By Erica Faye Watson


Yohance Lacour began his work as a leather craftsman 10 years ago in an unlikely setting – prison. Prior to his incarceration, Yohance had been both an investigative reporter and an accomplished playwright. But that all changed in 2008 when he was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for drug conspiracy charges.

While in prison, Yohance began learning leathercraft as a hobby which eventually became his passion and leads to the creation of a luxury wearable art brand called YJLacour.

The YJLacour Collection is a whimsical take on the luxury sneaker category and also features clutch purses and “Love Leathers” greeting cards. Yohance approaches his designs as a true artist, combining a variety of leather colors and patterns to create unique, eye-catching styles that l are truly works of art.

As Yohance prepares for the “One of a Kind Show” at The Merchandise Mart and the “Not Just Another Pretty Face” exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center in December, we had a conversation with him about what inspires him to create his art.

Tell us about YJL Sneaker collection?

While I was incarcerated, I picked up leatherwork through a hobby craft program they offered at the facility where I did the bulk of my time. After nearly a decade, I came home focused on making bags and accessories, but I needed to learn how to use an industrial sewing machine so I took a class at the Chicago School of Shoemaking. After I’d taken so many, I began teaching them. The school got the opportunity to offer a sneaker making class and I jumped at the chance to instruct it. I started teaching and designing, one thing led to another, and the YJL Sneaker Collection was born.

How would you describe your design aesthetic?

My approach to design usually takes into consideration the ‘gym shoes’ I grew up on as a 70’s baby coming of age in the ’80s. Classic sneakers like the first Air Jordans and shell-toe Adidas definitely inform my design process. At the same time, I’m always looking to do something artistic with each shoe. Whether it’s selecting exotic skins or creating unconventional colorways, I’m always looking to create something my client will be just as proud of displaying in their home as they would wearing them about town.

What inspires you to create?

I draw from so many sources of inspiration, as I imagine most artists do. I can see the body style for a concept car and be moved to sketch a new silhouette. Things from the natural world, like the trees in autumn, or flowers and plants in a neighbor’s garden, might inspire me to test new color schemes. More than anything, I like studying what the designers and artists I most admire are doing and look for the void. I like to draw off what I don’t see, so I can provide what the game’s been missing, so to speak.

Do you miss being a Playwright or do you now use shoe design as another way to tell stories?

After I’ve created a piece, be it a sneaker, a bag, whatever… I like to put it away for a while and when I take a look at it again, I create a story around that first feeling I get. Then I name the piece and give it a narrative. So, until I’m able to get back to actually writing scripts and stageplays (which I definitely plan to do), this is where I get a chance to tell some short stories.

Many people would let a stint in jailbreak their spirit, you have used the experience to grow and flourish. How did you do that?

The only reason I was able to come home from prison unbroken is that I didn’t let it break me when I went. Fortunately, I knew I had a release date, so I kept my mind on that. I stayed busy honing my craft, creating, reading, writing, and studying so that I could hit the ground running when I

got home. It hasn’t been easy, I still face a lot of obstacles, but I owe my daughter, my parents and my people who rode with me through those dark times. When I get tempted to resign and feel defeated, I find that second wind for them. They believed in me, they bet on me… and I’m determined to prove them right.

What is Clutches, Cocktails and Conversations?

In addition to the leatherwork classes I teach at the Chicago School of Shoemaking, I offer a private event on select nights. I call it Clutches, Cocktails, and Conversations. It’s basically a spin on the ‘sip and paint’ events but instead of a room full of people painting the same picture, they bring their favorite drinks, we talk about any and everything from current events to pop culture, and I teach them how to make a clutch purse of their very own design.

For more info: Instagram: @clutchescocktailsconversations @yjlacourcollection