Destination | Horween Factory, Chicago

There are very few, if not any, tanneries that carry the same reputation for creating leathers of the utmost quality as Chicago’s Horween. They are the proverbial cream of the crop of tanneries, which needless to say, is the reason I’ve been a fan of their products for quite some time now and is why I choose to work with their leathers for Truman. Family owned and operated in Chicago for over a century, they are currently the only domestic tannery and only one of two in the world to be producing Shell Cordovan. They also developed and are the exclusive producers of the infamous Chromexcel, which is world renown for it’s buttery texture and incredible pull-up.

I was rolling through Chicago on our fall tour and they were kind enough to let me stop by and take a look at the tannery to see first-hand where my leather comes from. A HUGE thanks to John Culliton who took a good chunk of time out of his day to walk me through the entire factory and explain in rich detail everything that was happening. I am the smallest of small when it comes to companies they work with but they really went out of their way to accommodate my visit and to me, that really shows they care about what they do. A big cheers to the good folks at Horween. Here’s a little bit of how my tour went:

The factory itself was built in the late 1800′s and was a tannery from the get-go. Horween was established in 1905 by Isadore Horween and had moved into their current location by 1920. So the building itself has been producing leather for well over a century. The history is rich and you can definitely feel it in the air as you walk through the multiple levels of the tannery.

We started in the basement, where raw hides are brought in, folded and stacked on pallets. This is where it all starts.

I watched as two guys unfolded a horsehide, spread it out on a table (hair, mane and all) and started dividing it up into different cuts, starting at the hind area for the rounds that in a few months will end up being the prized Shell Cordovan.

From there, the cuts all go into giant cement mixers filled with water and lime where they tumble around and have all the hair and remaining bits of flesh removed.

After this process, they get separated into different vats — a giant barrel filled with chrome liquor for the chrome-tanned stuff, and big square vats filled with a mixture of water and vegetable matter (tree bark, etc) for veg-tanned stuff. Some of the hides sit here for months.

The chrome-tanned hides come out of their initial stage in a light blue hue, therefore being dubbed “blues” at this point. The blues then get graded, sorted and split down to different weights.

Every hide is custom split to a specific weight here in the beginning stages of tanning as opposed to after the fact like a lot of tanneries do. This of course is done for a reason — to ensure maximum uniformity in weight (thickness) and a clean, uniformly tanned flesh side.

The hides that are to be Chromexcel are at that point sent into giant barrels filled with a variety of hot natural waxes and oils to be “hot-stuffed”, which means the oils and waxes penetrate deep into the hide creating the pull-up affect.

The Chromexcel is then over-dyed and spread by hand to ensure uniformity.

At their final stages, leather is then hung or spread out to dry for several weeks.

For Chromexcel, the very last step is a bath in neatsfoot oil, which accounts for it’s oily, waxy hand.

After the last active step of Shell Cordovan, it’s stacked to let it age for several months. That’s right, they finish producing the leather and then actually let it sit there for another few months because they feel that the product is best after aging a little bit. That to me is the utmost in concern for quality over quantity. It would suit them best to keep moving product out of their factory but instead, they opt to let it sit there for months, taking up precious real estate in their factory because they feel it makes for the best product. Awesome.

They are also the official tannery for NFL football leather as well as basketball leather.

Note the “W” for Wilson embossed on the leather.

On top of all this, they are still progressive — trying out new formulas and coming up with new leathers. It’s no wonder why the name Horween has become synonymous with quality and I’m proud to be using their hides for Truman.

Destination | Apolis: Common Gallery, Los Angeles

I know it’s been said over and over again but the guys at Apolis are some of the nicest and more genuine people you’ll meet. I met up with Shea Foley for lunch and a little visit to their newest venture — their flagship brick & mortar dubbed, Common Gallery, nestled just around the corner from their former HQ in the arts district of downtown LA.

The space is beautifully done and it’s really something to see their entire product line in one place. Always clean, functional, simultaneously classic and progressive, philanthropic and forward-thinking, they are without a doubt one of my favorite brands out there. If you’re in the area, make sure to drop in and say hello.

Apolis: Common Gallery
806 East 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90013

Exhibition | Mottainai: The Fabric of Life @ Portland Japanese Garden

We just passed through Portland, OR on our tour and my wife and kids drove down from Vashon to hang out for the day.  We took a trip to the Portland Japanese Garden and besides the sheer beauty, inexplicable calm, and for me, the tinge of nostalgia I feel in traditional Japanese settings, I happened to stumble upon perhaps the coolest exhibition I could’ve ever stumbled upon.  I just about lost my mind when I saw all the patchwork boro and aizome (indigo-dyed) fabrics hanging in a room through a pair of sliding glass doors.  A room full of antique Japanese folk textiles.  Antique…Japanese…Folk…Textiles.  Each of those words alone puts my nerd-out into overdrive.

