In 2011, Whitney Robinson found herself rethinking her life from the heart. What she found was renewed joy in creating things with her hands, just like she did as a child.
Robinson, a Duke graduate with a degree in computer science, and her husband, Charles, had lost a child that same year. “I kind of felt lost and Charles challenged me to really dig deep and just do some things that I like to do,” Robinson said. A chance find of leather scraps at the Scrap Exchange in Durham led her to leather working, and she found herself inspired. By 2012, she had created her leather goods business Freshly Given.
“It really was a scary experience because my background is in computer science, and coming from Duke I felt like ‘this is what I do, computer science,’ ” Robinson said. She thought “there’s no straying away from it. There’s no way I can be an artist … but I really just felt that push to do something different. I ran after it with Charles’ support and my family’s support.”
Robinson, inspired by a minimalist aesthetic as well as a love for vintage pieces, started her business by making leather earrings and rings. Then she started making bags and enjoyed the structural process. And that is what has stuck, for now. But Robinson is quick to add that she is open to new inspirations.
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“I’ll have a dream or I’ll sit and just look at leather, and I’ll keep forming it in my hands until I’m molding it into some kind of shape and I say ‘that’s it,’ ” said Robinson, who never sketches out her designs. She thrives on the “problem-solving and the logic that goes behind making it.”
She has continued sourcing her leather from scraps, but now she works with a North Carolina-based leather manufacturer. “There’s a lot of scrap leather and just to create something that people can take and you wouldn’t even know that it was scraps, that it was going to be discarded … that’s fun to me,” Robinson said.
Now a mother of two young boys, Robinson is balancing her company with family life. She has a room in their Durham home dedicated to sewing, a setup that allows her to care for her boys. Rows and rows of Polaroids taken of all the people who have encouraged Robinson hang over her desk, their eyes always on her.