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East Village Leather Artisan Big in Japan

By Serena Solomon | October 3, 2012 7:43am

EAST VILLAGE — Jutta Neumann's simple and practical designs reflect the reason she started her handcrafted leather business 18 years ago.

"I was living in the East Village when I needed to support myself and my children," said the German-born Neumann about the months following the end of her marriage.

She set up the Jutta Neumann New York workshop and small store which is tucked away on East Fourth Street near Avenue D.

"It was hard in the beginning," she said. "You make every mistake you basically can."

Fast-forward to the present, Neumann's off-the-beaten track business is steady, rolling out handbags, sandals, belts and other leathers which have found a loyal fan base — particularly in Japan.

"The Japanese customer really appreciates handmade work and quality work," said Neumann. She showed numerous news articles from Japanese publications that have featured her work, where about 80 percent of Jutta Neumann New York designs head.

Her repeat customers here in the U.S. know her designs as colorful and timeless pieces that, like Neumann, have proven their durability with a strength that lasts.

"My idea of these accessories is that they are handmade, handcrafted, very simple and very traditional, without too much extra that you do not need," she said.

With the help of a handful of staff, Neumann builds each piece from scratch, a skill she taught herself when business started.

Neumann is often seen in her workshop, filing sandal soles, cutting leather or fastening items together with hammer and nail.

Her most simple sandal for women goes for about $255. Men's footwear is also available and everything can be ordered online.

There is a sturdy weight in her pieces that is missing from the flimsy footwear at other stores.

The workshop utilizes 120 different colors, a signature of Neumann's designs from the beginning.

"When I moved here 26-years-ago there were still a lot of places that were torn down, especially in this area," she said of the East Village in the 1980s and 1990s.

"It looked very gray and destructive.

"When you have a red bag, a green bag, a yellow bag with it, it breaks up the tradition."