by Jesma Reynolds
photographs by Juli Leonard
Turning a hobby into a career can be an unlikely dream. But by tapping into her vast trove of flea market finds – old feed sacks and Americana textiles – Jessica Ullom has turned her “borderline hoarding” tendencies into a line of utilitarian bags, home goods, and hugely popular kitchen gear called Hawks and Doves.
She started in late 2012 after moving to Durham from Ohio with her husband Andrew. While he found work as a chef, sh explored local indie craft markets to sell her fine-art photography. After signing up to sell her photos at the popular Rock & Shop Market, she sewed together some pillows out of feed sacks on a lark and brought them along. The pillows sold out in less than five minutes. She knew she was on to something, and Hawks and Doves was born.
When Andrew landed a coveted culinary job as pastry chef for AC Restaurants in 2014, the couple moved to Raleigh. Ullom continued developing her custom products. Named for her favorite Neil Young album, the Hawks and Doves collection now includes bags made from vintage camp blankets, military canvases, and other reclaimed textiles. She also makes leather goods and wares for kitchen and home. Utility and sustainability are important features. “I like making something that is used every day,” she says.
The chefs she knows are glad she does. At Andrew’s request, and using his design, she created a knife roll, something pro cooks use to transport their treasured set of knives from place to place. It didn’t take long before chef friends were asking for a roll of their own and offering suggestions for how to tweak the prototype. Jessica now sells three styles of waxed-canvas and leather knife carriers. The most recent one, The Greyhound, was designed in collaboration with Ashley Christensen and was included in Ruth Reichl’s 2015 gift guide. The result: record sales and sold-out stock.
Meantime, her connections in the culinary world have also landed Ullum jobs making aprons for staff at Raleigh dining spots Lucettegrace, Death & Taxes, and Centro’s Bar del Corazón, as well as the popular foodie haunt FIG in Charleston, S.C.
Hawks and Doves goods are available at local retail shops and online through Etsy. Business is growing so quickly that Ullom’s mother Karren Reid recently moved in with the couple to help with production. Ullom credits her large Raleigh “network of people” with supporting her as customers and by getting the word out about her products.
She reciprocates the shop-local mentality by promoting merchants who carry her goods on social media and sourcing as much as she can from nearby, like the leather for bags and accessories she gets from a saddle shop in Randolph County.
She puts all of her goods together by hand in her home studio using a 1940s sewing machine found on Craigslist and a recently-added industrial Consew machine. The self-taught maker proudly credits YouTube videos for training her to do everything from pattern-making to working with leather.
Next up: a line of bar kits for mixologists, the up-and-coming celebrities of the food and beverage world. According to Ullom, cocktail crafters are often called upon to shake-and-stir on location and need stylish, serviceable transporters for their elixirs and barware. With her network of people on standby to help, she’s ready to turn that dream into a reality.