It began in a pawn shop.
While William Kirkland Bray -- that is, BillyKirk Bray -- was working in a coffee shop in Santa Monica, California, he happened upon a watch in a nearby pawn shop. The watch came with this thick, one-and-a-quarter inch wide leather watch band. Though he didn’t necessarily want the watch, $20 dollars later, Kirk had the strap.
This was in 1998. Kirk wore it all the time. Taking note of all the compliments, “That's when the light bulb went off,” Kirk’s brother and business partner Chris explained.
“And just like clockwork, those wide leather watch straps were popular again.”
And while they no longer offer those funky, wide watch straps, Billykirk’s line has expanded to include everything from leather goods -- a more subdued watch strap is available -- to felt fedoras. When they moved their operation from California to Jersey City, New Jersey, they began working with the Amish to create many of their products, and with that things kind of just took off.
“When we were first contemplating the big move from the West Coast to the East Coast, I was lamenting our future production concerns to one of my vendors and he told me about these Amish guys who made machinery for him in PA. He introduced us, and we soon discovered there are a number of Amish who are solely involved in the horse tack trade and very capable of producing the types of designs we like.”
“They are about the best manufacturer to work with for a number of reasons. They are totally fair and honest people, they are extremely eco-friendly, they are very skilled, many have been honing their leather craft since they were young boys.”
And as he told me, the Amish build stuff to last as long as possible. Unlike other flimsy leather goods, theirs have a heft.
In addition to crafting quality leather goods, spending time with the Amish, taking time to slow down and tune out so much of the din of popular culture and the WiFi society helped Chris and Kirk open their eyes to more important things in life.
As Chris says, “It’s my dose of reality and something we cherish.”
They have fostered this “heirloom mentality” since starting to craft leather goods in their apartment in Los Angeles nearly fifteen years ago. They tell me they have received a number of requests from parents asking them to write a note of provenance to their child regarding the item knowing one day they will pass it onto to them. “This special connection we’ve built with our customers motivates us and further validates the work we do.”
Enriched by a hint of peppermint, it impresses with notes of pepper balanced by slight citrus overtones, and a spicy, warming finish.
A Chicago-based storyteller, keeper of a whiskey blog and shop-owner who's known for his appreciation of America.
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