In a digital world, these Charlotte humans are making stuff you can touch. This is part of our ongoing series titled Makers.
Brock Norris is the founder of Traveller Trading Co. a handcrafted leather goods company.
What is the most popular item that you make?
The Johnny Wallet is probably the most popular single item I make. It costs $60 and customers can choose one of the standard linings or provide any fabric of their choice. The wallets can also be personalized with a monogram or another stamp.
How did you start making this item?
I originally designed the Johnny Wallet when a friend wanted a simple card wallet to give as a groomsmen gifts. He showed me a wallet he liked and asked if I could make something similar. I came up with a design and made a prototype. It was pretty plain, so I figured I would add some interest by lining it with fabric. He liked it and so did everyone I showed it to and voila, the Johnny Wallet was born.
How long does it take to complete?
Each wallet involves about an hour of active time and another hour of inactive time. I first cut the wallet from a side of 5oz bridle leather and then I cut the lining from whatever fabric or leather the customer has chosen. The lining is glued in and then I hand-sew the wallet together. The last step is finishing the edges using a 6-step process. If the customer wants a monogram or another stamp, then an additional 10 minutes is required.
How did you learn how to do this? Who taught you?
I’ve always been intrigued by leather goods — I collected them as a child. You could say I am self taught. I was looking for a leather guitar strap, but I couldn’t find one with the quality I was looking for. While visiting Appalachian State, I talked to a leather craftsman in Boone. He sold me some leather and gave me a quick lesson. I made the guitar strap and then another one for my mandolin. After that, I read every book and spent years slicing my fingers up before I could actually produce the quality of product that I envisioned from the beginning. I still learn something new every day, that’s probably what I love most about it.
Who was your first customer?
After myself and immediate family? I guess it was my best friend who needed a dog collar.
How did your first prototype look/feel?
Although it’s fourteen years old, I still have and use my guitar strap. Let’s just say it’s pretty “rustic”, although I thought it was a masterpiece when I made it.
How do you develop product?
I am definitely more creative than productive and I am constantly coming up with new product ideas. From an idea, I come up with several drawings, then make a prototype. If the prototype works out, then I’ll make a few and have my friends test them out and provide feedback. After that, the product goes on the website. I also make custom items which aren’t sold on the website.
When you see a customer with your item, how does it make you feel?
Whenever I see someone wearing one of my leather goods, it makes me feel honored that they chose my product over another one.
Why do you do it?
For as long as I can remember I have been making things. If I didn’t make leather goods, then I would be making something else. It’s not just that I love it, it’s part of who I am.
What would this item lose if it were mass produced? Would you ever mass produce?
All of my products would lose some of their individuality if they were mass produced. Hand-crafted leather goods show their maker’s signature in every detail. I could have three different people make The Johnny Wallet and all three would have slight differences in the stitching, edges, and overall finish. With leather goods, the craftsmanship and attention to detail gets lost even with moderate production. The only mass production I would consider is having twenty people doing the exact same thing I am doing.
What’s one thing you’ve learned about making a physical item that would surprise people?
A good way to judge the quality of an item is to inspect the hardware. If a company intends a product to last, they will use solid brass (or similar metal) hardware. For them, the cost difference between that and cheap plated hardware is often less than a dollar and sometimes just a few pennies.
Connect with Traveller Trading Co.