The craftsman movement going on right now is absolutely amazing. I'm starting to see a generation of people who are getting back to the basics and making things with their hands (or supporting people who do), whether it be clothes, accessories, bags, or anything really. It's encouraging to see so many people care about investing in one quality item versus having hundreds of poor quality items. Founded earlier this year by Erik Holmberg, J. Stark in Charleston, SC is no exception. From the ground up, Erik has built a company on a firm foundation, crafting amazing goods from some of the finest leather and wool around.
One of the things I appreciate most about Erik and this brand is their commitment to quality, customer experience and each product fulfilling a purpose. He's not just making things because he can, he's filling the void with care for the customer, quality goods and a vibrant culture that you will want to be a part of.
Below is a brilliant Q&A with founder, Erik Holmberg. Also, be sure to check out the shop and support this amazing brand...you'll be glad you did.
Ladies and Gentleman, please meet Erik Holmberg.
Erik: I'm from a small suburb outside of Cleveland, Ohio called Brecksville. My parents moved me and my two older sisters there from Cleveland so we could get a better education. They pretty much based their whole existence on trying to give us a better life than they had. They set a great example of selflessness for me now that I look back.
8 years ago I moved the Charleston for more sunshine and the ability to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. It's been a tremendous opportunity for growth and one of the best decisions I've ever made. Now that I've lived by the ocean, I'm not sure I can live away from it. The creative and maker movement in Charleston is growing exponentially, and there is a great support system here for entrepreneurs.
Kirk: What is one of your favorite things about the city you grew up in.
Erik: Tough to pick just one! I would have to say the buildings downtown, especially the area called the Mall. It was planned out by a well known architect Daniel Burnham, who also planned the Chicago world's fair and then the city of Chicago. The style for the buildings is neoclassical, which seems to take pieces from the old but also includes progression. This ideology is the basis for a lot of the work I do with J. Stark.
Kirk: What has been (so far) your favorite aspect of living in Charleston?
Erik: Proximity, i.e. the closeness of everything. I've learned that the closer you are to things, the more you'll take advantage of them. I can easily walk to most of the things I'm interested in around Charleston and bike from one side of the peninsula to the other in 10 minutes, regardless of traffic. The city has a small feel but big ambitions.
Kirk: Switching over to J. Stark, how did you come up with that name, and the names for your products?
Erik: With any type of work I do, I want to connect with people. The best way I can think of to connect with people is through shared experience and being vulnerable. The name J. Stark comes from the character James Dean played in Rebel Without a Cause.
In that movie he's a teenager, and we've all been through those difficult teenage years and experiences. Where we try to fit in yet find ourselves. We question authority and break the rules. We have so much raging inside of us and we are just trying to live and figure it all out the best we can.
I want the brand to embrace this vulnerability and use it to let people know they aren't alone.
Kirk: What inspired your transition from your previous work to starting J. Stark?
Erik: Most of my professional career has been in the tech world, but I've always had a fondness for manual labor and working with my hands. There is something very fulfilling about having a physical impact on the world around you.
When I was 5 I built a bicycle out of spare parts lying around and when I was 16 I fixed parts of my car that would break. I hope I never lose that childlike wonder for how things work and how they are made.
So, with this ability to work with my hands, I wanted to find a way to use that to produce physical goods.
My goods usually start from a need or purpose... I need to carry this, I need to hold this, etc... I don't want to put useless products into the world.
I think if you've captured the essence of the need or purpose and taken great care in the crafting of the good, the aesthetics of it will fall in line effortlessly.
Kirk: For the readers who might be hearing your name for the first time, what products do you currently sell and what products do you hope to introduce in the near future?
Erik: Most of my goods rights now are based on leather or wool. Currently in the online shop I have 4 types of wallets, a key fob, belts, and pouches.
In the near future I will be carrying watch straps, wool and canvas totes and messenger bags.
I think there is a real opportunity to create a streamlined messenger now that people are using smaller laptops and/or tablets.
Kirk: What is your hope for J. Stark as it relates to culture and your customers?
Erik: In terms of culture I hope people see what I'm making and want to go out and make things themselves. When you give someone something you've made with your hands, the reaction is visceral and it gives you a high.
I hope people buy things local or US made.
I hope people buy 1 thing that last a long time instead of buying 3 of the same thing that wears out quickly.
I hope I stay in business long enough to see people's photos of my goods and their individual stories told through the scratches and wear on them.
Kirk: What does your daily routine look like from morning to night?
Erik: I'm a morning guy so I wake up pretty early. Coffee is my favorite morning routine. No matter how shitty of a day it is, you always have that cup of coffee that you know will be great.
Right now I split my time between Steadybuilt and J. Stark. So I'm either building websites or goods. Since I work for myself I keep pretty long hours.
I try to do 1 active thing during the day, so I'll run, bike the Ravenel Bridge, or surf.
If I'm caught up on work I'll try to grab food or drinks with good people.
Kirk: In your opinion, what is the most important accessory a man should own?
Erik: I would have to say a timeless and classic tie. There are so many important occasions a man will need a tie for. Weddings, funerals, first dates, job interviews... If you think about all these significant events and what's constant about them... a tie.
Kirk: Charleston has so many good drink and dining options, what is your favorite place to dine and drink?
Erik: To dine - The Ordinary. To drink - Bin 152
Kirk: If you could live in one city outside of the U.S. where would you choose to go?
Erik: When I was 25 I had the opportunity to travel abroad but instead drove my car across the US and back, so I haven't had a lot of travel outside of the US.
Wherever it is, the people would be laid back, genuine, and caring... and it would be by the ocean.
I've seen pictures of Santorini and I've always had the urge to visit. Maybe that's it?