TRIBEZA Bags

Hand-Tooled Texas

If you swoon for supple leather and the uniqueness of handmade wares, you’re in luck. Thanks to a growing number of Central Texas artisans, it’s a fine time to go satchel shopping. We asked five of the best makers around why they love their time-honored trade.

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NOAH MARION

  • Where: Austin
  • The Maker: Noah Marion
  • Website

How did you learn your trade?

I began as a sculptor and learned I would need a small fortune to continue making the size of work I was interested in. I inherited a sewing machine from my dad and started making bags from my mother’s garage in Barton Hills. Sadly, I broke that machine and took a bit of a break from sewing. During that time I became infatuated with leather, hand-sewing, and designing quality goods that were meant to last. I taught myself everything by trial and error, and by deconstructing bags and wallets I had accumulated over the years. I slowly reopened my shop in my dining room and started designing my first line and website. Once the website was live, I quickly moved out of my living room and into my first shop. I am proud to say that later this month I’m opening my first brick-and-mortar (2053 South Lamar), which will have an open workspace, coffee bar and lounge with a backyard garden. We’ll share the space with a great boutique for the ladies as well as a start-up office space in back.

How long have you been at it?

I’ve been working leather since 2006.

Describe a typical day.

There is no typical day, so I’ll describe today. I wake up at seven forty-five and cook chorizo-and-egg breakfast tacos, then sit on my porch and get my bearings. I head to my new store and assess the to-dos. I get ready for my brother to meet me around nine. We get started scrubbing freshly laid tile to prep for the toilet install, which goes wonderfully! Next we make a run to Home Depot for materials, and stop by a local taco joint to grab lunch. Back at the shop, a customer stops by to get a few extra holes punched in his belt. Around two I have a meeting with Ryan Scott Smith of Lamberts, a project we’ve been working on for a while. At four Chris McCray, a talented interior designer, stops by to talk about another project we’re working on for a new Uchi group restaurant.

After that meeting wraps up, we get back to the bathroom install. I stay after to clean up and organize for tomorrow. I finally grab my dog, Jolene, and head out for round three of tacos. I drop off a prototype at Lambert’s and head home around nine thirty to sit at the computer and reply to a million e-mails, and decompress before bed.

What are a few details that define your brand?

Our brand is all about the details. Hand-stitched carry goods, carefully curated materials that have been time-tested and approved, and classic designs that fit with your modern lifestyle. We pride ourselves on coming up with creative solutions to everyday problems that people are not necessarily aware are problems. We focus on making the best product we can possibly imagine.

How is your work inspired by Texas?

I grew up here, I have lived here almost my entire life. I would say Texas runs through everything I design and think of. It’s the color palette I draw from, the details of the stitch, the way I put things together.

There has been a rise in artisans across the region. Why do you think that’s happened?

We have seen so many poorly made products coming into our world and being charged too much for them, that people have decided they want to fight the good fight and give people better products that do are made the right way the first time.

It can be tiring to do hand-tooled work for long stretches of time. How do you maintain energy throughout the day?

Every time we finish a bag or wallet and see a complete transition from its original materials to its final form, that’s all we need. It’s just amazing to see these products come to life, and to be honest, it’s not that tiresome or tedious once you get the hang of it. On a more mundane level, we usually break for an espresso in the middle of the day, eat some tacos or a bahn mi sandwich, and are always blasting tunes. I try to take weekend trips to West Texas or the coast for much-needed inspiration and relaxation, but honestly can’t seem to break away as much as I would like.

What’s the must-have bag from your fall 2014 line?

Definitely the Whipstitch Cross Body.

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CANOE

  • Where: Austin
  • The Maker: Natalie Davis
  • Website

How did you learn the trade?

I am a designer by training and have made things by hand since I was a kid. My focus has always been pattern design, so leather tooling was a natural progression.

How long have you been at it?

I’ve been tooling leather since 2009.

Describe a typical day.

I start each day with a cup of tea and answering e-mails at home, then head into my East Austin studio around ten with my two pups. I usually dive into dyeing or tooling leather early, then work on construction/sewing later in the day. At the end of the day, I pack orders, catch up on social media, and get the studio organized for tomorrow. I’m usually home by seven for dinner with my family, or meeting up with friends for happy hour.

What are a few details that define your brand?

Hand-tooled, hand-dyed, and modern patterns.

How is your work inspired by Texas?

I was inspired to start Canoe when I moved back to Texas in 2009. Outlaw country music, driving on the back roads, and kind and creative folks provide endless inspiration for me here. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

There has been a rise in artisans across the region. Why do you think that’s happened?

