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An Interview With Joseph M. Leather

How did you get into Leathercraft?
I got into leather craft around March/April 2018 after finding a YouTube video of a gentleman making a leather long wallet. What inspired me was the attention to detail in each part in the constructing of the wallet. I saw craftsmanship and a level of skill he had which I didn’t know existed in leather work. Previously, the knowledge I had in leather was very minimal. I thought if something was leather it was of high quality and luxurious. I assumed all leather was the same looking back on that I was certainly wrong.

What are some misconceptions in the leather work industry?
There are deceptive terms used in marketing such as genuine leather and bonded leather. That at first glance makes you assume it’s high-quality leather. Genuine leather is split leather, lower quality and weaker. Bonded leather is 10 - 20% genuine leather mixed with polyurethane glued onto a paper backing for stiffness. As time has gone on people are starting to see through the cracks of poorly made products. I know stories of belts tearing and leather products not lasting. So regardless, if you try and hide a faulty product under a fancy label it will catch up on you no matter what you label your product as.

What is the difference between full grain leather and cheaper leathers?
Full grain leather is the crème de la crème if I were to sum it up. Full grain leather has the complete strong fibre structures retained. It also has that beautiful grain top surface that is the distinguishing mark of leather. Geunine leather is split leather so you don't have the strength of the top fibre structure. The beautiful grain surface isn't there and will have to be modified to make it look like a grain surface. Bonded leather is that cheap "leather" belt that when you wear it for a short time the material starts to crack and tear and you see all the different canvas material on the inside.

Do you try and educate customers on your products?
I certainly do, it gives me a great amount of satisfaction in trying to help people know what leather and hardware I use. Even if they don’t buy something it is important to educate potential customers so at least they have an appreciation for what you’re trying to do and what to look for in leather goods.

Do you think trust has been broken in a lot of companies?
Most definitely, mass production is a big business and I’ve seen companies exposed in documentaries which lowers customer confidence in them. Also immoral practices like slavery and child slavery is a huge problem in some manufacturers. I think that’s one of the reasons why people like to look for and support local crafters. As they can see the face behind it, have very easy access to correspondence and it’s good to shop and support local. I know I like shopping local as best I can for the same reasons.

How did you learn leather work with having no experience?
It definitely was an uphill challenge but that’s part of the journey. It was really hard especially in the early stages. I would watch YouTube videos and try and pick up as much information as I could. I also had another leather crafter who I could ask questions and get advice which helped a lot. It did come down to making items over and over and over again. I would make a wallet and the stitching would be off and I would assess what I did wrong. The next wallet I would focus on getting the stitching correct but then the edges weren’t right. So, the next wallet I’d make sure the edges were smooth. Slowly overtime you begin to forge yourself and equip new skills. Then you come across new problems that need solving.

What items do you like to craft?
One of my favourite items to craft are leather belts. You can’t go wrong with a solid leather belt and one that lasts for years are sentimental to people. It is a very strong raw material that uses leather, a buckle and some thread which I really like. I’ve gone into a lot of effort to try and find some of the finest leather for belts as well as buckles that will last. Buckles along with the leather can really make or break a belt and a lot of buckles made today are not made of solid material and break overtime. The leather I see in retail stores for belts is also of very inferior quality.

What inspired you to put more effort into leather work?
Definitely when Covid hit last year. I had a lot of time and I heard people especially in the media complaining that things weren’t made in Australia. So, I thought, well if people want something that’s made in Australia and of high quality, I can fill that spot.

Why do you use high quality materials? A lot of manufactures make large profits with inferior products?
When you’re going to the effort to make items that are handmade and require a lot of time to make, I don’t see the point of using inferior materials. Your product carries your reputation and if you have the skills and means to make something well. Then why not make it well. There’s so much junk that is churned out that goes into landfill so breaking that cycle by making well made items should be one of the things we aim for as craftsmen.

How much of your products are made by you?
I make all my products myself right here in Adelaide, South Australia. I hand stitch all my items as well as burnish the edges by hand. I want to make products that are well made and will last for years. In a society where you are made to feel like you need the latest technology or that new car. I wanted to create timeless pieces that don't fall out of trend in 2 years time. I want my leather belts that a customer buys to be a belt that they don’t need to worry about buying a new one for years after purchasing it.