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Jen Sims: The Leathersellers' Bursary Scholar on meditative making and our MA Fashion

Jen Sims is a second year MA Fashion student and recipient of The Leathersellers’ Bursary, made possible thanks to the GenerationRCA campaign. 

Since the campaign’s launch - with a target of raising £100m in support of capital projects, scholarships, and world-leading research at the RCA - in total, generous supporters have helped us reach a staggering £71m to date. 

We spoke to Jen about the impact of her scholarship, her approach to making and the skills involved in working with leather.

I’m from London. Can you believe it? A real life Londoner – we’re as rare as hen’s teeth!

I left my corporate job at a film studio around ten years ago to undertake a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Central Saint Martins, where I met some fabulous, inspirational people. Since then I’ve been learning traditional hand stitched leatherwork skills from some of the best craftspeople in the country.

I’d been thinking about pursuing leatherwork more formally for a while.

The RCA was the first and only choice for me, so I was delighted to be accepted onto the MA Fashion’s splendidly named FAME (Footwear, Accessories, Millinery and Eyewear) pathway  who could resist an MA in FAME? My plan has been to focus on my design skills and truly discover who I am as a maker.

I design and make hand stitched vegetable tanned leather accessories.

Leather can be tough old stuff, so I spend a great deal of time finding exactly the right piece for the work I want to make and gravitate towards a few favourite tanneries. I like to get to know the people I buy from, so we have a mutual understanding and they are aware of just how fussy I am! This means they can guide me in selecting the very best pieces for my work.

Jen Sims, Leather bag with contrasting strap
Leather bag with contrasting strap, Jen Sims

‘Making as meditation’ is a key theme for me.  

If a hand skill is repetitive, it can free our minds, achieving a meditative state and a sense of euphoria. I want feelings of calm and soulfulness to come across in my work. Each piece is a conduit for an emotional connection between maker and wearer. It’s deep and serious stuff! For years I have been searching for my ikigai - my life’s purpose - and I’ve finally found it.

Since joining the RCA I have been so lucky to meet wonderful people and make friends for life. 

Our cohort seems to be particularly supportive of each other, which is desperately needed when we are all under such pressure. Every day seems so important and everyone pushes themselves to perform at their very best. I enjoy being around like minded people who push me on. I’m also fortunate to have tutors I’ve felt a real connection with. 

I was nominated for the The Leathersellers' Bursaries by my tutors. 

Getting the bursary was not only the icing on the cake but also the cherry on top! It has given me a sense of validation for my work and the encouragement I have received from the Leathersellers’ has been just as valuable as the portion of tuition fees they have so generously funded. They do some really fabulous charitable work, particularly around education and I’m proud to be a part of that.

Black leather bag folded for form
Black leather bag folded for form, Jen Sims

Traditional crafts like leatherwork need very particular hand based skills to be kept alive.

The work needs to be completed to a high standard, combined with innovative ideas to keep it current and desirable. As I continue to hand stitch designs, embedding all my hopes and dreams into each piece I make, I bear this in mind. I know I will always be working on improving my skills.

It is the perfecting of the craft and the achieving of superior results that rewards our souls.

I want the work I do to encourage people to find their ikigai too, especially if that involves making, inspiring them to gain sufficient mastery and intellectual stimulation, enabling a sense of pride and achievement. I strongly believe that something or someone has to spark our interest to take up a new skill, as happened to me. Everyone has a right to their ikigai and the sooner they find it, the better. 

As Christopher Tilley so accurately points out in the Handbook of Material Culture ‘Persons make things and things make persons.’

You can find more of Jen’s work at Follow her on Instagram: ​​@jensims.jensims

Find out how you can support GenerationRCA here.