Nicholas Hollows: Leatherworking On the West Coast
I recently I had the pleasure of catching up with Nicolas Hollows of Hollows Leather, about his process and philosophy behind his leatherwork. If you aren't familiar with Nicolas' work, you're missing out and should stop what you're doing right now and go check it out. His work is clean, stitching is beautiful and styling rings true to his personal brand. Read the Q&A below to find out how Nicolas went from finding a box of leather tools to becoming a successful leatherworker. And at the end he also give his insiders tip on design inspiration where he manages to reference permaculture, airplanes and Bob Ross in the same sentence.
You have to match the leather to the project, or the project to the leather.
Where are you from and has that played a part in your leather work?
I did the bulk of my growing up in rural Minnesota, and moved to Minneapolis at age 18. I lived there until last year, I just relocated to the west coast. I don't think that my location influenced my work directly, but I think that all of the background flavor of the midwest and my childhood has made it into the work in less-visible ways. It shaped me, and so it must shape the work, but I'm not sure I can say how.
What is your favorite type of leather to work with and why?
It's hard to pick a favorite, because no leather excels in all scenarios. You have to match the leather to the project, or the project to the leather. I'm a big fan of Horween's Natural Chromexcel though, and I use it for most of my personal projects. I love the color, and I love how it wears over time. I'm always trying to imagine a better leather by combining attributes from various favorites.
Could you tell us how you went from someone who inherited a box of leather and tools to a skilled leatherworker? Was it time and practice or did you have outside resources that your work benefited from?
When I was first starting up, the resources online were pretty scarce. Most of the sites and forums were heavily focused on saddlery and carving skills, which aren't quite in my wheelhouse. We had a great little community thread going on the Superfuture forums, but the overlords there squashed it. I learned a lot from the guys in that thread, especially Eric at Corter Leather and Ray at The Blackacre. I would have loved to have the YouTube guides that I've seen popping up more recently, but I had to suffer through a lot of mistakes and experimentation. It might be best that way. I still learn new things all the time, and there are huge areas of style and technique that I haven't delved into yet, but I'm grateful that my guesses these days are more educated than they were early on.
What were you doing as a profession, before leatherwork?
I was working as a bicycle mechanic. I had just finished up the brazing class at United Bicycle Institute and was looking to get into frame building. I'm more passionate about 'making' than I am about leather, so I think I could have been content working in various mediums.
A wallet inspired by your love of architecture, airplanes, permaculture, or Bob Ross is going to be much more interesting than a wallet inspired by your love of wallets.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Being a one man show means that my days are all over the place. I have to do ordering, packing, shipping, emails, and all that stupid business stuff as well as the actual design and leathercraft. On a good day, I'll get the desk work done early, spend the middle of the day prepping projects for stitching, then assembling stuff in the evening. Audio books are the oil that keeps all of the machine parts turning.
Could you give us a quick insiders leatherworking tip?
The strongest piece of advice I can give is to look outside of leatherwork for your inspiration. Clever design, function, and aesthetics can come from anywhere. If all of your biggest inspirations are other leatherworkers, the creative waters will get very stagnant. A wallet inspired by your love of architecture, airplanes, permaculture, or Bob Ross is going to be much more interesting than a wallet inspired by your love of wallets.
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If you or someone you know is making cool leatherwork let me know about it.