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This local artisan is creating leather crafts that are good American quality, but more importantly, look pretty fly.
There’s not much anyone else can teach you about style. You either have it or you don’t. And those who do have it can see it from a mile away. To put it ever so eloquently, “game recognize game”, and Clintonville Leather is sporting game for days. Bill Carnes, the local artisan behind the Etsy storefront, has been crafting pretty legit leather goods since 2011.
“It started 7 years ago,” Carnes explained. “Basically, I was looking for a gift for my brother during Christmas. Everything I saw in the department store had been something similar to what I had owned. They looked nice and shiny but I knew that they weren’t made well.”
So Carnes decided to take things into his own hands.
He started to buy leather and he taught himself how to work it, eventually forging his own unique style. It wasn’t long until he realized that he could create a business with his new found talents. His priority though is in creating quality, long lasting items. “People have even bought things for themselves and then a few years later they order something else and I’m like ‘oh, is everything okay with your wallet?’ and they’re like, ‘yeah, its awesome, I just wanted to get one for my dad’. I’m pretty proud when things like that happen. It just let’s me know that I’m doing the right thing.”
It’s no wonder his work is so high quality, he’s very particular about where he gets his materials. Whenever possible he tries to purchase all-American ingredients, primarily from Hermann Oak a company out of St. Louis, Missouri. When he does order out of the country he prefers to go with Masure out of Belgium, one of (if not the) oldest leather tanneries in Europe. The vegetable tan leather doesn’t come cheap either, weighing in at nearly double the amount he spends on the American stuff, but it’s worth it for making quality products that are definitely pretty fresh.
Nowadays, Carnes pretty much does the leatherwork exclusively, but it didn’t start out that way, a lot of the gear for his studio was bankrolled by gigging as a petty cab driver.
“You see, the good thing about petty cabbing is, you can work a big festival like Rock on the Range. You can work that until you can’t stand up and you can make a lot of money. So if you have a really good weekend, you could walk away with a good amount in your pocket. So for the last 6 years, whenever things like that happen, I was able to take that money and buy new tools and invest in my own studio.”
Efficient and simplistic design drives his work, with a lot of inspiration coming from spending time in nature.
“If you look at a lot of things in nature, they are designed pretty much perfectly and they are designed to work together with one another.” He brings that mindset into everything he creates, trying to make each product as intuitive as possible.
One of the items that really jumps up at you in his catalog is a custom crafted leather armband. An image of the island nation of Japan is tooled into the leather, right below a burning red rising sun. Don’t get your hopes too high though, that armband was designed specifically with one customer in mind. “I had a good customer in Japan, he’s got four or five different things. I just made that for him, just to show my appreciation. I love doing things like that.”
Carnes is pretty happy with where he is artistically and where his business has taken him, but that doesn’t mean that he’s finished growing. He’s excited to see how his skills develop and how his business will continue to evolve. “It’s taken a while to get to where I am now, and it’s not always been easy but it’s been rewarding. I get lots of customers from other countries, especially Australia. So, being able to advance the level of my work has increased exposure and it’s been good.”
To see more work by Bill Carnes and to order his products, visit his Etsy shop here.
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