Brothers Chris and Kirk Bray have been producing handmade leather goods for the last ten years. What can their craft teach us about the value of products in a throwaway society?
Chris and Kirk Bray launched Billykirk from Los Angeles in 1999, learning their craft from a third generation leather maker. A simple fascination with leather watch straps started the business, and a decade later their collection has flourished into other offerings that consists of bags, belts, shoes, wallets, hats and other accessories.
Chris and Kirk’s discussion about the longevity of products – things that last and can be passed on from generation to generation – seems so foreign to my generation, who has grown up on a throwaway society.
My wife’s grandmother has had her bedframe since she and her husband got married almost 50 years ago. It has a nice patina, but it doesn’t look like it’s ready for the dump. It has character. It has a story.
I compare that to the bedframe I got from IKEA five years ago. It’s glued together saw dust wrapped in a faux-wood laminate. Basically a giant sticker. When it gets bumped and scratched, it doesn’t pick up character. It gets damaged.
I’d be surprised if it last 20 years. But it was never intended to.
The stuff you can buy at places like IKEA and Target are beautiful, modern and inexpensive. But they’re designed to be thrown away. They won’t be in style in 20 years. In 2032, they’ll look like shag carpet and wood paneling do today.
Part of what makes heirloom products heirloomable is not just that they’re made to be durable. It’s that they’re made to be timeless. The styles aren’t trendy. They’re not retro. They’re just classic.
The stuff James Dean wore would look just as fashionable on someone today. The stuff Chandler wore on Friends would not.
So the question is, are we as consumers willing to pay more for timeless goods that last a lifetime, or do we actually prefer disposable goods that we can replace every five or ten years?
Hat tip to Swiss Miss