HOLLOWS LEATHER

Black Friday and I

Nicholas Hollows2 Comments

In the years since I began selling leather goods I've participated in Black Friday sales probably half a dozen times. Each time I do, I work myself to death, make a great deal of money, and then feel pretty awful about contributing to something that I believe is unhealthy for our culture. 

I've rationalized my participation in a number of ways, and complained a good deal along the way. It's tempting to believe that if enough small brands get it in on it, we can change the nature of Black Friday. Handmade and craft goods are a favorable alternative to slave labor and mass-production, but I don't believe that consumer culture can ever be taken down from the inside in this way. Corporate interests created this consumer frenzy; it's their horse, and we're trying to throw a saddle on it.

Black Friday also contributes to a culture of self-abuse among makers and artists. Many of my friends run small brands or market their creative skills directly, and the pressure to overwork (year round) is tremendous. Furthermore, being seen as overworked is often regarded as a thing to be proud of. This feels unhealthy, but many people don't have the option to do things differently, it's a matter of survival. Compromising your morals and well-being in order to survive is one of the inherent pitfalls of capitalism, even for folks who work for themselves doing something they love.

Black Friday is a calamity of such magnitude that it can make or break a small company. The name Black Friday derives from the notion that this is the day that businesses are finally profitable or "in the black". Having a Black Friday sale can be the keystone factor in keeping an artist or craftsperson well fed, mentally healthy, and free from traditional employment. Just a few years ago, skipping Black Friday would have been unthinkable for me, and Hollows Leather may not have survived without it. I have respect for those who are finding ways to break free from the rat race, even if this sale holiday is one of those ways. It is my view that we should always remain critical of these systems and their effects. Beyond matters of survival, I'm also uncomfortable with the idea that shopping has become a means of celebration and catharsis. I don't mean to say that I'm immune to these effects, but it is a disturbing reality, and one that I'm not willing to resign myself to.

Over the years, Hollows Leather has become stable and healthy, and I feel compelled to continually reexamine my bizarre and uneasy relationship with capitalism so that I can keep myself healthy as well as the business. After all, it can't exist without me. Now that Black Friday isn't a matter of survival for me anymore, I look forward to finding better ways to say thank you to my supporters.

 

The Wayward Sister Keychain

Nicholas HollowsComment

The Wayward Sister Keychain is beautiful, simple, functional, and unique; a shining example of what I've always wanted Hollows Leather to be about. It's my second collaboration with Cat Bates, and the hardware design is adapted from his Sister Clip hardware that he uses for some of his necklaces and bracelets. Working with Cat is a real pleasure, his aesthetic eye is unmatched, he brings a great energy to the work, and we share a strong appreciation for goods that gain more character with time and use. 

The Wayward Sister is the end in a very long line of belt loop style keychains that I've offered over the years, each iteration has taught me something new about how the ideal design should be made. Every aspect has been in the process of evolving and fine tuning -- the strap shape, the sizing, and most importantly the hardware. I've been through an encyclopedia of swivel snaps and spring clips, and each of them is lacking in some small way.  One of my main goals for the new hardware was to eliminate the weakest point of the old designs: the spring and hinge. The Wayward Sister has no moving parts to break or wear out.

The original clip was hand-fabricated by Cat using lugged construction to wrap the joints. As a cyclist and retrogrouch I fully appreciate this, both as a construction method and as a subtle visual accent. The final pieces are cast, so the lugs are now a handsome vestige of the original construction process.

The function of the clasp isn't immediately obvious, and takes a bit of practice to use it well. The basic concept has been used in sailboat rigging since the 1890s because it's quick and easy to operate, yet strong and secure. The two pieces are joined by aligning the notches so that they can pass through one another. For the first few days I had to look down at the keychain to clip and unclip my keys, but after about a week it felt completely natural and I was able to get my keys on or off one handed without looking. In four months of testing, my keys have never come unclipped accidentally. It's also worth mentioning that it's super fun to use and play with.

