Finding your core kit

Two companies share how they tracked down the tools needed to build their business in the early years.
finding your core kit Billykirk hero 16x9

Brothers Chris and Kirk Bray founded their leather accessories and bag brand in 1999.

‘Our mentor, Arnold Arons of Arons Manufacturing in Los Angeles, took us under his wing in 1999 when we first formed Billykirk. He taught us the basics of leather craft, from skiving leather and setting snaps to burnishing edges and working a hydraulic clicker press. His knowledge and friendship was invaluable. He also taught us how to use Jacques shears – essentially an oversized paper cutter. This important piece of tabletop machinery allows the leather worker to cut large skins of leather into smaller, more manageable pieces. 

‘Fortunately, Arnold’s grandfather, who started Arons Manufacturing, had purchased two in the forties. When we finally outgrew the space we had at Arnold’s factory and were opening our own design studio in downtown LA, we talked him into selling us one of the Jacques shears for $850. He also agreed to take instalments of $100 per month. Now, 20 years later, we still use it regularly.

‘Two more tools that epitomise Billykirk are the cobbler’s hammer and the weighted rawhide maul. Both serve multiple purposes, from stamping leather designs to cutting belt tips and holes into hides. In fact, in 2004 when updating our original logo, we chose to use the hammer and maul criss-crossed. 

‘The maul we used for inspiration in our logo was acquired in the early 2000s from a WWII veteran named Leonard Goldsholl, who founded Mayfair Industries in North Hollywood in the fifties. He was an interesting character – he sold wide leather watch straps and cuffs up and down the coast of California in the sixties, seventies and eighties; hippies and punk rockers all had his wares. This maul was included in a group lot of cutting dies, tools and a large rack system he used for stocking his belts. We paid around $200 for everything. We’re very fortunate to carry on the tradition with the same weighted maul that Leonard wielded more than 60 years ago.’

‘We talked our mentor into selling us one of the Jacques shears for $850, in monthly instalments. Now, 20 years later, we still use it regularly.’
Dawson Denim

Kelly Dawson and Scott Ogden make workwear and accessories from Japanese selvedge denim in their workshop in Brighton, UK.

‘In 2014, when we purchased our second-generation Union Special 43200G chain stitch hemming machine – considered the holy grail for denim-heads – we knew we had arrived. After searching for more than six months, we had a tip-off that there was a workshop closing in northern Italy and they were selling off their machines. 

‘We hurriedly purchased the machine head, without the 3-phase motor, for £2,400 (it’s worth much more now). It dates back to 1957 and, because of a design fault, creates a roping effect on the hem that was corrected by the sixties on the third-generation machine. This is the kind of detail that denim-heads demand. 

‘Upon receiving the machine, we had our technician service it and mount it on an eco-motor which, if run all day long, uses the same amount of energy as a desk lamp.’

This article was first published in How to Start a Business 2021. To become a subscriber or purchase our newest guide, head to our webshop.

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