Friday, November 13, 2009

Art of the Trade

Lately I've become enamored with handmade trades. Frankly, I'm very disinterested in working for a large business or corporation, learning about its inner workings and using that knowledge for my own gain. I don't know anyone who truly enjoys working in this kind of environment. Who really loves Microsoft Excel with a passion? Who loves filing tons of paperwork? Or being on the phone for hours each day? None of that is intrinsically fun or rewarding to most people. Sure, there's money in it, but how often do people buy into the idea of money over time, enjoyment, and other people? Far too often here in the US. B and I were talking last night, and we were both be very happy if our income stayed about the same our whole lives (only accounting for increases due to standard of living, and for kids). We have more than enough for ourselves. There are deeper, non-monetary experiences to be found elsewhere.

Recently, I've looked into and learned a lot about two tiny companies whose products I like and whose history I respect. Both use traditional craft techniques to create extremely durable goods.

BillyKirk is a brother duo in New Jersey that handmakes leather goods. They have been in business since 1999, but are only now starting to make huge waves in the fashion industry. I checked out their wares a few years ago, and was particularly drawn to this bag, but wrote them off as another expensive accessory maker. In actuality, their story is quite inspiring. They were apprenticed under a leather maker for three years, and they get all their leather from the Amish communities nearby. Their products are well-crafted and made to last a long time, if not forever. Funny how durability comes and goes as a trend, since inherent to the definition of a trend is disposability. Even though American-made rustic goods are extremely trendy now, it really speaks to the Bray Brothers' credibility that they are truly committed to and love their work and have been doing it for many years. Read more of their story of origin here.

I first heard about Iona Handcrafted Books this morning, actually, when I was scrolling through the E.A.S.T. list of vendors. I did the whole tour last year on bike, and although it was fun, I don't feel much need or energy to do the same this year. Still, I had time to kill at work and the "handcrafted book" company name caught my eye. Going to her website, I saw some astonishing bound leather books with handmade paper. I was especially moved by the beautiful watercolor drawings in the gallery. An Austinite named Mychal makes all these books by herself! Her story, starting from how she learned her old craft from an Italian bookbinder, is also really inspirational. Totally speaks to finding out what you love, working hard at making and promoting them, and reaping the rewards (albeit after possibly many years- she started in 1992). I love that her products are purchased by people all over the world, and also that her studio is participating in a massive community art event.

When I spoke wistfully of the trade, B reminded me that business is involved as well. Except that you have to do it all yourself, and not rely on an organization to work out all the kinks for you. Just because you have a good product doesn't mean that you will do well. Very true. So many people sell amazing (and awful) handmade items on Etsy, yet most of them probably don't make a living doing that. Seems like that is the more common situation. Hmm, more thought needed.

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