Written by Clint Liles
Edited by Sadie Kimbrough
Last March an unforgettable hot-pink shop popped up in the Old City of downtown Knoxville. Honey Mouth is a leather goods store focused on empowering women through fashionable accessories and local artwork. Georgia Vogel, an alumna from the University of Tennessee, talks about her experience of opening the shop in March 2020 and the challenges she has since faced.
Vogel remarked that opening her shop at the beginning of the pandemic was a challenge.
“It has been a journey. Each day, I feel like there was a curveball for everyone,” she said. “I have been incredibly fortunate because I work for myself. I have the flexibility to hustle when I need to, and not everyone has that job security.”
However, Vogel remained strong this past year, noting the relationships she has formed have made opening the store worth it.
“I think just the sense of community that we’ve created within this space and the people that keep coming back time and time again— even if they are not buying something, they keep coming back to say hi or pet Dozer. We’ve developed our own community inside of our larger community, and I think that’s invaluable.”
Vogel acknowledged it certainly takes a community to run a small business and that she could not pull this off alone.
“My mom works the front, and my dad helped me build the table. My sister helped decorate, and we are a really close knit group of people as it is. So having them support me is incredible. And then the people who sell here, I was really intentional about who I reached out to and who I wanted to be part of this space.”
She notes, “I got here because of so many other brilliant and talented artists, makers, and friends. Maybe for some people, they would say it was themselves who helped them get to this point, but that certainly has not been the case for me.”
Prior to opening Honey Mouth, Vogel was a high school art teacher. She opened up to me about her experience.
“I would say that being a teacher was one of the most valuable times of my life. I taught high school kids. There is so much to learn from everyone of any age, but high school kids are at that age where they are just beginning to not care what anyone thinks of them while simultaneously caring a lot of what people think of them. They are at this really weird crux in their life where they so desperately want to find themselves while still being involved in that culture to constantly care what others think. So, there were a lot of moments of brutal honesty and self-reflection and really raw conversations that kept me constantly thinking and questioning the same things about myself.”
Just like many other artists, Vogel faces burnout, so she shared with me how she overcomes these obstacles.
“My creative block usually happens after a really crazy period around the holidays, like Christmas or Mother’s Day, where I’m turning and burning this consistent making. Or, if I do the same piece over and over again, I kind of lose my creative energy. So, I just have to stop myself and make whatever I want to make whether it is a success or a failure. I just have to play and see what comes from that and get inspired and motivated again.”
Vogel also talked to me about her motivation for opening Honey Mouth.
“I wanted it to be diverse. It is all females and minorities, which is really important to me in a patriarchal, white male society. So it was really important for me that I held a space for non white males.”
While leather working is traditionally a more male dominated field, Vogel works against this stereotype, forming artwork that everyone can enjoy.
“It is interesting how people will sometimes come in and walk right out the door saying, ‘oh, it’s girl stuff.’ I think people hear ‘leather goods,' and they think knife sheets and gun holsters, and for me, it’s more about empowerment, encouragement, and holding a space for people to be authentically themselves.”
Vogel notes that much of her inspiration today comes from her family as a young girl.
“I was raised to be a strong, independent female, and I spent a lot of time as an educator reaching out and helping young girls find that in themselves. And I think, especially in fashion, that entire culture can be pretty toxic, and I just want everybody to love who they are.”
She opened up about her experience of working in a male dominated field like leather making, noting there is a common motif that shows up in her work from this challenge.
“I tend to focus a lot on self-empowerment in everything I make. I think being a female business owner is tough. I think being a female business owner in a male dominated filed is really tough. And people can be critical. For me, I think it is a reminder to myself and other people when I’m stamping a quote like ‘mega babe’ into a bag, like, you can do this. You got this. I need this encouragement just as much as everyone else. Life is tough, and everyone is struggling. I think I am always working on overcoming, proving something, and it is underlined in everything that I do.”
Vogel is dedicated to creating a space for females and minorities to feel included, welcomed, and confident. That mission is no doubt a success, as her shop is filled with empowering and positive messages throughout.
Honey Mouth is located at 125 S Central Avenue, open from 11AM to 6PM Wednesday through Sunday.