I didn’t get to spend even a fraction of the time I would have wanted to in there since we had our kids with us, but I blew through the exhibition and took in as much as I could.  I loved everything about it.  I go nuts over traditional Japanese fabrics and especially traditional aizome indigo.  I also found out later that the exhibition was largely comprised of Stephen Szczepanek’s private collection who’s site and blog is a frequent visit of mine (and if I would keep up more with my internet reading, I would have known about this ahead of time).

If you live in the area I would highly recommend a visit.  I’m almost considering a trip back down after I get home since the exhibition will still be running.  Here’s an excerpt from the exhibition’s page detailing more about the fabrics and history behind it all:

“This exhibition of antique Japanese folk textiles from the Meiji period (1868-1912) is comprised of selections from the private collections of Stephen Szczepanek (suh-PAN-ecks) of Sri in Brooklyn and Kei Kawasaki of Gallery Kei in Kyoto. The exhibition demonstrates the remarkable ability of the Japanese to not only make do with the very little they had, but to make art with it.

For generations before the “Economic Miracle” took place in the decades following World War II, Japan was a poor country. People recycled everything. Nothing was wasted, and the word “mottainai” (waste nothing!) was a ubiquitous exclamation used by every frugal parent to warn children about wasting a bite of food or a scrap of cloth or paper.

All of the textiles and garments on view were made from bast fibers foraged from the forest, or patched and quilted together from second-hand scraps of cotton garments of city-dwellers who traded their hand-me-downs with the farmers for rice and vegetables.

The exhibition represents a wide variety of traditional textile making and decorating techniques, including sashiko stitching, bast fiber weaving and dyeing, and patchwork quilting, the latter referred to as boro.”

“Kei explains, “The old adage about saving patches of cloth large enough to wrap 3 beans came from a time when all textiles were precious. People in pre-industrial Japan would patch together various bits of cloth in long rolls. Until the modern era, cotton was difficult to come by in rural areas, especially in northern Japan. Farmers’ clothes were made from hand-spinning such things as linden bark, wisteria vines and kudzu vines. Used washi paper was also cut into strips, hand-spun and woven with cotton to create shifu, an excellent light textile with subtle black highlights from the sumi ink inscriptions written on the paper during its earlier ‘incarnation.’ Nothing was wasted.”

Editor’s note: It’s interesting that the term “mottainai” and the frugality it represents still resonates with the Japanese.  It was a term I heard frequently growing up and still remember my mom making me finish literally every single grain of rice, telling me, “Mottainai.  The farmers worked hard over every grain of rice.  It’s not to be wasted.”  Clearly a leftover sentiment from economically insulated and post-war Japan.

The exhibition will be held until Nov 27th.  Here’s the official site for more info.

Destination | Truman@Hickoree’s, Brooklyn + Misc NYC

We had a day off in NY so I ended up staying in Brooklyn with some dear friends. I had the pleasure of meeting Chris and Lindsey of Stanley & Sons who were kind enough to let me drop into their studio for a visit. I also got to drop into my buddy Nate’s studio where he’s cooking up some delicious wearables for you all (not sure how much I can say but I’ll follow up on this when the time comes), stop by Blue Bottle for a necessary caffeine fix, and finally, visit the new brick and mortar Hickoree’s shop to drop off some more Truman goods and see the space. I’ve said this before, but I’m very honored to be a part of the amazing stock at Hickoree’s and it was really cool to be able to see my stuff sitting amongst all the other great product in person. The space is a must see if you’re ever in the area. Thanks NY…’till next time.

By the way, that’s shop owner Emil’s personal Minimalist Bifold in the bottom left corner – aged a few months and now displayed alongside the new stock. Pretty cool.

Destination | Truman@Art in the Age, Philly

Art in the Age asked me if I wanted to be a part of one of their monthly installations and having been to the store before and being a fan, I was more than up for it.  I happen to be on tour at the moment and was able to drop by the shop to see the installation in person.  I’m definitely honored to be part of a great installation with other inspirational people (Bob being one of them) and am very pleased to see my stuff stocked alongside many other great brands in a great store doing great things.  Great.  I finally got to meet up with Bob for some drinks and hang time as well.  Greater.

p.s. Thanks for the bottle of Root guys!

Blackberries!

Blackberries spread like the plague here on Vashon and I never thought I’d say this, but they really are quite a nuisance.  They’ve got nasty thorns all over and they’ll sprout a foot overnight.  I’d been battling them all spring/summer but the berries finally started ripening about a month ago and they have officially earned their keep in my yard.  They’re really tasty.  They’re everywhere.

We’ve been harvesting them near daily and haven’t even come close to putting an inkling of a dent in them.  It takes me maybe 15-20 mins to come back with 2 lbs worth.

Plus they’re healthy — antioxidant packed, 100% organic (wild-grown so that’s a given), blah blah.  Back in Cali, we’d pay $3-$4 for a tiny little box of them, probably just several ounces worth.  So anyway, one thing we’ve been doing with them is jamming them.  It’s fairly easy.

 A quick rinse.

Mash ‘em up.

Bring to a healthy simmer.

Add sugar/lemon and reduce.

Get stoked.

Blackberries for months.

