Had it not been for a trip to visit her friend at LSU, Florida native Diane Leightman may have never met University alumnus Tom LaPann. Now, the two are a package duo as the founders of Diatom Design, a local dry goods company.
Through their 2-year-old business, Leightman and LaPann combine their creative talents as a seamstress and artist, respectively, to make everyday, handmade items and sell them at pop-up markets around Baton Rouge, such as the Baton Rouge Arts Market and Mid City Makers Market.
Diatom’s best sellers are its wooden hand-printed notebooks, which feature crawfish and city maps on the cover, and vibrant hand-sewn cosmetic bags with patterns ranging from geometric shapes to, fittingly enough, tigers.
While their brand is distinctive, the couple refuses to let their designs be confined thematically. Each product is individually different, made in small batches at a time.
“The process is the same but we change the fabric or the type of wood,” LaPann said. “It’s always something that comes out different, even though it’s running through a similar system.”
The wood used for the journals includes purple heart, cypress and sapele. Sometimes LaPann will use store-bought wood, but often he obtains it through scavenging or from remnants of other personal projects in the works.
The unique nature of their creations transcends into their process. The duo has a specialized screen printing press in their Mid City home which LaPann made himself. While they use traditional screens, they modify the press themselves so they can swipe multiple notebooks at once, LaPann said.
Other items Leightman and LaPann sell include pots, wooden coasters, candle holders and etched glassware. While these products vary, they all have one aspect in common: functionality.
All of the items sold are priced under $30. The duo intentionally wanted to keep prices low to make their products more accessible, LaPann said.
The two hope the striking colors and distinctive patterns of their items add joy and inspiration to the sometimes monotonous tasks of day-to-day life, they said.
“People spend so much time with these things around them,” Leightman said. “So if they’re one-of-a-kind, unique, hand-crafted, we feel they’re more enjoyable.”
The business has evolved since its inception in 2015 and LaPann has loved watching the business grow, he said.
The first year, Leightman and LaPann were experimenting with different products, discovering what tools they needed and finding their niche market. In year two, they know which markets to go to and can focus on streamlining their process, they said.
With experience, Leightman and LaPann have learned their own strengths. Leightman sews the bags and manages the logistics of the business while LaPann builds products and shelves for their displays.
Aside from the business, Leightman and LaPann both have full-time jobs as a cartographer and sculpture professor at Southeastern Louisiana University, respectively. They don’t mind having their plates full, though.
“It makes sure we don’t sit on the couch too long,” LaPann said. “It kind of feels good just to stay busy.”
Eventually, they hope to expand their business and have one of them turn it into a full-time job, LaPann said. They would eventually like to open up an online shop, although the nature of their products proves keeping a consistent inventory a difficult task.
“It’s a dream, but at least we’re starting it,” Leightman said.