In starting this new-ish business, I've been advised to identify "Our Customer"
My answer, or at least one of them, is not very good for business but I think it's true: Our customer feels a slight sense of alienation from the current moment. Our customer is accustomed with being out of step. Our customer doesn't want to represent the current moment, she wants to get through it with her soul unscathed and her back, straight.
I never much cared for contemporary music which I was in school. I was not cool.
I didn't get the appeal of Nirvana, or Oasis, or Missy Elliot. This was the music of my peers and I was not into it.
I liked Ani DiFranco. I likes Nina Simone. I like Queen.
I was not cool, but I was theatrical.
I listen to music from the 90s now and there's an energy that I didn't have as a younger person. I thought indie angst was boring and predictable; I was interested in containment. I didn't act out, I acted out on the inside. I didn't care about culture that reflected a teenage moment, I cared about culture that expanded the possibilities of what else was possible.
Working in the studio, about a year ago, I fell down the YouTube rabbit hole, listening to one of these albums that I didn't much care for when it was timely. Not cool, not not cool, just kind of overly mainstream amongst my peers - we were an opinionated lot. 20 years after it's debut, I heard it again and in that way that is not at all reflective of my current cultural moment, I was into it. I liked the straight-forwardness of it, the quaintness of the video, the lack of irony. The blessed absence of commentary.
I'd been struggling with a prototype for a while, and with one track on repeat, I banged it out in about 3 hours.
And for my slightly alienated customer, I call her Dolores.
The last in our series of leather suppliers, and our only international leather producer.
What can I say? You want leather, go to Italy.
Located in an area of Tuscany where leather has been produced since the 8th century BCE, Tempesti has been tanning leather since the mid-1940s. A baby, in Etruscan terms, but still that's a pretty good run.
One of the founding members of the Pelle al vegetale, a consortium of 23 tanneries based in Tuscany, the tannery and alliance promotes the use of veg-tanned leather as well as sustainable environmental practices, and technological advances. Traditional leather production is a way of life in this community, and we're not talking some cute, small operation - there is nothing old-timey about these manufacturers. They've figured out how to make a traditional product, scaled to meet modern demands and serious workplace safety standards. I hope to spend some time in their facility in the future, but in the meantime, there's a beautifully thorough and well-researched visit, documented by the UK-based Ajoto - I highly recommend reading through their factory tour if you want to learn more about the Tempesti process.
We rely heavily on the leathers Tempesti supplies for one big reason: colour. The Italians stock colours! We have our materials custom split to our specification, but the lovely array of colours we're able to use are just what they do. I'm sure there is an American tannery that stocks a lovely range of hues, but we haven't found one. Or better put, we haven't found one that is ready and willing to work with us. Tempesti is completely supportive of a small production model and their customer relationships are totally no-fuss. So they have the colour variety, the technical ability, a lovely product, and they're just easy to work with. What else could we want? Oh, they have this: the hides are a by-product of meat production cattle that is shipped from Sweden, where farming standards are extremely high and as a result, not only is the product a responsible use of the full animal, but the skins are from what were very healthy animals. Healthy animals, good skin.
We love working with this malleable, soft leather. The finish is very flat so when the item is new, it doesn't have much of a shine to it. Only with use, as the leather burnishes from contact and takes on oils from regular handing, does it start to develop a sheen, softening and darkening. This leather truly takes on the characteristics of the user in a way that we appreciate. The skins allow us to posit an idea - femininity, seasonality, formal experimentation - while resisting a thesis about the colour itself, because we know it will change and eventually it will resemble the user. The Tempesti leather allows us to fulfill a goal of a collection that is expressive, rather than merely demonstrative. And for this, we are very grateful.
As far as I know, Wickett & Craig is the last tannery producing veg tanned leathers on the East Coast. Located in central Pennsylvania, this tannery has been producing veg-tanned bovine leathers since 1867. Their longevity puts us to shame.
The Wickett & Craig leather is all about consistency and reliability - they produce a few lines in a few colourways and nothing extra; their dyes are rich all the way through; and customer service is no-fuss, no-muss. The fact that the tannery is fewer than 300 miles away from us is a bonus but what makes this business outstanding, in our opinion, is the high regard for their workforce. The majority of the 100+ employees are recruited locally, the company covers a responsible share of healthcare costs, and encourages staff to further their educations through programmes and tuition assistance. Their environmental standards are high, they buy the skins exclusively from North American cattle, and the product is recognized throughout the industry to be of the highest quality. We'd be stupid not to work with them.
