The Creators of NYC: Leather Craftsmen Billykirk
Josh Wool spent a decade as an executive chef, opening restaurants across the south. But all that changed in 2010, when the carpal tunnel in his hands meant he could no longer work. To keep from going stir crazy, he picked up a camera and found his next calling. Two years, thousands of portraits, and a move to New York later, Wool is documenting the people who inspire him on a daily basis. Welcome to Creators of NYC.
A simple, well-worn leather watch strap was the catalyst for brothers Kirk and Chris Bray to start a business. In the last decade they took an idea and built it into a thriving leather goods company called Billykirk, recently transplanted from LA. Their focus is on craftsmanship and quality, and it shows in their products. I first met the duo at the Pop-Up Flea Market in Chelsea, and they invited me out to their workshop just across the river.
Billykirk is making hard goods meant to stand the test of time, in an age where everything is disposable. What’s your philosophy on that?
Chris Bray: At a certain point you start to think about a product’s worth. Saving money versus an item’s longevity becomes questioned. I think we would all agree that, on the surface, saving money makes sense. However, peel back the onion and one quickly realizes that while you may get that initial satisfaction of saving a buck on a cheap suit or frying pan, that suit or frying pan will inevitably have a short life.
I imagine that can feel good, to know you’re putting out products that will last a lifetime.
Kirk Bray: We like to think of our items as ones that will be passed down to the next generation. In fact, over the last couple of years, Chris has had parents ask him to write notes of provenance to include with their worn-in Billykirk item when the time comes to pass it down. That kind of connection is about as good as it gets.
I hear you guys are into vintage finds. Found anything interesting lately?
KB: I found four Paul McCobb dining room chairs at a Salvation Army for $10 not that long ago. Thank goodness the previous owners recycled them. A perfect example of form, quality, and function.
You guys were just in design conference in Ireland. How important is it to build a sense of creative community?
CB: It’s refreshing to have conversations with customers who genuinely care how an item is made, where it’s made, and where the materials were sourced. This wasn’t the case a few short years ago, and I think speaks about the resurgence and relevance of the creative community you ask about.
What’s a typical day at Billykirk like?
CB: Depending on the time of year, we could be heavily engaged in designing, sourcing, preparing for a trade show, shipping … or, like this time of year, spending a good chunk of time on our web sales. Shipping throughout the world makes for a busy day.
Do you have creative outlets outside the shop?
KB: I am also a painter, mixed-media artist, and collector.
CB: I enjoy furniture restoration, photography, collecting art, flea markets, and jogging along the Delaware River with my oldest daughter Matilda and our dog, Tuck.
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