This tote is the creation of J. Stark, a Charleston-based manufacturer of hand-crafted goods made from leather, canvas & wool. They are ruggedly handsome.
Because the personality of these bags is so demonstrable, so affecting, I decided to find out more about the man behind the bags, J. Stark founder and craftsman, Erik Holmberg.
The J. Stark website states a simple vision: “We believe in real things made by real people. We believe in products that stand the test of time and earn the investment made in them. We believe in fair wages for hard work and opportunity for anyone willing to learn.”
In 2015, I caught up with Erik for a little insight into his approach. Now that he’s launched a new website and redesigned the Tremont Wine Tote — with a broader cut, for more room and greater versatility — I decided to post this short interview here.
WWM: How did you first decide to start working with leather?
ERIK HOLMBERG: I had been working in the tech industry since I graduated college and was looking for a way to use my hands to make physical products instead of digital.
My wallet was breaking down so I thought I might be able to make my own. I ordered some leather and made my first wallet and it was terrible.
On nights and weekends I kept working at it until I made something I was comfortable giving to a friend. When I gave it to him I saw the way his face lighted up and I was instantly hooked.
In describing your inspirations, you refer to "the beautifully scarred years of youth." How does that play out in your designs?
Your scars and imperfections are what help you grow and make you unique. I use a lot of worn looking leathers and fabrics so that people aren't afraid to rough it up themselves and make the product uniquely theirs.
Who do you admire most as a craftsperson?
Great question! I guess I look up to brands more than people, because you never know who is making the products. In my case, I have made every single product we sell at least once.
I really like what Filson is doing, Rogue Territory, and Knickerbocker MFG. They make tough and really usable products with a workwear influence.
What new goods are you working on now?
I have a few new bags I'm working through, a messenger and a tote with a shoulder strap. I also have a new line of home goods using chambrays and denims in the kitchen and bath, places you don't normally see these fabrics being used.
Which two bottles would you put in a J. Stark wine tote?
1981 Lopez de Heredia "Viña Tondonia" Gran Reserva Rioja
2013 Lioco Sativa Carignan