I'm ridiculously proud of the final product. It looks good, works well, the craftsmanship and materials are top notch, and it's made in the USA. It's exactly the kind of product I'd want to buy, which is why it's exactly the kind of product I'm excited to sell. You can shop for it right here.

Nicholas HollowsComment
23109295972_2ea5b35ef4_o.jpg

This is me on a typical day.  I'm wearing pretty expensive clothing made in the US and Japan, as well as at least 6 small things that I made for myself.  It's expensive partly because it's nice quality stuff, but also because it's made by companies that pay their workers and supply chain reasonable wages, and those are things that I've chosen to prioritize. 

I try to practice what I preach, and be the kind of business that I like to buy from.  Recently I've been listening to the Why Do We Have Things? podcast over at The American Edit.  It's been very interesting for me to hear the perspectives of so many female makers and entrepreneurs, especially as a dude who makes what I consider to be gender-neutral stuff, but still with an almost exclusively male customer base (but perhaps that's another blog post entirely).  It was the episode with Marc Bain and his accompanying article Your next item of clothing should be so expensive it hurts that got me thinking about the roots of why I buy and make and sell the way I do.

The phrase "vote with your dollars"  [1] [2] [3] has become a popular way to describe making carefully considered purchases that intentionally support the kinds of businesses and manufacturing practices you'd like to see flourish.  Every purchase sends a cash signal that says "I like what you've done here, keep it up".  As a young lad, this idea influenced me greatly, and since becoming a maker it has also effected the way I source and sell things.  It's a nice way to bumper-stickerize a complex proposition, but the reality is not that simple, so here are three footnotes that I would like to add:

[1] First is that we have to work within our means.  Very few people have the resources to feel warm and fuzzy about every single purchase, it takes serious wealth to buy local, handcrafted, organic everything.  There are real economic barriers which can't be ignored.

There are also some categories, such as electronics, where there are simply no good options.  Cynics like to point at economic activists and say that their efforts and arguments are invalidated if they own an iPhone.  Those people are just excusing their own inaction.  Doing an imperfect job--at anything--shouldn't discourage you from doing as much as you can within your means.  Accept that you can't win 'em all and then keep on trying.

Buying second-hand goods can play a huge role in doing this well.  Someone, somewhere is trying to get rid of everything you've ever wanted.

[2] The second is that voting with your dollars is only a partial solution.  Money is not our only source of power.  It's important to seek out ways to express your values that have nothing to do with money.  Do things.  Make things instead of buying them.  Step back and enjoy what you already have.  Take the time to ensure that each purchase is really necessary and say no as often as you can, because it feels great.  We can't buy our way to a better life, so avoid inventing needs, and prioritize experiences over purchases.  Most purchases are only good for enhancing experiences anyway, so make sure you're getting both sides of the equation.

Accepting conscientious shopping as the singular answer to the world's problems grants far too much power to money, and it emboldens businesses to take advantage of your conscience...which they're already doing.

[3] Thus, the third is that you have to educate yourself.  Every major agribusiness has now collected a handful of organic subsidiaries.  They've done a good job of training us, myself included, to reach for the foods with the earth-toned packaging automatically.  

On a similar note, many companies--especially clothing companies that formerly made everything domestically--have recently revived a small, US-made line. They will wave their arms and shout into their marketing megaphone about it, evoking their storied American past, while discreetly making the lion's share of their profits on other products made in the lowest-wage factories in the least-regulated countries on Earth.  That token US-made line might still be the best option, but it's worthwhile to evaluate these disproportionate boasts before deciding.

We can combat these strategies with research.  Learn everything you can about businesses, makers, and brands.  Consider what their goals and priorities are, how they treat their workers (or themselves in the case of makers; self-abuse among the self-employed is real, rampant, and often glorified), how they treat the environment, where they source their materials and components, and on and on.  Learn what they intend to use your money for, and ask yourself if you approve.  There are a lot of companies using the illusion of ethical pedigree as a marketing device these days, and they're very good at it.  If you take things at face value, your dollars will rarely be going where you think they're going.

