Is Heirloom-Quality Craftsmanship the “New Sustainability”?

I blog a bit here and there on men’s style and I’ve been hearing this phrase quite a bit—usually applied cleverly when pitching/selling me on why I should buy one particular luxury item over another (as an investment piece) so the term, for me has become, at best, suspect.

I came across a web-doc on brothers Kirk & Chris Bray, the artisans behind handcrafted leather-goods label Billykirk –and although this footage has been blogged about and reblogged, I wanted to use them to illustrate a point.

Kirk, the designer and head of production for the company says:

“I think what would influence me to buy my own product would be the fact that I would see it and I would know that it was hand–made (first of all) and I would also know that not EVERYONE is going to have one of these (our leather goods)—it’s not something that I can get in a dept. store.”

We’ve talked about this need of ours as people to consume which in turn is driven by senseless production until it’s a wash of not really knowing which came first, the overproduction of goods for people to consume or a genuine demand for something in the marketplace. As a result, design comes across as cheap, fast, disposable and trend driven.

Chris, who handles the day-to-day business of the company and also designs adds:

“Not only will it last THE TEST OF TIME, sort of in the structure of it, but after you FEEL one of our bags or wallets, you just know that it’s made right—and made well so you know it’s going to last. The design of it is timeless—you know, we’ll be using this stuff in like, 25 years and it won’t be a trendy looking thing; it’s not trend driven and so, you know, people throw around this term “heirloom quality”—something that you can pass down (from generation to generation)

What’s really being underlined here is the quality and craftsmanship with which product from Billykirk is made. They start with quality product and leather that speaks for itself—and since leather as a medium, is always changing over time, they have a clear mission that the design should be simple and cohesive from one style to the next.

If sustainability is enterprise that has no negative impact on the global or local environment, community, society, or economy while maintaining a profit Billykirk has done it in the sense that they take the time to purposefully make goods that use the best hardware and the highest quality leather and peripheral notions available. They endeavor to create minimally designed pieces that age well and foster an understanding of investing in handmade quality in craftsmanship, as opposed to overproduced quantity—

This, in a sense is what sustainability in heirloom quality means—

Billykirk relocated their operations from Los Angeles where they learned the trade from a 3rd generation leather goods maker to rural Pennsylvania where much of the collection is made by a group of Amish leather workers in Pennsylvania. Chris and Kirk say that it has, without a doubt, been one of the most interesting business relationships of their career.

Chris:Working with these Amish leather workers for a week will really open your eyes. They are not distracted by anything the world’s marketing machine is currently pumping out. They have no idea who the Rolling Stones are or that we are at war. It is essentially the 1870′s, aside from the hum of a large Honda generator looking out of place in one of the corners. They are allowed to use gas since it is from the earth.”

Kirk: “…so just sort of the uniqueness of it or the sense that ‘I-sort-of-found-this-and–I’m-gonna-make-it-my-own’ kind of feeling I think that would be great (of people to think of our product in this way) and I think that you can tell, just by looking at it, that it’s made in the United States as well, which, I think we’re pretty proud of…”

In closing, we turned over the big idea of heirloom quality in craftsmanship being the new sustainability– and really, you’ll come to a conclusion yourself as to whether or not it is or it isn’t but I want to leave you with a quote I found on craftsmanship.

I did a lot of reading—and one that sort of struck me was this one (albeit a bit long winded):

“–Craftsmanship is finishing each step of your project, such as removing glue squeeze-out, hiding all nail holes with wood putty and sanding, straight lines on all cuts, radius cuts free of flat spots, paint-stains etc. and applied evenly with sanding being paramount to a fine finish. Craftsmen have steps they go thru when doing a project, and they finish each step before moving on to the next. They use exact measurements, and exact cut to get it (read: the project) right as it was meant to be done or better… I know this explanation refers to working in wood, BUT, apply these principles to any Craft you’re working on and it works.

Remember to exercise: Planning–Patience–Accuracy–Finishing each step & Finising the Finish. “CLOSE ENOUGH” Is not good enough for a Craftsman!”

Quoted excerpts from and the web-doc entitled, “Billykirk” by The Scout.

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