Monday, June 14, 2010

The Billykirk boys

Chris & Kirk are the brothers behind "Billykirk", which was formed in 1999. The two claim that they always knew they would own a company together and it would be called, “Billykirk.” The brand's name actually came from their father, who called Kirk, (whose full name is William Kirkland) "Billykirk". They also base this on their Southern roots and the melding of the first and middle names. The concept was always brewing. Kirk had just graduated from design school and was signing his paintings “Billykirk” . At the same time, Chris had also begun designing furniture and houseware items under that name. They moved from Minnosota to LA and the rest is history.
Taking references from items found during the two's frequent thrift and antique shop visits, Chris remembers the day he and Kirk stumbled into a pawn shop in Los Angeles and walked out with a nicely worn, wide 1970’s watch strap. Somewhat surprisingly, Kirk got a lot of compliments and inquiries while wearing it at a coffee shop he worked at. That’s when the light bulb went on. Kirk recalls, "I remember the day I went to my brother’s office and I said, let’s make these.” He picked up the yellow pages and within a day or so, they were buying leather and learning the trade.

Chris states, "I think we were ahead of the trend on the resurgence of the wide watch straps. Soon after our first collection hit the shelves in 1999 everyone from Guess to Gucci was making them again". Since then, the line has expanded into belts, wallets, satchels, travel bags and housewares.

When developing the concept of their brand, they knew, first and foremost, that their collection had to have a clear mission. Their thinking was that no matter what,  they designed,  it would have to be cohesive and flow nicely from one style to the next.  This perhaps, was one of the smartest conceptual ideas they had in the beginning and one that guides them in all of our designs. We also decided early on that our brand would only use top quality leather and hardware. It was paramount that we started with a decent product that we felt proud to make and wear. We knew that if you started with a cheaply made item and then wanted to change into a higher-end item you would most surely fail.

The pair says it was like going back to the early 1900’s. "Our mentor was very understanding and a great teacher. He literally showed us how to put a rivet on a belt. We had this incredible space to go to each day for free"! They were surrounded by all of their grandfather's tools and machines and had nothing stopping them for exploring and creating. "We owe him a lot".

Chris & Kirk stayed in LA for a little over 3 years and have since relocated to the East Coast, where much of their collection is made by a group of Amish leather workers in Pennsylvania. "It has, no doubt, been one of the most interesting business relationships of our career" Chris proclaims.

The brothers admit that working with the Amish leather workers for a week will really open your eyes. "They are not distracted by anything the world's marketing machine is currently pumping out. They have no idea who the Rolling Stones are or that we are at war. It is essentially the 1870's, aside from the hum of a large Honda generator looking out of place in one of the corners". The generator is allowed since gas since it is from the earth.

Most of the leather they use is domestic or Italian in origin and is vegetable dyed in the tradition of the old West. It is ideal for our designs because of its durability and how it changes and ages over time. Vegetable dying is also better for the environment than chrome dying. They are also looking into offering a collection of eco-friendly, 'green' leathers as well.

Billykirk's leather is hand treated with natural oils and beeswax so that over time the patina that the leather achieves is beautiful. "Working with leather reminds me of my youth and learning how to "season" my winter boots and baseball glove. We would also get all sorts of old leather things from our uncle from old knives with leather sheaths to his old Vietnam boots. We both have always liked leather and its many uses", Kirk recalls. The two's main goal is to create original leather goods that stand the test of time both in design and functionality. I for one, have no doubt that people will still appreciate these designs 20-30 years from now. The pair has recently had the opportunity to have some great experiences collaborating with various companies like Levis, Vans Vault, Hollander & Lexer, Earnest Sewn, Lutz & Patmos, Henry Duarte, Unis, Zune and Noah.

To find out more about "Billykirk" or purchase their products, please visit them at

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