Meet the Brooklyn Designer Who Launched a Handcrafted Leather Line From Her Apartment


Life Over Lattes: Handcrafted Leather Goods by Fortune Proved Cruel

It was the gift of a leather machine that opened a new door to creativity for Kelsie Woodbury. Yearning to work more with her hands, this machine was just the fuel she needed to launch her Brooklyn-based leather line, Fortune Proved Cruel.

I have always been inspired by Kelsie and the creativity she encompasses in her everyday, so I was thrilled when she agreed to be the first person featured for my new Life Over Lattes series (you can read more about the series here.)

Not too long after making the move to New York City, I was fortunate enough to cross paths with the warmhearted, free-spirited soul of Kelsie. At first glance, I remember thinking this lovely lady had to be some sort of bohemian princess. Her hair was long and flowy. Her style was effortlessly chic. Her voice was soft-spoken and her words were true. Not to mention she had this graceful glow about her that radiated authenticity. Little did I know during that first encounter, Kelsie would soon become one of the most creative people I know, and one of my dearest friends.

Below, she describes her main sources for inspiration, how she took the leap to start her own line, and how she juggles everything with her full-time job.

So, ready to be inspired? Well, let’s get this series started. Here’s Kelsie’s story…

Name: Kelsie Woodbury
Age: 28
Location: Brooklyn, New York

Let’s go back to the beginning. What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always want to go into design?
I was always interested in art, but when I was younger I thought being an artist meant you needed to know how to draw and paint. So that was my first passion, drawing, painting and studying fine art.

[Design] was never my true love until I started working with mixed media in high school and that’s when I began to see where my interests were. I didn’t realize there were so many forms of art and that no art is the same, and that is one of the best things about being an artist is individuality.

What was your first job out of college?
My first job out of school was an assistant designer in handbags. I was lucky enough to intern at a fashion company in New York and was then hired. It was during that time I realized that as much as your professors can prepare you, you will never be ready for what working in the industry actually means. I focused so much on design and craftsmanship in school and the real world was a wake up call, but a good one.

When did you decide to create Fortune Proved Cruel?
It was always my dream, it was always what I wanted to do.

After many years of working in the industry—and I still do—I knew I was missing something from my life as an artist. I love what I do, but I missed working with my hands and actually making products that comes from within.

I was able to get my hands on a leather machine as a gift and it is the one piece that I could never live without now. Being able to cut leather and sit down to sew is something I cannot live without. I learned my first sewing techniques from my mother. She is a real talented seamstress, and I grew up spending time in her ‘sewing machine room’—her creative space. She gifted me with my first Singer sewing machine, one I still have today. She used to sew saddle bags for my father’s motorcycles and he still talks about this leather vest she made him. So you could say it was in my genes. It was just always supposed to be apart of me.

Tell us more about the meaning behind that awesome name.
The name Fortune Proved Cruel is phrase from a poem that one of my ancestors wrote. I received a manuscript of family history and this quote was in it. Even though I didn’t know my great Aunt Lucy Kate, it is because of this poem that I feel closer to her, and know we have similar spirits.

‘But fortune proved cruel,
and doomed me in many
strange regions to roam.’

It is just so beautiful to me.

Can you let us in on what takes place behind the scenes at Fortune Proved Cruel?
Currently, my studio space is mine and my husband’s second bedroom. I am lucky to be able to share this creative space with him—I make leather goods, and he paints.

Most pieces are made to order, with about a two-week grace period. All leather is from the United States, and all pieces are hand cut, hand skived, edge painted and sewn by me. I strive to one day produce more styles, but right now I am happy with my staple pieces, such as the tote, cross-body and passport wallet, which have all been well received.

Right now, you work a full-time job as a designer in New York City. How do you find time to juggle both the corporate world and creating for Fortune Proved Cruel?
I learned from making the mistake of spreading myself too thin. My full-time job designing comes first, so I make time to work on my own stuff only when I have the time.

I have to allow myself some grace when I’m just too busy or tired to work on my line. I’ve learned this is okay. I’ve realized I don’t have to be producing a ton of work. Instead, I want to produce quality pieces, and this creativity is something I need in order to release stress. It actually inspires me to design everyday. Without my own creative freedom there would be no desire to design.


What is your ultimate favorite piece you’ve ever designed?

My favorite piece is still what was one of my first: the tote.

I once said I just needed a large tote to carry around the city that can hold my lunch and an extra pair of shoes. I made one for myself and it was the most rewarding feeling to be able to make something that I knew I would use everyday and other people would, too.

Living in Brooklyn, you must be surrounded by endless creativity. What are some of your main sources of inspiration?
Some of my main sources for inspiration are my creative friends. I do feel lucky to have relationships with other creative minds. I love hearing about their work. Whether it is sculptures, ceramics or a medium so different from my own, it inspires me to keep creating. I’ve learned living in a city is great for this. There happens to be so many people [in this city] with the same dream: to be a part of a creative world.

What is your favorite part of designing?
My favorite part of designing is the rush of excitement and passion that comes over me when an idea is sparked. Gathering inspiration is truly, for me, the best part. It can come from anywhere. Whether it is something I see walking in the city, certain colors at a market, something I see in nature, or an item a friend might have mentioned she needs in her bag or a function a guy friend wants in a wallet. These are the things that spark an interest, plant a seed and inspire me to create.

If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell myself that there will be mistakes and that pursuing your dream is not going to be easy but it will be rewarding. And that nothing great is ever easy.

Lastly, what does creativity mean to you?
Creativity means breaking down the walls and allowing yourself to let go and just do what makes you feel good or what feels right. I’ve learned that some people may not like your work, but if you are true to your craft, and it is purely yours, then those individuals will have no choice but to respect it.

Thank you so much, Kelsie!

To read more about Fortune Proved Cruel and to shop Kelsie’s latest designs, be sure to click here.  To follow along with Kelsie’s everyday adventures and inspirations, click here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Life Over Lattes series, click here.

*all photos provided by Kelsie Woodbury

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