Marcus Wiley creates wonderful hand crafted leather products. He sat down with Revolver to discuss his craft and vision.
Could you walk thru your background?
I grew up on a horse farm in central Virginia to an American father, an English mother and two brothers. We were exposed to horses and all things farm at an early age and we were fortunate to have travelled a bit during our formative years. I went to high school and college in Virginia and initially worked for a home- grown investment firm for six years. I moved to Colorado in 1994 to try my hand at entrepreneurship and in the first three years learned countless lessons of what not to do. While in Colorado I worked for a graphic design agency and learned a great deal about the design process. I moved back to Charlottesville, VA and in 1999 started my belt company. I am a self-taught leather artisan and find that it is best to keep things simple, functional and elegant.
What attracts you to working with leather?
Growing up with horses meant we dealt with a lot of tack and harness. Back then it was all made of leather and most of ours was made from English leather. Every time a bridle or a saddle got used it got cleaned…a laborious chore growing up. I learned later to greatly appreciate the quality and longevity of a piece of leather tanned using an age-old process. It also engrained in me the rich feel and smell of vegetable-tanned, hand curried English leather. It is simply the best.
Where do you look for inspiration?
As far as design goes, I look for it in my day-to-day travels. I am not interested in faddish looks or designs. Simple, elegant and functional usually translates to timeless. I have stores that have been carrying the same styles for 10 years. I leave the gilding of lilies to others. Probably my biggest source of inspiration is making a high-quality piece on these shores. So many people have told me over the years that I can have my belts made cheap in India or China. Not interested. I prefer my products with no expiration date and I like keeping business local. When did we start equating cheap to quality and/or value?
What is your favorite part of leather work?
That’s easy, opening up a new shipment of leather for inspection. The hides are just downright luxurious. My favorite part of the actual belt-making process is buffing a just-finished piece with shearling wool. The natural sheen that comes out brings it all together and that’s when a finished belt emerges.
What kind of workspace do you have?
My wife and I live in an old country store near Charlottesville. My workspace is in the old granary.
What are your favorite tools?
How do you balance function with design?
Function and design are equally important. Sometimes an idea just does not work. Functionality can’t be forced on elegant design and vice-versa. The balance is knowing when to scrap it and start over.
Wiley Belts are available at Revolver in San Francisco