I'm especially enthusiastic towards hard work and dedication, irrespective of the craft in question. In this case I was immediately drawn toward the beautiful works of Eric Heins, a young leather maker who's begun to build an impressive collection of wares under his one man moniker, Corter Leather. Corter Leather is very much in it's infancy, yet Eric's portfolio still manages to include a wide range of items such as wallets, lanyards, laptop sleeves and bags, amongst other things. He is meticulous in his execution of fine detail throughout his work, working out of his bedroom studio in Boston, Massachusetts. 'Holes are punched and sewn by hand, hardware is set with a mallet, and though most leather is left natural, colored leather is dyed and oiled in house. No templates are ever made; each piece is cut by memory, making no two pieces perfectly alike.' Eric is a true craftsmen, breaking generational vogue by entering into such a niche profession at such an early point in his life and career. I've been lucky to have a few moments of his time recently, to capture this interview for you all to enjoy.
"One of the biggest challenges is that the perception of the company is all over the place. Some people think it's a lot of people with machines, and wonder why it takes two weeks to make a belt."
Interview by Darian Hocking & Johnny Ridley
How did you first become interested in working with leather? Where did you learn you craft?
I was 19 or 20- about three and a half years ago. I'd been living pretty sparingly trying to get through school, and I really wanted a Redmoon wallet but obviously couldn't afford it. I've always been more interested in process rather than product, so I spent about $40 at a local tannery on some cheap tools and junky leather and I looked up a couple online leather working tutorials. From there it's kind of history, I'm completely self taught and I've been learning from books and trial/error ever since.
If you can remember, what was the first item you ever sold?
I think it was a 6" tall wallet with a strap reign and a seafoam green zipper, and I believe it was a gift from the purchaser to someone who had just come back from the military. (Wallet pictured below, right)
Is it by choice or simply the stage of your business growth that you're currently a one man outfit?
About 10 months ago, it was just the stage of the business. This year it's by choice. Call me a bad business person, but I think that just because you can expand physically doesn't mean you should. I want to make sure I know my own business inside and out before I introduce it to another person, and I feel I'm not there quite yet- I'm still learning, and I feel Corter is still very young and developing. I have a bunch of friends that are ready to punch holes and lay stitches whenever I need them, so I'm pretty sure I'll be working with them long before I hire any permanent staff.
Do you plan on expanding to work with a full team and work in a larger studio environment?
Right now I work in a bedroom that's been converted into a studio with my presses, workbench, and dark storage with a bed in the corner, so a studio would be wonderful! I've got some plans to travel and work once I'm out of my current space next year, but my next permanent place will have studio space. Other than that, I plan on expanding to wherever I need to be. If that means a full team and a nice big, airy studio, then I'll be psyched. However, I never ever want to be behind a desk signing off on designs and budgets. I'd rather hire a boss than workers if that's possible.
What do you enjoy most about running the show solo? Also what are some challenges and how do you overcome those?
The best part is the freedom. I keep really weird hours and travel around a fair bit with a tool box and a couple hides, which I wouldn't be able to do with anyone working for me. I'm fairly stubborn and independent, so I like learning how to run the business end of things by myself- even though it would be nice to have guidance some of the time.
One of the biggest challenges is that the perception of the company is all over the place. Some people think it's a lot of people with machines, and wonder why it takes two weeks to make a belt. I also get a lot of large orders I just can't fill from other companies that expect overseas production costs. On the flip side, others see it as being way small, so a lot of people won't understand why I can't take phone calls or chat online, and I feel really bad when I miss an email or something. It's kind of like being in the center of a "big company/little company" ven diagram right now, and trying to make my way from one side to the other. Because I didn't really set out to do this, I didn't have a plan. Overcoming these challenges involves getting a plan in place, and I've done a pretty good job of learning on the fly-but I'm still learning every day.
Where do you draw your inspiration when creating your leather works? Do you work by customer demand or create based on personal progression and experimentation?
I'm inspired by how people interact with their things, but mostly how things have a life and story of their own moving from one person to the next. The internet has created such an amazing global community that products get shipped all over the world. Because of this, I've mostly stopped imagining the life of my customer; I imagine the life of my work and where it might go. I guess I'm most inspired by the thought of seeing one of my pieces again when I'm older, after it's maybe been around the world, or passed down a couple generations, or even stayed in the same pocket in the same town, just seeing how it's changed. That's also why I use a lot of natural leather- I want it to show it's age and tell it's story.
I keep sketches, but rarely draw out full ideas because I like to work them out while making the first one in leather. I also never make patterns or prototype with anything but leather, so even if I don't fully custom design something it's going to be unique. I do a lot of custom work for people, but I'm very focused on designing my own pieces as well. I'd never want to stop doing both- I enjoy designing a piece just as much as I enjoy turning off the creativity and simply working with my hands.
What's next for Corter Leather? Do you have any plans for the immediate future?
I think it's finally time to try and find some retail outlets for Corter. I've been shying away for a while now, but I'm ready to let other people in and get products out there. I've started working on the next collection, which will probably take a year or so to design- I'd like to do a bag or two this time, and only do one or two solid wallets. As far as collaborations go, I'd actually really love to move past accessories and maybe do some clothing- I guess it'd be more of a design collaboration, or maybe I just want to learn more about it, but I've been itching to try some new things lately. So I'd really like to work with a clothing designer.