We use Wickett & Craig's Bridle leathers, for their soft gloss, saturated dyes, and stiff hand. This materials is best served by styles requiring a robustness of shape (Siska, Brunella), good tension (belts) and moulded items (portfolios). The products, especially those that are wet- mounded to be coaxed into form, will be stiff from the outset, allowing them to naturally soften with use without losing shape. The colours and finishes are forgiving, and don't change much over time, making them a consistent, reliable material to work with.
Wickett & Craig works well for a small-batch business like ours, as they'll take smaller orders - we can order a hide at a time as long as it's a stocked product. They'll even split the hides for us and that's the key to our relationship. Most American tanneries stock their leathers in high thicknesses, about 4mm, which is just too heavy for most of our designs. If the tannery wasn't able to split their stocked hides into thinner material for us, we'd have to revise the design or find another source. So I'm grateful that one of America's last tanneries is so accommodating of our little endeavour and it's a pleasure to work with their goods, everyday.
Image credit: Horween Leather Co.
Our materials are where everything begins and the tanneries are our most valued partners. Obviously, we couldn't do what we do without them, and so I'm starting a series of posts to give them each a proper introduction. Part I: the venerated Horween Leather Company of Chicago, UL.
The first leather we sought out when I started seriously working with the material, was the legendary Horween Leather Co. Established in 1905, the company has a wide range products, everyone of them of the highest quality, and leathergeeks throughout the land drool over their goods. The people who go after bespoke men's footwear, for instance, they can tell you all about Horween.
Our line utilizes only one Horween product, in only one of our styles: the original Trudis Tote, in Horween Chromexcel. I would encourage you to head over to their excellent blog post to learn about the tannage process of this particular leather; nobody tells the story of this sought-after material like the tannery itself and the imagery is both evocative and informative. The summary: it's an incredible process that renders an immaculate product through days of labour and skill. Chromexcel if water-resistant, wears beautifully, tonally nuanced, tough as nails, and supple as silken tofu. "Hot-stuffed" with oils and waxes, the leather can start with a slight surface haze, that is gradually absorbed by the open-pored leather with use, making for a well hydrated and protected leather that gets better with age.
All of this effusive going-on begs the question: if we love it so much, why only use one product? Why go on and on about how great Horween is, and then only offer one style? This is where we bump up against the logistics of working with a material: we have a very specific color palette for the overall collection and Horween simply doesn't stock our current tonal direction. We don't produce in quantities high enough to afford a custom dye lot, so we work with what tanneries stock, and at this moment the Oxblood Chromexcel is the only colour from Horween that fits into our overall palette. There are also technical considerations, in that this particular leather is combination tanned, imparting the characteristics that make it so lovely, but it also makes shaping and working the material best suited to soft shapes. At the moment, the majority of our styles require a level of stiffness to hold shape, to which we look to a strict veg-tanned leather to help us along. But more on that later.
I'm considering offering our Dolores Oversized Clutch in Oxblood, in the fall. As the collection evolves, so too will our offerings of Horween's lovely, lovely goods. But for the moment, we like a singular style in a singular material. Our Trudis Tote was the first bag, and Horween was our first supplier, so why shouldn't they stand alone?
Lotte Travel Case
It's spring, which means it will soon be summer, which means vacations!
I've always had a bee in my bonnet about the Dopp kit. It's wonderful in its utility. It works and I can appreciate that.
I am, however, greedy, and I want more. Being self-employed for over 10 years means that I don't do on vacation very often so when I really get away, I don't just want something that works. If I have to use it twice a day, everyday, I want the object to add to the the loveliness of a vacation.
I happen to have travelled more than usual lately, and I've taken the Lotte Travel Case each time. I have to say, everytime I put it in a suitcase or go to find my toothbrush at the end of a day away from home, I really brings a little pleasure to the activity. It packs neatly and sits nicely on a counter, with my well-loved products all "at your service ma'am". It makes living out of a suitcase appealing. And even when I'm at home, in my everyday life, it sits on my dresser as a good-looking storage object that reminds me of that last holiday, and that I ought to plan the next.
I designed my perfect travel kit, but perhaps not yours. I've been told our Lotte Travel Case is, for some, too small.
I'm very lazy when I travel and pack as little as I can get away with; daily contact lens packs take up the most space in my case. I never knew, until I started perusing the beauty blogs (Thank you Into the Gloss) how much grooming there is in the world!
I know it's personal, but I need to know more:
1. I hoard small bottles and will decant my regular stuff into smaller containers. Do you bother with travel sizes?
2. If you use it, does your preferred deodorant come in a smaller size?
3. What takes up the most space in your travel case?
4. Does your stuff explode and leak everywhere? Or do you take the precaution of wrapping bottles up, just in case?
5. Do you travel with more than one of each thing? Like more than one eyeliner? Razor blades?
Send your suggestions privately by using our Contact form or publicly comment below.