More and more folks are following their passion for working with their hands. In Texas, leatherwork is part of our heritage, and there’s an audience that truly appreciates the time and craftsmanship that goes into hand-tooling.

It can be tiring to do hand-tooled work for long stretches of time. How do you maintain energy throughout the day?

Music, audiobooks, and podcasts help keep me going throughout the day. Radiolab and The Moth are among my favorite podcasts for long stretches of work. For lunch, I head over to Salt & Time on East 7th for great sandwiches and to catch up with my husband, Ben.

What’s the must-have bag from your fall 2014 line?

The Deep Sky Tote bag is my workhorse bag. This fall I’m excited to launch a hand-dyed deerskin bag that’s a small cross-body design.

Anything else?

If you’d like to learn more about tooling leather, I teach leather-tooling workshops in my Austin studio and cities around the U.S. You can find out about my upcoming workshops at canoegoods.com.

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STASH CO.

  • Where: Houston area
  • The Maker: Cheryl Schulke
  • Website

How did you learn and/or land in your line of work?

I’m self-taught—I’ve always been a restless creative. I’m driven to build, design, and stay busy. The bag thing I fell into. I thought I was at the point of making a lifelong dream of becoming a writer/photographer come true. But I made a bag. And then another bag. And about 500 more bags. And then I realized I had found my calling.

How long have you been at it?

Seven years.

In a few sentences, describe a typical day.

Up early to answer e-mails and do computer work like agenda planning over tea. Then off to production. Production is the greatest part of every day. Up until last year, I was still the only one creating 95 percent of our product. Now I have a team that I train daily on new production. They are responsible for our stock bags, and I focus the majority of my production time on troubleshooting, iterations, material sourcing, and new designs. Days are usually 12 to 14 hours long, and often seven days a week. I try to carve out family time in the evenings to cook and eat together and debrief on our day. Then the evenings are devoted to more administrative tasks.

What are a few details that define your brand?

Elegant, minimalist, focused on featuring the innate art of each material.

How is your work inspired by Texas?

Texas is an expansive state with a broad landscape. For me, bag-building is the same. I have not yet encountered boredom because I’m still excavating my imagination for designs and proposing new opportunities to challenge my skills and grow as a builder. Plus, I work out of a 100-year-old Texas historical landmark. The soul of all those years of handmade mattresses and furnishings can be felt as soon as you walk in the door and inspires me every day.

There has been a rise of artisans across the region, why do you think that’s happened?

In our economy of disposable manufacture, I feel I am bucking the system a bit when I craft something that is individual and durable. I think more people are seeking the satisfaction of building something with their hands, and creating a useful and beautiful product.

Hand-tooled work can be tiresome, how do you maintain energy throughout the day?

Lots of music. Texas artists like Will Johnson, Centro-matic, Sarah Jaffe, Jamestown Revival, with a touch of old-school blues and an occasional dash of Metallica. Depends on whether I’m working on a deadline.

What’s the must-have bag from your fall 2014 line, and why?

I love the tech cases for unique protection of my favorite devices, but my favorite current bag is my duffle. They are lightweight and durable and sized for carry-on. The leather ones are classic and standard. The reclaimed textile versions are one-of-a-kind art pieces that take more than a week to source, reclaim materials, scrub, and stitch into bags that are as individual as the person carrying them. It never fails when I travel that someone flags me down to ask where I got my bag.

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CAMBRIA HANDMADE LEATHER GOODS

  • Where: Austin
  • The Maker: Cambria Harkey
  • Website

How did you learn the trade?

My mother’s side of the family is in ranching, and they are very strong people in every way. You didn’t have the choice of not finishing a task because you may not have the right tool in front of you—you had to get creative and figure it out, usually on your own. This is also how I was raised. I’d spend summers on our family ranch in New Mexico, and we were always crafting things with our hands, like braiding reins and making halters. These utilitarian pieces had to last because they could mean the difference between whether you fell off your horse or not. I loved it. Leather is in my blood.

As far as making bags goes, I decided I wanted to give a gift that would last for a really long time to someone I cared about. I wanted to make something with my hands and out of leather, of course, and so a bag made the most sense. What better gift? You’ve made it with your hands, and that special someone gets to use that bag every day for a very long time and think of you when they use it! So I went to Tandy Leather, bought one vegetable-tanned hide and a “how to saddle stitch” book written by a famous saddlemaker, and just figured it out from there. Not having a leather-sewing machine didn’t stop me; that’s how I prefer to do it. We don’t use any sewing machines.

