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NICHOLAS HOLLOWS of Hollows leather

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mr randal View Drop Down
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    Posted: 09 Jun 2016 at 4:51pm


As a prelude to Denimbruin 2016, I'm putting together a number of interviews with this year's exhibitors. Here's the first- a sit down with leather crafter and denimbro mod Nicholas Hollows, currently of Minneapolis, Minnesota.



MR: Nicholas, tell me where you grew up.

NH: I moved around a lot as a kid, but after about age 10 I lived in a rural area about 25 miles northeast of Minneapolis.  I had railroad tracks in the back yard and lots of frog sounds at night in the summer.

MR: Do you recall taking special notice of leather goods as a child?

NH: I don't recall being interested in leather, but I've always been into making and building things.  Taking things apart and putting them back together.  I think I could be happy doing similar work with pretty much any medium, it's more or less incidental that it turned out to be leather.  Metal, wood, glass, clay, and cloth are all very interesting to me, but leather is the only one that I have any real experience with.

MR: What was the first thing you built as a child?

NH: I was big into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so I think the first things I made were weapons.  It feels like I spent years trying to build a better nunchuk.

MR: When did you make your first leather item?

NH: I replaced the decaying duct tape wallet I had made for myself a few years earlier.  I had no idea what I was doing, and all of the tools and materials were from a box of scrap found in the garage.

MR: How bad was it?

NH: Pretty bad!  The construction at least.  I actually like the design a lot, and I re-made the same design a few times as my technique and materials improved.  I've tried to sell that design a few times over the years but the response has been pretty lukewarm.  I guess that one only resonates with me.  I still have the original somewhere…





 Keep in mind that I knew absolutely nothing about leather or leathercraft or even sewing at this point. The tools, hardware, thread, and leather were all from this random box of scrap, the leftovers from someone else's hobby a few decades earlier. My favorite part is how I put a rivet at the end of each line of stitching because I had no idea how to secure the ends of the thread.



MR: What is your dream leather?

NH: I often wish I could combine attributes of various leathers to create the "ultimate" leather. I'd like the color and finish of Natural Chromexcel, with the density of Shell Cordovan, the grain of American bison, and the temper of nice veg tan. In reality it's more about choosing the correct leather for the project. They all have pros and cons, so when you start a new project you find a leather whose cons will be minimized and pros will be maximized in the specific application you're working towards.



 MR: Are there any items you'd like to start offering on a regular basis, in addition to your stock belts, wallets, and small accessories?

NH: I’ve always wanted to do more bags and luggage, but I'm limited by the fact that I only know how to hand stitch.  Making bags by hand takes a really long time, and the price ends up being prohibitive.  I try hard not to  be a "luxury" brand, so $800+ bags don't sit well with me.  To a certain point, high prices are an unavoidable side effect of the way I like to do things, but I'm trying to work up some designs that can be made a bit cheaper, and I also hope to get a nice industrial machine some day (and learn how to use it), so I can make larger items without such brutal prices.  As of now, I only make one or two bags a year, and they typically go to friends or extremely devoted regular customers.
 The other thing I'd really like to get into is custom brass hardware.  I have some ideas but neither the skills nor industry connections to make them real just yet.  Some day.





MR: You maintain a presence on Instagram, where you show your process and offerings. You have mentioned having reservations about social media- do you ever feel conflicted about this?
Also, any thoughts on the pros and cons of social media for artisans in general?

NH: I think that Instagram and accessible e-commerce have done great things for independent creatives of all kinds, but we need more candor and less branding.  I have a serious mistrust for hyper-curated "lifestyle" marketing.  Brands of all sizes are out there selling stories and folksy fairy-tale bullshit, with the implication -- or sometimes outright declaration -- that their product will help you live the life you've always wanted.  My products will do no such thing, and neither will anything else you can get in exchange for your labor credits.   Similarly the craftsperson life is not all whimsy and satisfaction, it can be very frustrating.  I don't live in a cabin in the woods, I don't chop my own firewood or wake up inspired and doodle new products while sipping artisan coffee every morning.
 I try to push back against these tropes, but in the end I know that I contribute to both perceptions.  I love what I do, and I'm extremely thankful for the strength of the maker economy.  I hope it's a lasting shift, but I have deep concerns about the aspirational contrivance surrounding both the making and selling of handmade goods.  If we all start thinking that "the good life" is waiting to be found right behind the next purchase or the next paycheck, it's very bad for our collective mental health.  You lack nothing.

MR: What other leather artisans or brands do you admire and why?

