The Young Pilgrim Story

Josette Van Zutphen never planned to start a second business venture. Known for her family and commercial photography, she is celebrated for her innate ability to capture moments with a natural and quiet aesthetic. It was through an unintended twist of fate that Josette found herself venturing into a second career path, when she made a handbag at home for fun. The rest they say is history!

We had the privilege of interviewing Josette to delve into her story, her endeavours, and the current status of her creative journey.

Based in Jones Hill in the Mary Valley, these images were created in Josette’s home studio, styled with Josette’s collection of her mother’s handmade pottery collection. Photography Josette Photographer Styling Wholehearted Studio

Tell us a bit about yourself, who is Young Pilgrim and what do you do?

My name is Josette and I am the artisan behind Young Pilgrim, a small boutique leather atelier based in the Mary Valley, QLD. I am a one-woman show and every handbag, wallet and leather accessory is lovingly hand stitched by me.  

Tell us a little bit about your background, and how you found your way to creating leather wares! 

My background is actually in photography. I started 15 years ago when my first baby was born, specialising in newborn and family photography and then about 10 years ago I also fell in love with product and commercial photography. Like most people, I got bored during covid lockdowns and the quietness that that period brought to my photography business, so I started binge-watching ASMR leather-making videos on youtube. I was hooked! At first, I found it really relaxing to watch, but that quickly turned into a thirst to try it myself. So I sourced some essential tools and found a leather supplier here in QLD and set out to make myself a handbag. That very first bag was a success and I still use it to this day.  

When did your love of making leather creations turn into a business?

This all happened surprisingly fast. From that first bag, my friends and family started ordering their own bags and a small local boutique ordered one of each bag in every colour on consignment. They sold like hotcakes!

What does a typical day in the life of Josette Van Zutphen involve?

The beauty of running my own businesses is that every day is different! Some days I have photography jobs booked, some days I’m home with my little boy and I can fulfil my Young Pilgrim orders and then some days are filled with endless washing and running a household of 5. Oh and did I mention we also have a cute little Airbnb on our property? It’s a beautiful juggle.

What do you love most about what you do and why? 

I often say I have an unquenchable thirst to create. I think that’s what I love most about working with leather. Taking a beautiful flat piece of hide and crafting it into a beautiful, functional product that can be used every day! Oh and slowing down! I can only stitch as fast as my little hands can go, so the leatherwork forces me to steady myself, breathe and surrender to the process. I need that sometimes.

What has been your proudest career achievement to date? 

Sourcing an Australian tanner who only produces ethical Australian hides. All of their kangaroo and bovine hides are a byproduct of the meat industry that would otherwise go to landfill. 

Recently we worked on a shoot together [and many others over the years!]. What did you love about that process?

Oh, as both photographer and client, I can’t tell you how amazing it is to hand the styling over to you! Your thorough pre-shoot inspo board, creative ideas and the shot list just take all the pressure away on the day. The shoot ran so smoothly and I came away from the day with so many photos to use. I need to book you in for my next one. 

Who do you look to for inspiration and what resources would you recommend to those looking to get out of a ‘creative rut’?

Leather-wise I still have my favourites on Youtube that I love to watch…those ASMR videos still float my boat. I have a few favourite Japanese leather brands that I resonate with. They use really clean lines and minimal simplicity – like me. I’m also blessed with creative friends in all different mediums who inspire me endlessly.

As far as getting out of the creative rut; try something new. Take a step back from your usual and broaden your perspective. Even if nothing comes of it or you don’t even put your hand to it, sometimes just moving your focus to another field can bring new joy and new ideas. Youtube, Pinterest and Instagram are my online go-to’s. Oh and get outside! Preferably with your shoes off – a lot can be said for grounding.

What does being wholehearted mean to you?

This question had me stuck for a while…because my gut reaction answer was to throw yourself into whatever you do. But then on reflection, I think I would say that to be wholehearted you first have to set up your boundaries. Creative [and physical] burnout is a real thing. Recognising when you need to step back and give yourself grace for it is a powerful tool to have in your kit. So within your boundaries, you can ‘throw yourself at it’.

Where can people contact you to purchase your artisan bags and wallets?

My website is the best place to purchase and Instagram is a great place to get in touch, have a chat and see what I’m up to!