It’s commonly said without question that the birth of a child changes everything.  For Kristie Maxa, owner of Kiki Burleigh—a line of vintage inspired handbags, dresses, pillows, and jewelry—the birth of daughter Marlow stirred up a flow of creativity, and sparked a new career.

While pregnant, Maxa, who had always enjoyed hand-making goods for family, decided she wanted to stay home after the baby was born.  Maxa holds degrees in Biology and Environmental Science—fields that didn’t exactly offer her the ability to work from home.  After careers that ranged from working for the Park Service at Assateague, to teaching high school Biology, and mapping for Sussex County, DE, Maxa was working for the Worcester Soil Conservation District, helping farmers with pollution problems.  Then she started making cosmetic bags that made their way to A Perfect Face Salon in West Ocean City where her mother worked.  The bags sold out—women began buying them as purses.  Maxa was onto something.

The handmade items previously only given as gifts by Maxa, had significant retail appeal and offered the opportunity she was looking for.

“I had always made stuff, but I was never that serious about it, until I was pregnant.  I decided to make it work—it had to so I could stay home with my daughter.”

Maxa began making numerous purses with brightly colored fabrics, using a mix of vintage and vintage-inspired materials.  She added another signature touch—buttons, and was off to find potential buyers. Piling them all into a big suitcase, she wheeled her goods around to local shops—baby bump leading the way, and K-Coast in Ocean City and Avenue Apothecary in Rehoboth joined A Perfect Face in carrying Kiki Burleigh.

This venture started five years ago, and blossomed quickly, becoming the creative career Maxa was clearly meant for.  Maxa has a design studio on the top floor of her Berlin home where she often works into the wee hours of the morning, or rises extremely early, before her daughter wakes up.  Working from home is both a blessing and a challenge. (See pictures of Maxa’s studio and read design tips on her blog, here.)

At the height of Kiki Burleigh’s success, Maxa had her line in as many as twenty stores and was creating an insane amount of goods, adding to her purses – little girl’s dresses, aprons, and crocheted hats, among other things. Just last February a health crisis limited Maxa’s ability to work on her line. Forced to seek care for a rare but treatable condition, and functioning both as business owner and producer of all goods, she had to scale back what she was able to make.

Now well on the mend, Maxa has added even more products to her flourishing line.  Recently she began making leather jewelry featuring braided cuffs and pouches.  The inspiration for working with leather hit her when a local woman, Megan Hilbert, visited Maxa’s sister’s store, Bungalow Love.

“Megan brought in her uncle’s hand-dyed leather.  We all refer to it now as ‘Uncle Carl’s Leather.’ It was just so beautiful and buttery soft.  I knew it would be awesome to work with and I had to start making things out of it.”

That’s how inspiration strikes Maxa, immediately—and her mind starts to work, picturing future one-of-a-kind pieces.  Her little girl’s dress line actually got it’s start years ago after sister Heather Layton gave birth to her daughter, and Maxa just had to clothe the new baby.  A few years later, Maxa was making each unique tunic-style dress—all made from a combination of vintage fabrics, ribbons, and buttons, and some newer fabrics, just like her purses—for the public and selling them out of Bungalow Love.

Maxa also currently makes custom designed “house pillows.” This product began initially as a birthday present for her daughter.  Like everything else Maxa creates—it had wide-ranging appeal.  The pillows are fully customizable, down to the silhouettes of pets and colors on the hand-dyed vintage pom pom fringe, used as a three-dimensional detail—the fabric version of an architectural element. Combining various vintage components, these pillows are meant to reflect the personal home of the intended owner—street name, house number, curtains, it’s all unique. Visit Kiki Burleigh’s Etsy store to view pictures and order the house pillows.)

Currently, Maxa’s other products in the Kiki Burleigh line can be found at Bungalow Love in Berlin.  She is also a featured artisan at the The Globe Balcony Gallery as part of their Little Local Things exhibit. Goods can be purchased there at any time. Upcoming on the evening of December 14th is a Men’s Shopping Night.  The artisans will be on hand to answer questions and suggest gifts.  The Globe will be serving pizza and beer.

Kristie Maxa’s Kiki Burleigh line is a perfect example of life as inspiration for art. In this case, it happens to be art that is wearable, customizable, one-of-a-kind and imaginative. Maxa has truly found her calling.

Photo by Ami Reist.