Liberal arts and entrepreneurship entwine in alumna's leather goods store
When it comes to running her recently launched collection of handmade leather accessories, Jessica Alcalde ’09 draws upon her education in more ways than one.
Sure, someone with a bachelor of fine arts in painting from the Department of Art can use their artistic abilities to create something visually compelling and appealing. But for Alcalde, her experience has set her up for so much more than that. Now, with her new business called JJ Alcalde up and running, she’s taking her Ohio State liberal arts experience and applying it to her entrepreneurial spirit.
“My degree in painting — and I think getting a liberal arts degree in general — made me a more creative problem solver and a more flexible thinker,” Alcalde said. “Being at Ohio State really gave me such a good foundation to think broader and wider. … You are taught to think out of the box from the beginning.”
A selection of handmade leather goods designed and created by Alcalde.
Alcalde, who opened her Brooklyn, New York, business in early February, studied fine/studio arts at the Pratt Institute before earning her BFA in painting from Ohio State. After graduating, she worked at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, apprenticed under renowned shoemaker Perry Ercolino and designed for various retailers in New York City.
All the while, Alcalde honed her craft working with textiles and creating leather goods on the side. She combined her education at Ohio State with what she learned working in the fashion industry to launch JJ Alcalde.
When you’re doing something creative, your options are much bigger,” she said. Thinking of your life as a creative person, I think you can bring that skill set into almost anything you’re doing.”
Alcalde recalled two specific experiences at Ohio State that impacted her career: a project in which she took apart a leather boot and a course that explored the nuances of being a freelance artist. She continues to apply the lessons she learned in different and unique ways.
“With the shoe project, you’re approaching something out of your comfort zone — you’re taking something apart, you’re trying to be delicate with it and then you’re sharing it,” she said. "Being able to have those kinds of conversations with confidence helps you become more articulate and understand what you need and what you want.
“I remember one class where our professors talked about all the ways you’re going to be able to live and work in the world as a freelance artist. That class really stuck with me because now I’m actually using that.”
Since JJ Alcalde launched, the orders have been pouring in, and Alcalde is scrambling to keep up. She said they are “exciting, great, wonderful problems to have,” and if the skills she learned at Ohio State helped open a business, they’ll help her navigate its fast pace.
“I started at a traditional art school, and when I transferred to Ohio State, I suddenly had such a wide range of things to draw upon that I didn't have access to before,” she said. “It's important that people own that creative energy and use it as an asset. I know that it's applicable for literally anything you want to do.”