Made to last, a leather maker duo from Jersey City

You may recognize Chris and Kirk as the brothers from the cover of the founding issue of Eighty Mag. For us, they are part of a daily routine - we see them every day, passing in front of our store, walking to their atelier, waving a friendly hello, and always smiling. So we decided to invite Billykirk to kick off the Cross-Craft pop-up store at Bucket & Bay.

Here is a short introduction to these two Jersey City artisans.

Chris (left) and Kirk (right) Bray  have been working in the commercial studios at 150 Bay street for more than 5 years, before that they used to work out of Kirk's studio at 140 Bay.

Chris (left) and Kirk (right) Bray  have been working in the commercial studios at 150 Bay street for more than 5 years, before that they used to work out of Kirk's studio at 140 Bay.

Their craft maker story started more than 15 years ago, on the west coast, almost accidentally. Kirk purchased a vintage watch strap from an antique store, and after receiving many compliments on it, he talked his brother Chris into starting a business, making watch straps and other unique leather products.

B: OK, so you liked the strap, but why did you think you have the talent to make leather goods?

Ch: Our dad use to make leather scabbards, we were making all sort of leather stuff when we were little, so it was not a long stretch to make a little leather strap. It is just like a small belt. We knew we could make that.

B: What products did you initially start with?

Ch: The first product was wide watch straps and leather cuffs. We had 3 different widths and 3 different colors, a very small collection to start with in 1999.

K: Our collection now is still not very big, as we are a small operation, but we have more products, both from leather and canvas, all handmade in the US. And we use hide from tanneries, and hardware made in the US.

(BTW Kirk is a local artist whose work is on show often in Jersey City, currently displayed at the Hamilton Square Gallery located at 232 Pavonia Ave. through August.)

Billykirk atelier at the landmark Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Headquarters in the Powerhouse District, Jersey City

Billykirk atelier at the landmark Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Headquarters in the Powerhouse District, Jersey City

B: What was your first order?

Beyond friends and family, our first store was a place called Cricket West, in Ohio. We just went to a trade show and we got lucky, our product was unique and we got a deal. It was pretty exciting! We were still finalizing our logo and product, and then we got the first order, so it was quite encouraging..

B: What is on your logo?

K: A hammer and a mallet.

B: What is a mallet?

K: A weighted hammer with a leather around it…. It is weighted, so it is easier to work with for punching things.

Here it is a mallet, in the hands of Chris Bray.

Here it is a mallet, in the hands of Chris Bray.

B: What inspires your designs?

We are inspired by vintage, and in particularly military stuff… they made everything so well in the military – so functional and durable. Our most memorable vintage find was a military map case, which we loved so much that we used it as a model for some of our hardware.

B: When did you come to Jersey City

Ten years ago, in 2005. We had just relocated from California, and were looking for a place… we were looking at Brooklyn and Manhattan, but then we stumbled upon Jersey City and it fit well!

B: Making a finished product requires a lot of skills, what is your favorite?

K: I like the stitching of the wallets. It took us a while to figure out how to stitch it right, but it is pretty satisfying, pretty quick, and satisfying as the finished product looks so good.

Ch: I like to stamp names, gives it a nice personal touch, which adds extra meaning to the item. But we do not do much of that as it adds a lot of logistics and planning.

B: Give me one cool Jersey City story.

K: Chris found a mortar shell in while working in his garden.

Ch: Yeah, it’s a 12 Pound Revolutionary War cannon ball. There was a lot of revolutionary activity in  Jersey City. It now sits on my mantel.  It was likely fired from Communipaw Cove by a British Gun Boat.  These 12 pounders could go up to 2 miles and my house at the time was less than 2 miles from that location.

A final look at the studio, with the classic picture of brotherly work on the wall. Working together for more than 10 years, every day.

A final look at the studio, with the classic picture of brotherly work on the wall. Working together for more than 10 years, every day.

 

B: Great,  thank you and thanks for helping us start the pop up series at Bucket & Bay!

You can find a curated selection of Billykirk items in our gelato cafe! Come check them out now! For a more comprehensive dive into their collection, you can go to their Flagship Store/ Showroom in the Lower East Side 16 Orchard Street, NY, NY 10002