December 18, 2015
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind?
The name Merchant Leather comes from my love of reading classic fantasy novels. In many of my favorites there are strong characters that come out of a “Merchant Class” – a class of business people who make, sell and trade and have been accepted as nearly noble. They got that way by their own sweat and hard work – not because of how they were born or who they were born too. I guess I’ve always loved the idea that you can rise above your station in life by simply working harder than everyone else.
Have you always been passionate about design?
I’ve always been passionate the design of physical objects. Digital design has never meant with me as much but the process of designing, shaping and creating something tangible and physical has always held me in awe.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft/field?
I started working in leather because I wanted a wallet from a designer in Texas. He wanted $500 for it and at the time I couldn’t justify the price. So, I decided to try making it myself. Two years later I could make something close to what he was offering! Looking back now, I appreciate the design, work and craft he put into it and would happily pay the $500 (it would have been much cheaper in the long run!)
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I think my designs are set apart from others for a number of reasons: I create functional pieces that still make a statement, I work in a modern–rustic aesthetic that I haven’t seen others try and I make what I like – I’ve been lucky enough that others do to but I’ve always made it everything for myself first. However, in the end, I think it’s my craftsmanship and attention to detail that really sets me apart.
Everything I make is made completely by hand – no machines are used whatsoever. It means cutting, waxing, sewing, finishing everything by hand. There are very few people left anywhere that sew exclusively by hand – especially larger leather goods. I still do it because I love the connection that it give me to the leather and to the final product. I also love the how much working without the assistance of machines can relax and create an almost meditative state when you’re working.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Measure three times and cut once. It’s really hard to put a hide back together once you start cutting!
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
More than anything else I’ve sacrificed sleep to create Merchant Leather. Throughout the three year process I’ve continued to work a 60+ hour a week job, as well as stay married! and raise two young kids. Like other makers trying to get a start, Merchant Leather has been created through late night and earlier mornings.
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
One of my proudest moments has been having my wife carry a bag I’ve made everyday. I’ve always been proud of my work but it’s the enjoyment of others (and your most demanding critics) that give you the greatest joy.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
I love living in Minneapolis. And like everyone here I’m incredibly influenced by the seasons. Thinking about designs that can thrive in the summer and survive the winter help you look at every project with a broad, yet practical eye.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I’ve spent my entire career in either sales or marketing and one thing you have to learn is how to sell. It doesn’t have to be in a sleazy, used cars salesman way, but you have to learn how to sell both yourself and your goods. There are shelves of amazing works from incredibly talented artists and designers rotting away because they never learned to talk about what they do and sell both it and themselves.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Unlike most people I haven’t done it for freedom – my current job offers me plenty of freedom. I made and am making the leap because I love to be able to create something tangible. I want my kids to look at me and be proud of their father because he makes something that matters and that will last (even if it only matters to a very small group of people)
What are some inspirations for your work?
I find inspiration from a combination of classic leather working and mid-century modern design. I love finding the intersection that appeals to modern styles. I also find inspiration from people – I love to learn about their unique needs and wants in a bag or accessory. Understanding how they’ll use it and what it will mean to them shapes so much the final design.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
My biggest suggestion is to find time. If you really care about it and want to succeed, find the time to do it. There are plenty of people out there who are better artists and more creative, but none of that matters without effort and dedication.