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.
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.
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.
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.
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