So although the axiom has at least these three flaws and likely more, it's still true that our aggregate use of capital is what shapes our economy.  Sweatshop jeans exist because buyers keep telling manufacturers that bargain pricing is their top priority.  Nothing changes until our priority shifts away from what's cheapest, and towards what's best--for ourselves, for makers and designers, for the workers in the supply chain, and for our collective future.

Nicholas HollowsComment

Product reviews aren't really my thing.  There's a lot of great stuff being made these days if you know where to look, but Whitefeather Mfg. is relatively unknown outside of the finer denim forums, so I wanted to take a moment to share some impressions of my new jacket and bring some attention to a maker that deserves it.

I should say right away that I consider Fardin, one of Whitefeather's owners, to be a friend.  We've done two Denimbruins together, traded products a few times , and have shared a number of good conversations, but I don't think that has influenced my feelings about the jacket too much.

The style I went with is the 1930s Car Coat, which is my favorite genre of leather jacket.  Car coats are typically plain, understated, and practical.  Whitefeather's version is no exception, with very few frills.  The one decorative element, the pocket flaps, are designed to be tucked away if you want to look even more low-key.

The leather is a full-grain Italian horsehide.  Compared to Shinki it's a bit thicker, more pliable when new, the finish is more matte and the grain character is outstanding.  Shinki is cleaner, has fewer scars and bite marks, but is also a bit less interesting to look at.  Both feel very good to wear, and will likely last longer than you, so I consider the choice between the two to be mainly a matter of preference.

I went with a plain back for my jacket.  Normally this style comes with two small button adjusters on the back, but I asked to leave them off, as I find the adjusters are mostly aesthetic and tend to get snagged on chairs, backpacks and the like.  

One oddity about this jacket is the all-leather buttonholes.  Some very early leather garments (such as the British WWI horsehide jerkins) use a similar style.  There are also a few modern makers doing this, and I suspect that it is a way to avoid using the dreaded Reece buttonhole machine.  Every clothing maker I've spoken to has horror stories of the endless repairs this machine demands.  Regardless of why, I find the leather buttonholes to be well executed and they should be exceedingly durable.  A sewn buttonhole would be more historically accurate, but that's not a priority for me.

P1191482.jpg

The main lining fabric is a sort of walnut brown corduroy, which adds a nice combination of warmth and versatility.

The jacket isn't perfect (none are), but it's an incredible value, and I think it leads the pack in its price range, especially for car coat styles.  Jackets from Himel, Goodwear, and Freewheelers are a bit nicer when you put them under the microscope.  Those brands have laser-perfect stitching and very well-skived flat seams, but also cost twice as much or more.  Whitefeather is a welcome addition that's a bit more accessible.

25586683804_7b7d5d5375_o.jpg

Aside from leather jackets, Whitefeather is responsible for some reproductions of late 1800s cloth jackets that The Harrises (of Jeans of the Old West fame) pulled from mines.

The Krouse jacket is a particular stunner.  It isn't listed on the Whitefeather website, but I suspect that Fardin still has a few around.

P1201509.jpg

The Krouse jacket was also produced in duck, worn here by Cory aka Bandit Photographer.

12353200_605630736258604_22776392_n.jpg

To see more of Whitefeather's work, click over to the site here, or follow @fardinse on Instagram.  Fardin will be at the upcoming Inspiration LA show, and if you're in Austria be sure to check out the brick and mortar shop.  They're stocking some of the best brands around.

Nicholas Hollows3 Comments

This patch design is something that I've been playing with in my spare time for a few months now.  It started when I acquired a vintage Railroad Brotherhood bandana.  I had been hunting for one of these for a long time, they generally go for more than I'm willing to pay, but I lucked out when I found an eBay auction with a typo in the listing that helped keep the price down.  The rust stains may have helped too, but a little visible history doesn't bother me.

The original lantern artwork is there in the lower right corner.  I knew immediately that I wanted to use it for something.  It's too cool a piece of art to let it sink into history uncelebrated, so I scanned and cleaned it up in photoshop and waited for some inspiration to strike.

