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These Handmade Goods are Something Wild

Leather, life and reflection from Animal Handmade founder Ava Goldberg



Portrait by Ashton Ray Hansen

While earning a printmaking degree at Oregon College of Art & Craft, Boulder native Ava Goldberg’s first “animal” was born. She was tasked with making a print on an alternative material for one of her classes and chose to hand-dye, -cut, -emboss and -sew leather into a bag that donned an original design of bird-like creatures. That bag was stolen, and she essentially forgot about the process for a year or so, until she was in search of a birthday present for her best friend since high school. She made another embossed leather bag for the occasion, and the enthusiasm it triggered encouraged her.

“That was enough of a spark to think, ‘maybe there’s something here,’” she recalls. “And I just couldn’t not do it after that.” 

Four years later, Goldberg’s leather clutches, wallets and pouches, sold under the moniker Animal Handmade, can be found in hip boutiques all over the country. Out of a shared studio space in north Denver, Goldberg crafts each piece from first sketch to final stitch, resulting in functional, wearable art.

Here, four foundational truths about Goldberg.


Samos Vision Tan Pouch, $220

1. HER WORK ETHIC IS COURTESY OF MOM AND DAD. 

“My parents ran a kids clothing company called Ava Baby out of a warehouse in Louisville. That’s where I grew up, rollerblading around the factory and playing with scraps. My early paper dolls were made from pattern paper, industrial staples and highlighters. Living with two business owners definitely taught me about the hustle and the sacrifice, the sense of responsibility, and the pride. I just saw that that’s how you exist in the world—you make things yourself, and you make them from scratch.”


Cut the Sky Chestnut Leather Clutch, $270

2. HER CREATIONS ALLOW FOR YOUR LIFE’S PATINA. 

“One of the things that always irked me about working in paper was its delicacy and its need to be protected. It’s not something you have with you all the time and shares your stories, you know? I chose leather bags because they’re durable and show wear in a beautiful way; they get this patina. Like my bag—it has marks from a spilled milkshake and coffee stains on it. Sometimes I wish it was pristine and clean and didn’t look like I’m a monster, but it shows our story together and I like that.”


Troublewood Weekender, price upon request
I realized I’m trying to express something very primal, very instinctual within all of us.” — Ava Goldberg

3. HER SPIRIT ANIMAL IS A MUPPET.

“I think animals are a more universal stand-in for ourselves. In every piece, I’m telling some sort of story or situation about friction or decision or precipice. But I’m trying to tell it in a more metaphorical way, and I think we can identify with animal figures more than a specific human form. I toyed around with all these esoteric names for the company, but I realized I’m trying to express something very primal, very instinctual within all of us. It’s about being wild and not overthinking and not apologizing, and being dirty and beautiful and textural. And also, if I were a Muppet, I’d be Animal.” 


Electric Sleep Leather Coin Purse, $110

4. WITH EACH DESIGN, SHE TELLS A STORY.  

“It’s cool to see how people interpret the designs differently. I have a specific meaning behind each design—they all have a story or a metaphor about the struggle of being alive, basically—and they’re all special to me, because each design reflects a particular moment in my life. But what I love about art and imagery is that then I let it go, and it belongs to you. It matters what the artist’s intentions were, but I think there’s something really liberating and beautiful about people owning their experience of art.”

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