If you're so inclined, show me your travel necessities on Instagram by tagging @studiobartleby!
And in the name of research, thank you, in advance.
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I just filed my taxes, so I'm feeling a little punchy.
I won't rant, but I will say this: transparency is not just for politicians.
Obfuscation is available to everyone - congress, journalists, retailers, and manufacturers.
Authenticity has, perhaps, never been authentic but it's now something to be carefully crafted.
I read this last week: "...meticulously crafted for their sense of authenticity." I don't know what that means, but I know what that means, and it means the opposite of what it means.
We pay for all manner of things: a feeling, a story, a method, a way out. It's none of my business what other people pay for, but it is literally My Business to identify what you will pay for what I do. And in making this determination, transparency and consistency is the most common sense approach.
We mark-items down 50% when they will be discontinued; we know stockists are out of stock and we want to make it more accessible before it goes away for good.
We have a event-driven sale when it's a good time to say thank you.
Our prices are based in the real cost of materials, labour, time, New York real estate. We don't get too caught up in "perceived cost". We don't inflate prices so that customers can feel like they got a better deal, later. In our current state, I think a true kindness is to be honest about what you can expect and what numbers actually mean.
Prices cannot be the hook.
The Object must be the desirable thing, but to keep the relationship equitable, the price must then be the simple cost of transferring desire from one party to another.
In this transfer, the deal you get is the deal I get. And in this way, if the Objects is the desire, the trust can be the hook.
Our first bag design: Trudis Tote
I didn't formally study fashion or product design. I studied Dance, English Literature, Women's Studies, and Interior Design. That means I spent a lot of my youth thinking about how to relate the body to itself, communicate the imagined, how the imposition of desire and power is body-specific, and how to manifest power, desire, and the imagination in the world by successfully relating all three to the body. A winding road, but infinitely useful.
Trudis was born when I bought a leather bag, found that the straps wouldn't stay on my shoulders with a winter coat, [nervously] cut the top of the straps off to make a more accommodating shape, and attached new straps with what I had available. The resulting wave shape and rope made me think of being on vacation, and vacation is always linked, in my mind, to Portugal, where I once heard someone shout the name "Trudis!".
The body, the imagined, the desire, manifested in a bag.
image via J.M. Generals
Yep. We come face to face with our material.
I admit, I have an completely indefensible position on this. If I kept livestock, I would have a very hard time continuing to work with leather. I prefer animals to a lot of people, and that makes my livelihood uncomfortable, to say the least.
As with so many of my failings, I'll accept it and work to make up for the deficit:
1. Faux leather is not an option. We have no track record of the environmental mess its production leaves in its wake. It's another product that goes directly into the pockets of large petrochemical companies and I'm not into that.
2. We use veg-tanned leathers that are produced within 800 miles of us, supporting our "local" community and cutting on transport fuel cost and energy waste.
3. Our Italian leathers are by-products of animals used to food production. We are proud to encourage full use of the animal, and if that means the goods have to travel, that's the trade-off.
4. Vegetable tanning is an old process with a track record - we generally know what it does to the surrounding environment and its effects on the body in the process of tannage. Responsible tanneries take measures to protect their staff and we are loyal to those tanneries.
5. We make in small quantities. I don't know who supplies Coach or LV, but their output requires herds. Then add brands at lower price points and how many bags and belts they are making. That amounts to lots of cows, therefore lots of deforesting and lots of cow farts. Cow. Farts.
6. We're obsessed with waste and hand-cut to ensure the absolute highest yield we can manage without sacrificing leather quality. We keep scraps for re-use and develop designs that can use smaller pieces. It operates in a true economy, and saves myself from that very terrible feeling of throwing away an animal's hide. It's worse than throwing away the spoiled greens from that CSA you signed up for two summers ago.
7. We make it to last. We make it to be repaired. We make it to get better with age.
So thank you Daisy. I hope you were well-treated in life, and we promise to treat you well now.
image: Jeanette Clutch, in Sand
Everything I know about making things I first learned by reading Jeanette Winterson.
I first read The Passion, then Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, then I read everything. I consumed every book she wrote in a greedy, messy, wanton love affair. I was 19, alone in the world, and unmoored. Winterson's books became my lighthouse.
1. the object will tell the story
2. others will desire a backstory as much as a story
3. control is not the way to go
4. shield yourself in an unguarded way and it'll be fine
5. making work can get ugly
6. ugliness is as useful as beauty
I could go on but I'm loathe to put my ideas in her place.
Read her often, and repeatedly.
A footnote: Bartleby Objects is not consciously named in the tradition of Art Objects. But it's a nice coincidence.