Each morning when Ashley Williams is getting ready for school, she goes shopping in special earring collection. “I ask what goes with my outfit,” she says. “It’s so fun.” After all, earrings have always been her favorite accessory—the bigger and bolder the better. Today her collection Leather + Grace is one she hand makes in just that style, and not just for herself.
Coming in at 2 to 3 inches tall, the statement makers in colors and shapes and patterns of all sorts add a pop to any outfit. And their weight is so light you hardly notice you are wearing them.
Perhaps the greatest fan base of Leather + Grace is Ashley’s students at Vestavia Hills Elementary East, where she has taught for 13 years. One girl in her class last year got her ears pierced just so she could wear her teacher’s earrings. Another student picked out a pair of earrings for his mom—who passed away a few months later. Ashley credits the East faculty for being her biggest marketers from Day 1. They bought them and wore them, and then got asked where they got their earrings.
A quick tour around Ashley’s shabby chic home near the school will tell you she’s always been a DIYer. She built her coffee table, a farmhouse table outside and the frames in her hallway, along with refurbishing many more pieces not currently on display. For years she sold picture frames and wood nativities as a fun side outlet from teaching. But her current craft of choice allows her to work insides instead of her woodworking that took her into the heat or the cold.
It all started when Ashley was seeing leather earrings in boutiques last fall. She loved the style, but not the $30-40 price tag. So she bought some leather at Hobby Lobby and tried her hand at making them herself. It was November 2017 when she posted the leather feathers with metallic tips on Facebook, and friends started asking her to make them for Christmas gifts. “Then it exploded,” Ashley recounts with the intonations of her Selmer, Tennessee drawl. “It was the most unexpected thing ever.”
From there she discovered all kinds of leather patterns and paints and stains. “It’s an obsession now,” she says, noting how she’s always looking for new materials.
From the start Ashley has always focused keeping the price at $10, or a few dollars more for more layers or other upgrades. If anything she wants to give everyone more of a discount. “Because they are my friends,” she says—also noting that pretty much everyone is her friend. So when stores approached her about selling her earrings but wanting her to mark up prices of what she sold too to be comparative to their mark up, she had to say no. “I had a heart-to-heart this summer with my husband,” she says. “I did not start this to be in retail. It’s a creative outlet.”
Instead much of her “payment” comes in intangibles: seeing people with her earrings on and knowing people love to buy them as gifts and share them with their girlfriends.
Like in the beginning much of Ashley’s inspiration comes from Pinterest, but much has changed along the way. She now purchases leather from a supplier in Tacoma, Washington, with thousands of varieties and gathers ideas and trends from blogs. “I have evolved and learned so much from what works and what doesn’t,” she says. When an item sells out like a new fish tail braid leather, then she knows she’s onto something.
Today Ashley starts the process with her Cricut machine to outline the exact shape of the leather piece. From there she turns on Netflix, pulls out a pair of tiny sharp scissors, and cuts out feather shapes in bulk before poking holes for chains and hooks. After that comes a round of vacuuming up stray pieces of leather and then final assembly, complete with earring cards she makes out of cardstock marked with a wood grain pattern to harken to her wood working days—a task that came easy given her teaching skill set. Technically Ashley has a studio in her basement, but she mostly ends up in her living room and dining room table to be near her husband and twin daughters.
Today she’s added a fringe style to a collection ala earrings her friend found for a higher price tag at a local boutique and requested—and has a set of Alabama and Auburn ones out for football season, of course. She also bought some clip-on sets to make earrings for her 7-year-old twin daughters. After all one of them, Addison, has been asking to both wear and help make them for moths. And Ashley’s thinking it will be the start of Mommy & Me sets.
These days Ashley ships a few pairs out of town a week to people who have found her on Instagram and ordered pairs. “I get tickled about it,” she says. “It’s going to New Jersey!” she thinks as she ships a pair off in that direction. But the heart of Leather + Grace will always be at Vestavia East.
Where to Find Leather + Grace Earrings
- Alabama Goods in Homewood
- The Mercantile on Highway 280