Inspiration came in the form of a quote from Jiddu Krishnamurti.  When I first read the line "truth is a pathless land", I didn't know anything about Krishnamurti or the context that the quote came from.  Still, it got stuck in my head and stayed there for days, so I finally took the time to read a bit about it/him.

Krishnamurti had an intensely weird life.  At age 16 he was installed as the leader of a Theosophic society called The Order of the Star in the East, whose founder was a self-proclaimed clarivoyant who believed that Krishnamurti was a messianic leader, destined to evolve humanity through spiritual teaching.

Krishnamurti rejected his own divine status and independently dissolved the Order,

"You can form other organizations and expect someone else. With that I am not concerned, nor with creating new cages, new decorations for those cages. My only concern is to set man absolutely, unconditionally free."

He continued to speak, write, and teach, but didn't regard his own teachings as spiritual.

Here is an extended version of the quote on the patch...

"I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or to coerce people along any particular path. If you first understand that, then you will see how impossible it is to organize a belief. A belief is purely an individual matter, and you cannot and must not organize it. If you do, it becomes dead, crystallized; it becomes a creed, a sect, a religion, to be imposed on others. This is what everyone throughout the world is attempting to do. Truth is narrowed down and made a plaything for those who are weak, for those who are only momentarily discontented. "

If you're interested in reading the entire dissolution speech, you can find it here.

The patches were something that I felt just needed to be made, I wanted one for myself, and wanted to be able to give a few to friends, so I took a gamble on having a whole batch made in the hopes that enough people would be into them to help pay for the project and possibly fund another patch or pin down the road.  They're available here on my store for 8 bucks, they're made in the USA, 3" across, and have an iron-on backing, though you should take the time to stitch it anyway.

 

Nicholas HollowsComment
This is a still from the 1988 John Carpenter film 'They Live'

This is a still from the 1988 John Carpenter film 'They Live'

It's no secret that I hate sales.  Especially "sale holidays", and not because I'm a greedy bastard that's unwilling to mark down my products, but because I try to reject the notion that shopping should be a way to celebrate.  That kind of thing grants far too much power to money.  If you really need to exercise the power of your earnings, spend it on an experience.

On the flip side, Thanksgiving is perhaps the most appropriate sale event for Hollows Leather, because I am incredibly thankful for all of the support shown to me by my customers and clients.  You literally put food in my fridge and pay my rent, and a sale is the best way I have of communicating that gratitude.

So the two things I really have to say about the curious phenomenon known as "Black Friday" are; Thank you, and shop wisely.  Don't buy things you don't want or need just because they're on sale (even if I made them).  Don't expect a purchase to actually improve your life.  If you find yourself trying to shop your way to a better self, it's time to power down the glowing rectangles and step out of the stores, there are no answers there.

And with my annual rant out of the way, here's the scoop on this year's deals:  coupon code THISISYOURGOD will get you 15% off your purchase.  Any purchase over $200 (after discount and before shipping) will get a free Leeward Keychain and Coaster (random colors).  Keep them, use them, gift them, whatever you like.  The sale will run until Midnight central on Monday.

There are bunch of new and restocked items on the site as well.   I didn't have a ton of time to prep for the sale this year, but I used most of my time making a small batch of Southbound card cases in Shell Cordovan.  Came away with a nice looking rainbow...

Belt stock is good in all configurations aside from Black Bridle, there are only a few of those.  I've got a new, limited run of Rail belts in an English Bridle finish I'm calling Baked Bean, because color names should be both accurate and delicious.

I also have a small amount of the Rail buckles in a nice matte nickel finish, in both single or double prong.  These will be an option on all Rail styles until supply runs out.

I've got some flat strap bracelets made up finally.  I used to make a lot of these many years ago, I figured they were due for a comeback.  Only Natural Chromexcel for now, but I'll do some more colors soon.

I was lucky enough to pick up some new brass hardware on my recent trip to Japan.  These hooks are the first, but not the last of the treasures I'll be posting from the trip.

