In Blue Handmade: An American Journey

This North Carolina company’s leather-bound journals and other handmade goods reflect the growing taste for the hardy and authentic.

February 2016

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You could say that Mary Lynn Schroeder struck a chord. As the founder, president and lead designer of In Blue Handmade in Asheville, North Carolina, Schroeder crafts and sells goods that evoke the smell of leather, the sound of folk music, and the image of long summer afternoons on back roads or on a front porch, alone with one’s thoughts. Her products, her work, recall a time when people constructed things by hand, from rugged materials built to last.

In Blue Handmade’s leather goods include journals, belts and bags, as well as guitar straps and classic-retro hip flasks. She can customize each item with one of more than 3,000 leather stamps that include such images as bicycles, tall-masted ships, mason jars, musical instruments and the kind of line drawings you’d find in old dictionaries. Customers also can request up to 10 words of text. (The company’s name comes from the song “Tangled Up in Blue” by another remarkable and entrepreneurial American artist, Bob Dylan.)

But for all its Americana charm, In Blue is very much a tech-savvy e-commerce business, selling via Etsy and its own website. The company’s journals and other products are also available in more than 300 boutiques and shops. Still, from time to time, Schroeder also loves to hit the road, visiting craft fairs and music festivals throughout the country — any venue where In Blue’s work might resonate.

One remarkable twist in In Blue’s story is that Schroeder wasn’t a leather-goods artisan, at least not at first, anyway. With a degree in philosophy and a background as a music distributor and writer, she came to leather crafting almost by accident. It wasn’t that Schroeder wasn’t handy; she had taught herself how to use a sewing machine in order to make curtains and tote bags. She’d also run a shop in southern Illinois that sold artisanal goods.

But everything changed in 2009. As she listened to a musician craft a song on his acoustic guitar, Schroeder visualized a leather-bound journal filled with lyrics, images and snatches of music. The vision inspired her to create a leather-bound notebook. (She’d recently learned how to tool leather.) She listed it on Etsy and was amazed to quickly receive more than 100 orders. With that, she was on the road again — this time to build a new business.

Since then, In Blue has grown from a one-person show to a small but fast-growing company that now has 11 employees. One factor in that growth: It won the 2015 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Grand Prize, which garnered it national press attention. Not surprisingly, demand for In Blue’s products took a corresponding jump, with new orders from inside and outside the U.S. To keep up with that demand, Schroeder uses FedEx Ground for select domestic shipments and FedEx International MailService®, FedEx International Priority® and FedEx International Economy® for international orders.

But there’s more to Schroeder’s story than her business success. Through In Blue Handmade, she’s taken an active role in teen literacy programs in her neck of the woods. “We really care about the writer, about the nurturing of young minds,” she says. “We want to figure out how to get a journal into every teenager’s hands in Asheville, how to work with not-for-profits to get kids writing and thinking.”

In other words, Mary Lynn Schroeder is helping young people craft their own American stories.

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  1. It is a brilliant moment in our Nation's history that I witness America returning to her roots. We as a people maintain a liberty that many outside still long to experience. We are a united people who care deeply to see others succeed, and in succeeding, gather others together to also prosper. This is our way of caring!

    Peter Gruver February 19, 2016
  2. Quite an inspiration! Congratulations!

    Donna Galusha February 22, 2016

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