Everyday Icon: The Professor

Read our interview with design professor, leather goods creator and butcher shop co-owner, Natalie Davis.

NatalieDavis_02_ChelseaFullerton Image Credit: Chelsea Fullerton

We have long been inspired by Canoe founder Natalie Davis. Not only does she carefully craft the beautiful leather goods line and run a butcher shop with her husband, but she also finds time to sculpt young minds as a design professor. Her philosophies on bringing a well-balanced education to the next generation are spot-on and she was kind enough to share a behind-the-scenes look at her career in education, her creative endeavors and much more.

While many of us know you from your leather goods line, Canoe—which we love, you’re also an assistant professor of Communication Design at Texas State University. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of continuing education in the design world?

Design is a huge field and has many applications in our lives, from how a faucet works to the way you check-in for a flight. A design education provides a foundation so that you understand the principles behind those decisions and explore the full process of design, from defining the problem to research to evaluation. A rigorous design program should prepare students to tackle all of these issues and learn to think with both their head and their hands.

How did your role as an educator come about? What path did you take to get from handcrafting with leather to molding young minds?

I started teaching before I became a leatherworker, but the two inform each other a lot. I first began teaching when I was a freelancer and looking for ways to connect with fellow designers. I was invited as a guest critic to a class at CCA, and loved talking with the students about their work. As designers, our goal is to find solutions, and I saw the classroom as a really rewarding way to spend my time helping others. It’s been 7 years since I started, and everyday is different, challenging, and truly fulfilling. It’s prepared me to mentor interns and apprentices with Canoe, and teach leather workshops across the US.

We’ve heard that you also run a butcher shop in Austin with your husband, which makes us wonder how you find the time to do it all! Let’s talk about that. What time management tips do you have for us?

I would be lost without my calendar. Any commitment I make goes into a time slot, and I’ve learned to be very realistic about what I can get done in a day. Learning to say “no” is probably the best tip I can offer; that lesson has improved the quality of my life more than anything.

What’s one bit of advice you give to your students about starting out in design?

Hard work, a kind heart, and an open mind will take you farther than raw talent alone. Everyone I know that is truly successful has those three things in abundance. I dive into more lessons in an essay coming out this spring in “Design School Wisdom” (Chronicle Books, 2014).

As you know, Clementine Daily is a space for women who believe in embracing simple pleasures, setting realistic expectations and bettering their lives to better the lives around them. In your eyes, how do you fit in with that mission?

I do my best to stay true to who I am, as a both a designer and a woman. I’ve never followed a straight path to get to where I am, but looking back I can see that all of my explorations and passions have lead me so clearly to who I am today, and I’m happy with that.

What is your personal motto or mantra?

Listen more than you talk.

Tell us: what are five everyday items you can’t live without?

This notebook, Carmex, Topo Chico, dark chocolate with sea salt, and my Opinel pocket knife.

p.s. Want to hear from another design powerhouse who loves to teach? Check out prop stylist, Ginny Branch.