Fly Fishing | Katmai National Park, Alaska

Anchorage, AK.  12:00 AM.

I landed in Anchorage around 11:30 PM, the sun was still just considering setting and I was immediately reminded of just how far north I was.  It was my first time in Alaska and having only seen it’s stunning landscape and wildlife in pictures and TV shows, I was pretty stinking excited to finally be setting foot on it’s rich and mostly unblemished soil.

I met up with the male side of my in-laws (father and brother) and we flew out the next morning on a vintage Navajo (small 9 passenger twin propellor engine plane) to head for Kulik lodge, a small fishing lodge nestled on the edge of Kulik lake in Katmai National Preserve. Flying down to the landing strip, I really got a sense of just how remote we were — not a single imprint of human presence as far as the eye can see, other than the dirt and gravel airstrip ahead of us and a tiny, winding dirt road that lead to a small cluster of cabins at the edge of the lake.

Katmai National Preserve, AK

We touched down and were greeted by a handful of warm and friendly staff, then hopped in an old beat up Ford van for a quick ride down to the lodges. We were sent directly to the dinner lodge for a warm lunch, then a quick registration/orientation, and we were off fishing, just like that.

Our cabin, Kulik Lodge.

The rest of that day and the next were spent fishing there in the Kulik river — a 1.5 mile stretch of shallow river that sees an enormous amount of Sockeye Salmon returning to spawn every summer and an abundance of Rainbow Trout, who like to feed on the salmon roe. By the time the salmon reach the Kulik they have fully completed their gnarly, werewolf-like metamorphasis and are no longer good to eat, nor will they take a fly, but the trout are-a-plentiful and are a ton of fun to catch.

Kulik River

We did a fly-out on our third day and caught a tiny 5 passenger pontoon plane out to the Kamishak river, just about 20 mins away.

Packed into the pontoon Cessna, flying out to the Kamishak river.  

Alaskan sunrise from the air.  

The flight alone was worth the trip. It’s truly humbling when you see just how grand and beautiful the Earth can be. Following the breathtaking plane ride was another equally breathtaking boat ride up the river. Pictures just don’t do it justice.

Glacier, taken from the air.

Aerial view of one of the hundreds of small waterfalls.

Landing in the Kamishak river near the Kamishak bay to start our boat trip up river.

We reached a spot where our guide thought would be promising and it was on. I have never (and will likely never again) experienced anything like it — we were hooking fish left and right. Char, Chum Salmon, a couple Pink Salmon, and most importantly, a handful of Silver (Coho) Salmon which 1) we were allowed to keep, and 2) had just barely swam in from salt water and were still fresh (un-scifi movie-ed). So new to the river in fact, that we were one of the first of the season to hook any. It was hardly even fishing (I mean that in the best way possible). I stumbled on a spot were literally every 1-3 casts, I would hook a Char or Chum. I actually ended up moving because it was just too much.

Fly fishing!

The Chum were the feistiest of the fish and really put up a hard fight…and we caught a lot. It got to the point where if I saw a chum chasing my fly, I’d stop stripping the line to stop drawing it’s attention. The Silver were fun to hook as well because they were much more rare, they were keepers, and they put up a decent fight as well. Lots of acrobatics. We honestly caught probably 100+ fish between the three of us just in that day. I also got to check off one of my life-goals — eat a piece of salmon sashimi river-side, fresh as it can possibly get.

Filleting a Coho Salmon (Silver) river-side.  Note the roe.  

Yes it was delicious.  

The bear were a-plenty there on the Kamishak as well. I’d never been as close to a large wild animal as I was to these guys. Oh, and they’re Kodiaks, aka Grizzlies. They’re BIG. In fact, the Grizzly Man documentary/movie was shot in the same range just several miles away. They seemingly had no fear of man and would lumber slowly toward you as if you weren’t really even there. They would go about their business and hardly even acknowledge our presence, but still, you couldn’t help but feel a bit uneasy when something that powerful is just 20 yards away. By the end of the day though, we were fairly used to it.

One of many Kodiaks we encountered.

Remains of a Kodiak on the side of the river, most likely killed in a bear fight.  It’s guts were eaten out and gulls were picking on it.  Grizzly sight….zing.  

The lodge is a family operated business that has been in operation since the 50′s, with three different lodges (Grosvenor, Brooks, and Kulik) in the region. Kulik lake and river are known worldwide for it’s sockeye salmon run and unbelievable rainbow trout fishing.  Grosvenor is the smallest and most secluded compound, with a max capacity of something like 6 adults.  Brooks lodge is located right on the Brooks river, which is home to Brooks falls, where the iconic bear-lazily-standing-on-edge-of-small-waterfall-as-salmon-hop-up-into-their-mouths photos/videos are taken.  Our stay at Kulik was perfect — amazing fishing, friendly staff, knowledgeable and helpful guides, an overabundance of tasty meals — well worth a recommendation.  I really hope to do this again some day.

The water was pretty cold as it was literally melted snow coming right off the mountains.  

A little vintage sartorial inspiration.  So good.  

Kulik lodge.