I've made up a batch of simple leather key fobs featuring a Penrose triangle stamp and nice brass hardware.  These are mostly made from small shell cordovan pieces, but I had to do some in Natural Chromexcel as well.

And lastly, I've expanded the flare collection with the return of Penrose pins and patches, plus a new design.  I'll write more about that later on, but let it speak for itself for the time being.  All made in the USA!

I think that just about covers it.  I may have overlooked a few things, so click around the store and see for yourself, and thank you all again for the support.

Nicholas Hollows4 Comments

Let's talk about lifestyle marketing.

Improvements in e-commerce accessibility have resulted in a massive boom in small brands.  It's easy to build a site, publish media, receive payments, and ship products anywhere in the world.  For the most part, this is a great thing.  It allows individuals and small companies to break free from traditional business practices, bypass layers of corporate greed and control, pursue dreams, and receive the full merit of their work instead of sharing it with superfluous bosses.  Perhaps most importantly, the direct-selling of handcrafts is allowing some makers to escape the debt cycle that's so much a part of the economic box we've built around ourselves; you don't need a massive loan/degree/ad agency to build a forge in your back yard and start selling knives on the internet.  Profits can take a back seat to more important qualities when you don't have loan payments or investors driving your decisions.

Lifestyle marketing, however, is an old school corporate tactic that's very much alive with small makers.  I can understand the temptation to use this strategy, after all it's a very effective way to drive sales.  Creating an emotional connection between your product and some manner of aspirational goal is an extremely compelling way to turn your product into a perceived "need".  This is typically accomplished by using imagery and storytelling to pose a product, service, or even the maker as an integral part of a more peaceful, simple, beautiful, or adventurous life.  That's something we all want, and if you become convinced that a product can provide that, any cost in dollars will seem cheap.  

Some aspects of this "curated" image are a natural part of how we experience life.  I'd much rather share a photo of that delicious ramen I had on Friday than photos of the corndogs I eat the other 6 nights a week.  We naturally document pleasant or beautiful moments, which leaves all of the drudgery instinctively edited out.  There is a crucial difference between this earnest celebration of life's finer moments and the calculated emotional manipulation that goes on when brands using vibes-based-marketing to tell you that their product or vision is the key to getting that beautiful life.  Unfortunately, the life they're advertising doesn't exist.  At best it's a highlight reel, and comparing it to your own life will only bring you pain, especially once the pursuit leaves you broke.

Now is the moment where I should step aside and address my hypocrisy.  I'm certainly guilty of injecting ideas into my work and online presence.  I also paint a romantic picture of what it's like to be me, mostly just by excluding the shitty parts of my life.  For a true single-person brand it becomes pretty difficult to draw the line between work and personal life.  I don't have a separate personal Instagram, and the temptation to foist my thoughts upon my audience can be nearly impossible to resist sometimes. This article itself is even suspect;  if we ascend the ladder of cynicism high enough, you could accuse me of Gibsonesque "anti-marketing" right here.  Even more so now that I've pointed it out.  So meta.

In all of the adorable dog pictures, hiking trails, and emotional wheezing that I've done about how and why I do what I do, I have never tried to suggest that buying my work leads to greater happiness (for you).  I've tried to honestly express what doing this work means to me, but I can't really dictate what owning it will mean for you.  Here's the way I understand it...

Buying my leather goods will not:

  • Increase your amount or quality of leisure time.
  • Deepen your connection with nature.
  • Slow the frightening pace of your modern life with its old timey handcrafted mystique.
  • Cast a spiritual fog over your morning cup of coffee.
  • Alleviate material desire.

The good news is that no purchase will do these things, and you can have all of them right now simply by deciding that they are a priority for you.  That last one is especially important, because while I believe that I make nice things, acquisition has very little effect on desire unless you can maintain diligent gratitude for what you already have.

Buying my leather goods will:

  • Provide you with a durable, useful, and probably-beautiful object.
  • Allow me to continue doing what I do.

