This is the sunny, smiley face of Annalea Mills who I have been desperate to interview for ages! Finally, here she is telling her fantastic story.
Annalea makes the most beautiful designs in handbags, wallets, belts, keychains and anything else you would like her to. Her work is striking in it’s simplicity and elegance. A true craftswoman and boat captain, she is an expert in deck requirements for yachts and yachties as well as producing her own line of goods.
I asked her to start at the beginning: how a pretty blonde girl from Toronto ended up on this exotic island of Antigua in the Caribbean. Her eyes sparkle as she recalls her Great Uncle Ernest, a cool eccentric guy, and her grandparents, chartering boats in Antigua. The tales they told lured her in and when she was 16 she saved up her babysitting money and came to Antigua for the first time. “I didn’t ‘get’ sailing at all” she told me, “In those days The Copper and Lumber store had two drinks for 5 EC on Tuesdays and Fridays during happy hour. It would be like 5.30pm and we were still out sailing. I would say ‘can’t we go any faster, like can’t we go straight or put the engine on?!’ “.
A few years later, after sailing school, Annalea went cruising and racing and when she was 19, she did her first transatlantic crossing. A few boat jobs later, she was working as a first mate on a classic yacht and started to work with leather. “It’s nice to work with and a nice job”.
When she was 24, her Great Uncle Ernest passed away and she inherited his boat ‘Irene Anne’ (named after her great grandmother) and since then she has kept and maintained the yacht and it has been her home, now shared with her partner and son Marlin. “I could never sell the boat” she says, “it’s who I am and why I’m here”.
When her son was 6 months old, the little family moved into a house on land, but she hated it. “We don’t have any things, we live on boats. I feel trapped in a house”.
The one consistent thing has been her leatherwork. “I love it. Every job is different, challenging. It is fun to be tested, to work out how to get the leather to go where it doesn’t want to go! Covering wheels, dinghy chocs, making hatch cover pockets, winch handle pockets ….”
Last year she took the big step to opening her own studio in English Harbour, where customers can come in and see her designs and watch her working first-hand. She has a beautiful selection of leather available also. I asked her what colours are trending? “We don’t live in the fashion world here,” she tells me, “I choose colours that suit here. I choose Italian leather that has been tanned beautifully and consistently. Tiffany blue and turquoise – people are instantly attracted to them, persimmon and emerald green …. some leathers have different textures, soft and tactile or stiffer.”
How does a day in the life of Annalea look? “I get to the studio early and sweep the floors. I love the moment of opening the doors to the world. I usually have a piece of work waiting, something unfinished from the day before. When that is completed, I pick a colour of leather and cut and punch and stitch …. ”
This Summer, Annalea is excited to spend time working on new designs to be ready for the busy season in Antigua that begins in November and runs through until the end of May.
In her downtime, where does she like to go? To her boat and to Galleon Beach, her favourite spot on the island, both on land and at sea!
Follow Annalea on Instagram at @annaleamillsleatherwork to see more of her beautiful handmade designs.
If you would like to contact Annalea to commission work or ask about her designs, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +1-268-788.1445, mentioning that you found her story here at antiguaviews.com!
All photographs and words by Jennifer Ritchie. Subscribe on the right to hear more about life in Antigua.