Indie Foundry is nothing if not a community. We are influenced and inspired every day by the artists and makers we work with at the Cleveland Flea, and the clients we work for as branding specialists. On Thursdays, join our resident storyteller, Sarah Wilt, and our partners at Suzuran Photography as we profile some of our favorite Cleveland makers and small, creative business owners. This special series is meant to celebrate them. (Sometimes, we even have cake in their honor.)
Wright & Rede::Jordan Lee
When/how did you start leather-working?
In 2012 leather working was the newest of a legion of creative hobbies I was pursuing. At the time I was looking for a way to slim down my wallet and I wanted to have something made out of real leather. I looked online but everything I wanted was $150+. I thought to myself that I could make my own for $150. So I bought an amateur leather working kit and some scraps of leather and started to learn how to work with leather.
What were you doing professionally before going full time with your business?
I worked in the food service industry for 14 years. I’ve held every position in a restaurant short of owner. I’ve been a busser, expeditor, line-cook, salad-guy, beverage-girl, server, bartender, manager, and hopped back and fourth quite a bit as I moved on to different restaurants. The day I decided to quit I was bar tending at one job and serving at another.
How did you decide to go full time?
It was the start of a really slow night Tuesday night at the restaurant. I had just gotten back from my honeymoon (I got married in October of 2012) and I was standing around bored waiting for the dinner rush. I was having that post vacation dysphoria when suddenly you realize that actual you is not as cool as vacation you. I was leaning on the bar (which you are really not supposed to be doing) staring at my bored co-workers (who were all uniformly 10 years younger than me) and my feet hurt (that’s what happens when you stand on cement floors all day). I thought to myself “Man, this is really what my life looks like. Is this what I want my life to look like?” I went home that night and had a long talk with my wife. I went into work the next day and gave them my notice.
What are your goals for Wright and Rede in 2014?
2013 was all about seeing if I could actually make a living. I thought I was on to a good idea, but you never know until you try. 2014 is going to be all about growth. I’ve made my early mistakes, gained confidence from them, and I have a good idea of what direction I want to grow in. This year is going to be focused more on developing my brand and refining my vision about what I make and how I sell it.
You were a bit of a hobby fiend before starting Wright and Rede. What are some of the worlds you dabbled in trying to feed your hunger for making?
Ha! Hunger is the right word. Are you ready? I’ve made ice cream, butter, yogurt, pickles, bread, beer, vinegar, various forms of cheese, mustard, cured meats, mead, hard cider, ginger beer, kombucha, sour dough, sauerkraut, sour cream, doughnuts, pasta, and probably lots of other things you can make from scratch and also eat. I addition to all that I decided to become a woodworker that uses only antique hand tools, a fine art photographer that specializes in antiquarian photo processes, a gardener, a hop farmer, a blogger, a writer, a poet (during my anguished youth phase), a antique furniture restorer, and an old camera collector. I’m missing a few I’m sure. I thought about starting a business for each one.
Where do you source your leather from?
90% of my leather comes from Wicket & Craig in Curwensville, PA.—one of the last three major American tanneries. Most “American” tanneries use domestic hide but actually do the tanning in Mexico or Chile. A small portion of the leather I use comes from other tanneries I’ll source from sporadically. I just found a little tannery in New York that tans deer hide brought in by local hunters. The rest of the time I’ll work with vintage, deadstock, or salvaged leather as I find it at estate sales.
Who do you look to for inspiration…
- as a creative? I obviously spend a lot of time looking at other leather workers. Not so much their designs but the way they send their message. Really good leather workers have a “look” that is all their own. I like to try to find older examples of their work and see how it changes as their message changes. I like to focus on how my goods will look as they get older so I spend a lot of time drooling over pictures of really old leather duffel bags, sofas, and the like. I also have a background in photography so I love to look at old photographs. Light was very important in old photographs. That is something I try to translate onto my leather goods when I’m dyeing them. I also keep two inspiration boards going; one on Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/wrightandrede/) and one on Tumblr (http://wrightandrede.tumblr.com/)
- and as a small business owner? My parents. My father has been running businesses for as long as I can remember. I’ve picked up a lot from him. If I ever start talking business with you and I tell you an allegory about a guy smuggling bags of sand or a lazy fisherman, I’m probably retelling something from my dad. My mother taught me how to always deal with the task at hand. I’m quite a worrier and she’s fond of telling me “what ever is going to happen, is going to happen”. Deal with today’s problems today worry about tomorrow’s problems tomorrow. Some more generally accessible resources I tap into are: medium.com , 99u.com, and the books Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky and The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau .
How has the Cleveland Flea helped your business?
The Cleveland Flea was the very first show I ever took part in. It was the first time I ever really got paid for my work. Not just a friend buying a wallet but real strangers giving me money for what I do. The Flea is more than just a place to buy stuff. It is an event. People are there to hang out and I spend most of my time talking with other really interesting people. Sometimes I’m learning some business tricks from other vendors. Sometimes I get great ideas from talking with my customers. Also I’ve been lucky enough to get to watch other people start their own creative ventures. It’s great to see people in the same boat as you doing well. It makes me think, “Well, if they can do it, so can I.
Have you learned anything about your business by participating in the Cleveland Flea?
I’ve learned that there is a lot of opportunity out there if you are willing to go out and get it. The Flea functions like a hub for people’s creative endeavors. It has developed a creative community that works as a support structure when it’s time to take risks. By being around other people who are taking risks it’s easier to take my own.
What is the one thing (other than leather goods) that you will always pay full price for?
Good service. Servers, bar tenders, car mechanics, whatever. I’ll go out of my way and happily pay more for quality service. Also bagels.
What’s your biggest struggle from an artistic standpoint?
For a long time I had trouble telling people what I did for a living. I felt like I was just playing at having my own business. I’ve recently gotten over that. I still struggle with getting the goods I’m making on par with the ideas in my head. I feel like I’m always playing catch up.
What’s your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
Learning how to be my own boss. I have to come up with my own goals, what I need to do in a day, what counts as a good job, when to stop working, and how do deal with problems as they arise. It’s might sound strange but it can great tricky when you don’t have a boss or coworkers to tell you if you are on the right path.
Where can we find you…
- during the day? In my workshop. Probably listening to music or an audiobook.
- in the evenings? My wife and I like to get out on the week nights. It’s a great time to get out and explore Cleveland. We spent years talking about places we wanted to check out but couldn’t because I always worked nights. The Tremont Taphouse and SOHO are two of my favorites. If I just want to grab a pint I’ll run up to the BottleHouse Brewery, which is right down the street.
- on the weekends? To us it seems a luxury to not have to do anything on the weekends. Sometimes we’ll go down to Asian Town Center or maybe out to Holden Arboretum, mostly you’ll find me at home with a good book.
Favorite piece of advice as it relates to food/art and/or business?
“Welcome to owning your own business. The ones that make it are the ones that keep showing up.” Second-hand advise via Mason’s Creamery