Jennifer St. John is the owner of Marnie & Michael, an artisan studio-meets-mental health initiative out of Penetanguishene, Ontario. Jennifer’s experience growing up with a mother who was bi-polar but wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 52 was the impetus for her creating a mental wellness initiative. Each purchase of a Marnie & Michael handcrafted leather-bound journal or leather bag helps support people with loved ones dealing with mental health issues. We chatted with Jennifer about her inspiring venture, and are giving you a chance to win. —Noa Nichol
Hi Jennifer! When did you start Marnie & Michael and why?
Marnie & Michael is a leather artisan studio-meets-mental health initiative. We handmake leather bags and accessories, with 15 per cent of our profits going to mental health. I developed the business from home for four years before moving into a brick-and-mortar space in January 2020, located two hours north of Toronto. I have always been involved in art and design, and had co-owned a film and TV production company in Toronto. With my next venture, I wanted to do more this time. I was raised mostly by a single mom who was undiagnosed and untreated with mental illness for the majority of her life. My entire life has been effected by her mental health and I wanted to do something to give-back in some way. I created this business as a social entreprise so I could marry by love of design and business with a mental health initiative.
Who/what artists do you work with? What sorts of products are created at the studio?
We have a studio space in Penetanguishene, and we do all our work from this location. In-house, we design, develop, produce and distribute all our products. We sell directly from our website and also through retailers. Our design sense is based on timeless, classic lines, with minimal hardware; our clients will still be able to use their bags in 10-plus years. We launched with three tote bag styles, and have expanded the line to now include a crossbody, messenger and backpack. We have also created an accessories line that includes journal covers, card holders, zipped pouches and coffee cup holders. And the line will continues to grow. Expressive writing is a big side to our mental health Initiative. We believe in the power of writing your story, processing your experience and using words to survive/cope/heal. We have created an online library of written experiences of having a loved one with mental health. My two sisters and I contribute through the OUR STORIES blog, and we encourage other people to submit their stories to the YOUR STORIES blog. As well, we published a guided journal-meets-mini memoir this year. Over the period of four years, I curated a collection of letters and journal entries from my mom, dad and myself to share our 30-plus-year journey with mental illness. It is from the POV of all of us. We distribute this book with every bag purchase, as well as through organizations and book stores. It is another way we encourage discussion, advocacy and compassion around mental health.
Your mom serves as an inspiration to you; can you tell us how/why?
My experience of having a parent with mental illness during a time when no one talked about mental health is my driving force. I was left feeling extremely alone when I was a child, feeling like no one understood what we were going through and living in a society that made anyone with mental illness feel shameful and less than. In whatever way possible, I want to be involved in the current shift to openly discuss, normalize and process ones experiences with mental health. I believe my mom would have made different choices earlier in her life if things were better then. Not only would her life have been impacted in a major way, but everyone around her would have felt this impact, too. When you have a loved one with mental illness, the ripple effect is vast. In her early 50s, my mom made the decision to get help, be properly diagnosed and to find a treatment plan/team to help her. Over the course of a few years, she was able to find healthier ways to cope, and to live the life she wanted to. Unfortunately, we lost mom to cancer at 62 years old, so this phase of her life that she had worked so hard to get to only lasted about 10 years. Less than 10 months after losing mom, we suddenly lost dad as well. I was in the development phase of this business when I was going through all of this, so when I got back to work and needed to name this venture, I quickly decided on Marnie & Michael, both my parents’ names.
How does each purchase of a Marnie & Michael handcrafted leather-bound journal or bag help support with a loved one dealing with a mental illness?
We collaborate with like-minded companies to help raise funds or awareness for mental health. We publish a weekly blog where we discuss our personal journey and highlight other companies or services that could assist in the coping/surviving/healing journey. We created, published and now distribute a guided journal-meets-mini memoir as a tool to use on your journey toward healing. We are building an online library of experiences where we highlight submitted stories from people who are also loving someone with mental health issues. We collaborate with other mental give-back companies for our quarterly Mental Wellness Box. We raise funds from the sale of the box for a local organization or charity with a mental health/mental wellness mission.
Win! A Marnie & Michael Mental Wellness Box!
Congrats Cassandra B. of Lethbridge, AB, who will receive a Marnie & Michael Fall Mental Wellness Box, including:
- A New BACKPACK from ‘MARNIE & MICHAEL’
- ‘MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS’ KEY CHAIN from GOOD APPAREL
- ‘END THE STIGMA’ BEANIE from OWN YOUR STIGMA
- ‘SET OF 10 EMPOWERING BLANK CARDS’ from DIONNE THOMSON COACHING
- ‘IT’S OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY’ T-SHIRT
- CASH DONATION to WAYPOINT CENTRE FOR MENTAL HEALTH CARE
- Kind, Love Hard, Make Memories: A mini memoir meets guided journal’ book from ‘MARNIE & MICHAEL’
Please note: if you are the winner, you will receive a DM (direct message) in Instagram directly from @vitadaily.ca. Please be wary of fake accounts, which often use similar handles with an extra or missing letter, number or symbol. We will never ask for a payment or for your credit card number, and we will never ask you to click through a link. If you are unsure whether you have been contacted, via Instagram, by us or a fake account, email us before responding.