From the big city lights to mountain alpenglow, Kahlil Johnson of Riverside Studios is making her mark with her signature handbags and accessories.
After learning to make shoes in 1996, Kahlil landed a job as a shoe designer in New York City in 2001. At night, she studied handbag construction at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Upon returning from the Big Apple to the Greenest Little Mountain Town, Kahlil started her own line of signature handbags, and accessories to boot.
Kahlil notes that it wasn’t until she joined Alanna Hughes and Riverside Studios that her handbags and leather work really took off. With a working studio she can call her own in her home town of Truckee, Kahlil has found her work to be more cohesive and interesting today.
In addition to her flawless craftsmanship, Kahlil has integrated her New York design skills with her mountain town sensibilities and values to create handbags, belts and accessories with personality. And, a conscience.
Her nomadic life has helped strengthen her resolve for reusing and recycling materials whenever possible that has also lead to her signature designs.
For instance, this summer Kahlil collected remnant upholstery fabrics and leather from a furniture manufacturer and made handbags and Christmas stockings that are from 100% reclaimed materials. As she puts it:
“I am inspired by unusual materials and using them in untraditional ways. Recently I made a bag from an old vinyl banner that would have been thrown away in a dumpster. For Burning Man this year I made Burner Belts and sculpted the edges of the hides so they have unusual lines, then for a finishing touch I riveted metal band aid boxes to them as carry alls.
In addition to reclaimed materials, I have leather from tanneries with bright colors and wonderful embossed patterns that inspire new designs every day. Everywhere I look in my studio I am struck by how many possibilities there are.”
Finding her place once again in her home town, and with the popularity of her unique designs taking off, Kahlil only wishes she had some elves to help out. For now, she is taking a break from making shoes.
You can find Kahlil’s handbags and accessories in historic Brickelltown:
10374 Donner Pass Road in Truckee
Marge (top) from Kahlil’s 2008 Collection. $205
Cleopatra (middle) – Kahlil’s very best seller. This particular Cleopatra is made from a tooled brown leather. Kahlil studded the edges for a hint of funkiness. $110
Burning Belts and Holsters from remnant upholstery fabrics, custom fabric or leather.
Hair on Cow belts (bottom) – Kahlil designed the hardware on these buckles and had them manufactured in Huntington Beach. She filled the black buckle with scraps of leather left over from larger projects. $65
Scrap Wrist clutches (left) are made from scrap leather and zippers that are left over from Kahlil’s main collection. $28