Location: Northern Michigan
Website: manitoubags.com (in progress)
You just had a pre-launch for your handmade line of bags, Manitou Bags.
The idea for Manitou started with a desire to make lightweight leather handbags that were made out of high quality materials that also zipped close. I wanted to design pieces that were beautiful and transitional that you want to keep forever. My personal style is somewhat feminine and casual, I like to feel effortless and comfortable in my clothing and I wanted to design with that in mind. While I was living at home in Chicago I had a lengthy commute and I noticed by watching other women commute that there was a need for accessories, particularly bags that were attractively utilitarian. I often found myself wearing a nylon backpack most days that didn’t fit in well with my lifestyle or wardrobe and I wanted to wear something that reflected my taste. I also started to design with my sisters in mind, who are both creative professionals, one in San Francisco and one in Chicago, who travel a lot. They both have great personal style and are usually gone from home most of their day. I wanted to create pieces that they could wear to work and throughout the night after their workday but also pieces that looked feminine and effortless while traveling.
So, give us a little background.
More than several years ago I was interviewing for a job and the person interviewing me, who was a designer, asked me what I aspired to do in the future. Without hesitation I told her I wanted to design leather handbags. Truly, I don’t know where this response came from. My background up to that point had been in the music industry, but I had always been attracted to design - specifically accessories such as bags and boots. In my mind and in my heart I knew that in some capacity this idea was something I would pursue in the future but I felt I was waiting on a deeper inspiration to move forward. That inspiration came a few years later when I purchased an inexpensive crossbody bag from a discount bin before a trip to New York. It became my favorite bag because of it’s size and zipper closure. Though it was made very poorly I saw potential in its design and started to seek out manufacturers to design a prototype of my own version of the bag which was lighter and had less hardware. I wasn’t feeling that my vision for this simplistic design was being fully captured by the manufacturers and I decided that if I wanted to create well constructed samples I had the opportunity to learn from sewing them myself. In the past I had learned to sew, make patterns and tailor clothing mostly by trial and error and reading about simple techniques. I also subsequently restored an industrial sewing machine during this time, none of these things were easy but this learning period helped me to unknowingly develop the skills that I use now in the construction process. It truly has been many years in the making.
Not only are you a bag designer, but you are a musician, photographer, and at one point you were teaching pilates! I think a lot of girls deal with the dilemma of having multiple passions.
There is a false perception that you can only love one thing at a time. I’ve learned in time that that curiosity and a desire to learn is the depth of creativity. My parents mutually taught me that if someone is willing to teach you something that you should take the time to learn. This has brought out a side of me that is continually interested and has also helped me to take on jobs or practices that are really difficult or outside of my skillset.
My truest passion is music and I’ve spent most of my life writing songs and performing. I took up photography during a time when I was traveling and spending a lot of my life in recording studios and I started to document all of my young experiences in these beautiful, historic venues and studios as well as the musicians and people I was working with. I learned about photography through learning about music which lead me into a lot of different opportunities.
Time is precious in my life now and that’s where balancing my passions becomes difficult. Currently I have a handful of jobs that are both inside and outside of my skillset and more often than not I work twice in one day. I haven’t taken on any investors and Manitou has always been self financed. Some weeks I will work seven days a week and come home at night and work through the night. In that there is a great sense of accomplishment when I reach a business goal. On the other side, I also believe that songwriting has taught me the most about accomplishing the creative side of goals. Putting together an album or set for a show requires a lot of time and in my case a lot of time working alone. I also learned through playing music how to communicate a personal idea or vision and reach goals with other people. I learned through playing music to make working on my passions my top most priority and I’ve built personal processes that at times have caught a small amount of flack from friends when I would choose to stay in and work for days. Though in time no person has ever held my working hard at my passions against me when they saw how much I love what I was accomplishing. It is a choice and you have to choose your passions every morning when you wake up. You also have to imagine other work outside of your passions as something that productive and necessary to fuel the things that you love. When I have a full day and I get to sit down and work on a project that I am excited about I feel like it is even more of a privilege and I choose to see the perspective that my day has given me.
In time I have also become very interested in time management and productivity and that has helped me to relax my wild child side which naturally doesn’t like to schedule even a haircut. I think it’s also important to be creative with other people, to learn from them and to have conversations about ideas.
You made a move from Illinois to Michigan not too long ago.
Michigan and specifically Northern Michigan is my second home. Although I grew up outside of Chicago I spent all of my summers in Northern Michigan and have always felt this heart connection to Northern Michigan. I left Chicago in 2015, at the time I was working teaching Pilates and on the weekends I worked at Schuba’s which is a music venue in Chicago. I would often teach from five am into the afternoon, take a quick nap in the Green Room and cocktail through the evening. I spent a week in Northern Michigan over the Fourth of July that summer and during my last night I stayed up all night on the beach and for days afterwards I felt a great sense of peace and inspiration come over me that I had been missing. Though I had no intention of moving, at this time I had an important relationship ending in Chicago and as I meditated on my feelings I heard a strong response that was quite clear that urged me to return to Northern Michigan to create roots. Equally as important, this inner voice also told me to run with the bulls. And it was so pronounced that I moved everything out of my apartment that day.
Though I didn’t return to Michigan straight away, in fact the next month I had a small surgery and during my recovery I spent some time traveling all throughout the Southern states. I knew I wanted to start a business and I started collecting and researching materials while I was traveling when someone reached out to me about a great job opportunity in Northern Michigan and it felt like it was a pull to to return to Michigan and set up those roots.
In Michigan I’ve found such a community of creative people, it has been a perfect place to move forward building Manitou and gain inspiration as I do so. Everywhere you look here is beautiful and the people are truly kind and supportive. The definition of Manitou is a spiritual and fundamental life force that surrounds you. There is a great sense of this life force here in Northern Michigan within the Native American history and the natural depth of beauty here that is ever inspiring to me. Chicago is my home and am fortunate that Michigan is as well.
I think most people assume that when someone is successfully pursuing their passions, that life must just be coming easier for that person. I know that is not true for you.