About a month ago I had the good fortune of visiting Frank Clegg Leatherworks. Which to my mind makes some of, if not the, finest and most tasteful leathergoods in America.
Frank’s journey started a few decades ago when his then girlfriend (now wife) bought him some leather working tools and he started making some stuff. He thought he’d try it for 6 months or so and while on a leather sourcing trip to Boston he met a couple who contracted him to make some bags. That was 1974. Frank did business with that couple for over 30 years.
Over the span of my visit Frank and I covered more subjects than I had planned to. Frank is more than just a man who makes leather bags. He loves music, the entire time I was there music provided the backdrop for the workshop; Lynyrd Skynyrd was the selection for most of my time there. Additionally, he makes guitars (which unfortunately are not for sale) and leather masks (photos below). But at the end of the day the leather goods are what Frank is known for. And they are, from the impression I got, what he is most passionate and proud about.
The operation at Frank Clegg Leatherworks is nothing extravagant or awe inspiring. But humble and purpose driven. The shop occupies a small room in a rather large unassuming building (that I believe used to be a textile factory). To the outsider the workshop looks like a disorganized menagerie or tools, toys and hides. But it became evident that there was a rhythm and structure to it all.
To the left there are the shipping bags, finished goods and hides. Most notably there was a pile of American alligator in a beautiful red-brown, Frank told me he stains those hides himself. I need something made in that leather. To the right are the offices and photography station. And to the center and beyond are the workstations and majority of tools. The most prominent feature of the room is the cutting table. Which is a marvel of technology in an otherwise old school setting. Although some goods are cut by dye or hand, most are cut using this table.
The process is simple. the table suctions the leather to the table so it will not move meanwhile the images of the patterns to be cut are projected on the table and can be moved around and rotated as needed. Then the patterns are cut out by an automated arm that criss crosses the table. The benefit over this type of cutting is reduced waste and faster cutting times.
The stitching and construction of the bags is still done by machine or hand and all of the edges are finished by hand. In fact, for some bags more time is spent finishing the edges of bags as is spent constructing them.
The operation at Frank Clegg Leatherworks is now, and has always been, a family affair. In the past Frank worked with his parents, but now his two sons Andrew and Ian work with him. Frank’s legacy will live on not only in his products that will last generations, but also through his sons; whom I gathered felt a sense of duty and pride in carrying forward their father’s legacy. But I suppose there is more to it than that and perhaps Frank said it best when reflecting on his view on the current state of American craftsmanship, “the thing that I really enjoy is that the feeling is now like the 70’s. We all did it because it’s what we wanted to do.” Isn’t that the goal of every man? To do what he wants to do? At least that’s mine…
Note: FYGblog received a phone case as a gift when visiting the workshop, but no compensation was paid in exchange for this post. That said, this post was done out of appreciation for the finer things in life and men’s style.