NH: Top of the list is probably MOTO.  Their wallet designs are understated and extremely clever.  They use some very cool styles and techniques that you don't see anywhere else.  They've also done a really good job of moving beyond just wallets, they have a nice range of jewelry, shoes, boots, and a little bit of clothing, all while retaining a common thread aesthetically.  Also Hideo Motoike's leather sculptures and dioramas blow my mind.
 Many of my biggest inspirations are in the bicycle industry, there are a lot of frame builders that manage to do really wild out-of-the-box thinking while still keeping their designs clean and functional.  Mike Flanigan, Curt Goodrich, and Eric Estlund come to mind.  There's a lot of self-sufficiency, dedication, and detail that goes into a bike frame.
 On the business side, I've always admired Rivendell Bicycles.  The no-nonsense way they design and peddle their wares has always been inspiring to me.  They seem to only sell things that they really like, and they'll tell you very plainly why they like it so much.  There's no hype or deception, they just believe in it and want to share.

MR: Your aesthetic seems very clean and simple, with the "flashiness" of your work being the precision of construction- what do you think of some of the highly stylized wallets made by some Japanese companies, like those of Red Moon with multiple closure straps and conchos and such?

NH: I appreciate the wilder styles, but I try to stick to designs that I feel I would personally use. Occasionally I cut loose and make a custom piece that's a bit more decorative, but in general I respect cleverness more than flashiness when it comes to leather design. Red Moon is just the tip of the iceberg, by the way. Try searching for Manifold Leather if you want to see some really crazy stuff.

MR: Could you walk me through the construction of a basic wallet?

NH: In very general terms, I usually select two leathers, one for the inside and one for the outside. The outside is usually a bit thicker, the inside has to be thinner but firm, since it takes the majority of the abuse. The first round of cutting is all basically making rectangles, then I do a second round of cuts to add curves for slots and corners, followed by lots of edge finishing for any interior bits. Then gluing and stitching the insides, more edge finishing, and eventually the last step is typically joining the inner and outer halves together and finishing the outer edges. Wallets are full of objects with standard sizing, so every dimension is based off of something rigid, like the width of a credit card, or the size of a dollar bill, so the design process is often long and iterative, with small refinements happening all the time. If you ordered the "same" wallet from me, two years apart, there would be a number of small differences. Many of them would probably not be noticeable, but nothing is static, and I like it that way.











MR: I hear you're moving. Where to, and do you really think you'll escape the Elder Ones by a simple act of relocation?

NH: The Elder Ones may have spared my body, but alas my mind and soul have been devoured by their terrible formless darkness. My only hope is to live out my brief and meager existence in the friendly climes of Eugene, Oregon, while I wait for them to claim what remains of me.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (7) Thanks(7)   Quote mr randal Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Jun 2016 at 4:51pm
Some shots from Hollow's studio in MN:










And some recent work:





And some older work:




*All photos by Nicholas except:

Image #1 above and

Images #1, 8 & 9 in the preceding post

all by @amsullivan



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (2) Thanks(2)   Quote robroy Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Jun 2016 at 8:26pm
Thanks for your candor Nicholas, and what a treat to see your humble origin. And thanks to Mark for the interview, you have a knack for asking good questions. 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (2) Thanks(2)   Quote Mainwaring Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2016 at 2:51am
Inspirational, but very much grounded, very much real.

My gratitude to interviewee & interviewer.

Hollows, might you do me a custom belt, with riveted Sai tabs?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (2) Thanks(2)   Quote hollows Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2016 at 6:50am
Originally posted by robroy robroy wrote:

Thanks for your candor Nicholas, and what a treat to see your humble origin

"Humble" is a very generous word for it :)

Originally posted by Mainwaring Mainwaring wrote:

Hollows, might you do me a custom belt, with riveted Sai tabs?

Ha, Raphael was my favorite (perhaps telling?), so I'll agree to that if you can guarantee sai fit pics.

Thanks for the kind words, bros, and thanks for the interview Mr R!


I make things out of leather.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote eastwest Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2016 at 8:36am
Great work on both sides gents. I like the original wallet design, it riveting!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote shredwin_206 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2016 at 10:08am
Hope to cross paths with you when you move Hollows. I'm in Seattle, so just a few hours drive from OR.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote *lefty* Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2016 at 3:10pm
This is very impressive on both sides.
Thanks
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote Mainwaring Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2016 at 5:05pm
Originally posted by hollows hollows wrote:

Ha, Raphael was my favorite (perhaps telling?), so I'll agree to that if you can guarantee sai fit pics.

Thanks for the kind words, bros, and thanks for the interview Mr R!





Raphael was my favourite, the nunchuck told me you were a party dude?

And I can, guarantee...Cowabunga?!

Edited by Mainwaring - 10 Jun 2016 at 5:27pm
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (1) Thanks(1)   Quote haler Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Jun 2016 at 5:10pm
Great interview and photos.  I love seeing creative spaces and workshops.
roots in the desert.
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