How long have you been at it?

I’ve been making bags for close to 18 years, and in business for more than two years.

Describe a typical day.

Kiss and feed my 14-year-old boxer, drink two cups of coffee while attempting to tackle the e-mail beast for as long as I can take it, and then I’m off to my studio. I meet with my amazing right-hand man, Jesse, to discuss our schedule, workload, production, etc. With the custom business there are always questions to be answered and challenges to figure out. So we are often brainstorming and sketching and problem-solving. I’ll typically have client appointments and wholesale account meetings scheduled in the mix as well. When you have a start-up you have to wear a lot of hats. I have to find time during the day to do things like photograph our pieces, put them on our website, design new pieces, source leather and materials, train new people for hand sewing, etc. At the end of the day there are several more attempts to tame the e-mail beast, and then it’s seven o’clock before I know it.

What are a few details that define your brand?

I try to make a piece that is timeless, classic, minimal in aesthetic, simple in design, and very durable. I want to still use a piece I made last year 10 years from now and not feel it’s out of style. We don’t use any sewing machines. Our core pieces can take anywhere from three to 15 hours to create. Custom pieces can take weeks of programming and prototyping and building.

There has been a rise in artisans across the region. Why do you think that’s happened?

In our economy of disposable manufacture, I feel I am bucking the system when I craft something that’s individual and durable. More people are seeking the satisfaction of building something with their hands, and creating a useful and beautiful product.

It can be tiring to do hand-tooled work for long stretches of time. How do you maintain energy throughout the day?

I am very driven to succeed not only for myself but for the amazing people I get to work with. We work incredibly hard, so it’s important to keep a happy and high level of energy in the studio. Music and fresh projects help us maintain this.

What’s the must-have bag from your fall 2014 line?

I love our new tech accessories, like our bison zippered messenger, as well as our small cases. The slim messenger is very sleek and handsome. You can take the strap off and use it as a case as well. I am really proud of these pieces because they are very difficult to hand-sew.

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BEXAR GOODS CO.

  • Where: San Antonio
  • The Maker: Guy, Falcon, and Christian Rubio
  • Website

How did you learn the trade? (As told by Guy Rubio)

We are a family-owned business (I’m a field geologist, Falcon is a former mountaineering guide, and Christian is an advertising man by day). We love to travel and have always worked together—from our family’s pizza business to coastal Mexico for our family’s interior design company. We love to work as a family. BGC originated as an outlet to create leather products that we wanted to use ourselves. Our vision is to create products that can journey the world, and develop character and charm from the environment and adventures they experience with you.

How long have you been at it?

We’ve been designing and crafting leather goods for the last four years.

Describe a typical day.

At eight I head to Local Coffee for some caffeine goodness, and to check e-mails and make phone calls to vendors. At nine thirty I show up at the workshop with our dog, Yuma, to set up the day’s projects. From ten to one we hammer out customer orders (we work on a made-to-order basis). Then I head out for a lunch run on local trails, and a snack on the way back. From two to six thirty we continue with customer orders and work on prototyping new designs. Then we head on out to have fun with friends.

What are a few details that define your brand?

We believe in ruggedness, simplicity, durability, and timelessness.

How is your work inspired by Texas?

Most of our products are constructed from leather, and many of the historic uses of leather throughout Texas history have been for travel and exploration. That is what inspires us—we love the look of weathered leather that has a story to tell of the individual and his travels.

There has been a rise of artisans across the region, why do you think that’s happened?

I know for myself, being able to create something tangible and have something to show for a day’s work is invaluable. Too many modern-day services are conducted behind a computer screen, and being able to use your hands to create conceptual pieces is so rewarding. Also, I think the rise of the “Made in America” movement, and the accessibility of e-commerce platforms has created an opportunity for the artisan movement to experiment and get its products out immediately, and without much of an investment cost.

Describe your mix of old and new.

We love the look of hand-sewn/hand-stitched leather goods, and many of our leather items are still constructed using this time-tested technique. However, we do use a heavy-duty saddle-stitching machine for some of our more intricate products in an effort to offer these products at more affordable prices.

What’s the must-have bag from your fall 2014 line?

We are proud of our Hudson Satchel that we just released. It’s a briefcase for the urban professional and has a timeless and rugged aesthetic. In the coming weeks we’ll be releasing wallets and accessories that we’ve been designing for some time.

Credits

Photography by Bill Sallans

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