To be clear, I do believe that humans can connect with objects, and I try very hard to create things that have that potential, but that process doesn't occur at the moment you purchase it.  It's entirely dependent on you, your values, and your experiences.  I've had people tell me that a piece of my work became an integral part of their life, and that feels incredible to hear, but I have no doubt that another person could own the same object and find it utterly forgettable.  The objects that I personally connect with either have a history or directly support someone whose goals I respect.

In the end, the only lifestyle that will be improved by every Hollows Leather product is my own.  I am deeply grateful to every person who chooses to support me with a purchase.  If respect for my goals is a part of what you value, then I can't thank you enough...but if you think that buying my belt is going to answer any questions greater than how to keep your pants up, you need to look elsewhere. 

Keep your bullshit meter finely tuned, because there's a lot of it out there.

 

Nicholas Hollows
P9090662.jpg

Eagle-eyed Hollows Leather shoppers will notice that the new site launched without one of my staple products: The Road Belt.

The leather and buckles that I've been using for Road belts have been around for quite a while now, and while I really like them, I've been itching to try out some new styles.  So I've decided to say goodbye (for now) to the Road belt, and start doing a new small batch of belts around once a month.  This will let me play with new hardware and color combos, and let me offer leather or buckles that are too scarce to become normal "stock" items.

First up in this series is the Quick Release Belt.

These buckles are sometimes referred to as Fireman's Buckles, which has led to the mistaken notion that Firemen used these in some kind of emergency pants-removal tactic involved with putting out blazes.  The real story behind that name is that these buckles were used on the straps that held coiled hoses.  Rather than trying to fuss with undoing the strap buckle with your firefighting gloves on, you could pop these buckles open and start expeditiously hosing down a burning building.  Their use for belts didn't come until much later.

There's no doubt that this buckle is a gimmick, but it's a functional and really cool looking gimmick.  I took a few extra steps with the hardware to turn these into something special.

The buckles are made from very nice brass, but they come with a nasty, lacquered high-polish factory finish.  I take care of that by heating each buckle to dissolve the lacquer, giving each one a light brushing with steel wool, then rubbing down the whole buckle and both hinges with a little oil.  Now the brass looks much better, and it can age and oxidize naturally.

I've paired them up with the full range of my nicer belt leathers.  English Bridle in two colors, Natural Chromexcel, Veg Tan, and a new thick Navy Harness leather that I'm trying out.

You can check the batch belts out here.  

Due to the cost of the buckles and the labor intensive process, this round of belts is pretty pricey.  I'll make sure to do some future batches with pricing in line with the old Road belts, but I couldn't let the price tag dissuade me from making these, they're just too cool.  The world has plenty of people seeking the cheapest solution, and I'm proud to spurn that trend and do things the best way instead of the cheapest way.

If you're really mourning the loss of the Road belt, don't worry.  I'll bring it back as one of the small batches from time to time.

 

Nicholas Hollows

The best way to get your belt size is to measure a current belt from the end of the leather where it folds around the buckle to the most commonly used hole.

Typically it measures around 3" larger than your jeans size, but that doesn't mean you should just look at your tag, add three, and place an order.  There are a few other factors to consider.

Thicker leather fits tighter, so if you’re going from a thin department store belt to a much thicker belt, you’ll want to order 1-2" larger than your thin belt.

The rise of your jeans can mess with the 3" rule.  If you wear your jeans particularly high or low, it’ll throw things off, so it’s always best to measure when possible.

Older belts will curve and wrinkle, so do your best to lay it out flat and measure the full length.

Some belt leathers will be very stiff when new, which will make them feel tighter.  As they soften up they will contour your body more closely and loosen up.  While this isn't technically stretching, it does effect the fit.

Some leathers stretch more than others.  Chromexcel is particularly stretchy, but I do my best to minimize this by pre-stretching (yanking the hell out of) the belts before I size them up.  I find with my own CXL belts that they grow by around an inch over the first year and then stop.

Almost every incorrectly sized belt is too small.  If you're unsure, ordering larger is much safer than ordering smaller. 

If you need specific advice, get in touch and I'll do my best.