I reached out to Barrett Alley back in 2010, almost immediately after I had discovered his products online. I didn’t know much about him or his stuff at the time, but I knew I liked what I saw. Unbeknownst to me, he had only just started his brand and it was in its first few months of taking off. Fast forward. Just a couple months ago, Barrett shot me a message, stating that he’d like to open up his doors to Carryology for a shop visit and a Road Test of one of his carry accessories (along with giving us access to watch him hand make the very wallet I’d be leaving with… more on that particular product towards the end here).
These kind of emails get us excited here at Carryology. It wasn’t more than a week until we chiseled out a spot in both our calendars for a shop visit that fit into both our schedules. His shop is a 4-hour drive from where I’m at, one way. Due North from Austin, he’s located in central Dallas, TX. Brian Takats, a talented photographer (and close friend) from Austin came along to photo document the entire process with his fancy professional DSLR camera, which was a treat, both for photos and for company on the 8-hour round-trip single day trek.
Thursday, just around lunchtime. We arrive to Barrett’s studio, nestled in a quiet residential area consisting of tasteful old stone and brick homes. This neighborhood looks more like a quaint village in the Northeast, not what you think of when you think “Dallas”. Green grass, ivy, landscaped yards, early 1900′s architecture. Barrett greets us at the door, with a friendly smile, hello, and handshake. It’s hard to maintain eye contact and conversation when your eyes are overwhelmed with so many unique interesting materials and objects that are placed around inside the room behind him.
The rich scent of leather takes over the nostrils. Around the shop, antiques and products (from various cultures, eras and worldly locations) decorate the interior. All of these items are handmade, an obvious nod to times where craft and quality were paramount.
Antique leather hockey gloves, handmade furniture, wooden chests with cast iron hardware, leather hiking boots, among others, all showing their beautiful patina that the years have left as evidence for the eyes to enjoy. An older model LCD monitor sits atop a bare desk. A simple and functional computer area, presumably for emails. Its obvious that this desk isn’t the work area where the majority of the time is spent. Barrett’s jeans are amazing, tasteful patches on top of patches. He explains later that this is an experiment to see how long one pair of denim jeans will last. Same with his boots. He’s interested to learn to see how things break down, so he can prevent that in his products. He wants all his products to last a lifetime, and they’re all created to do just that (but his products won’t require patches).
“If you’re an artist in a novel place, doing novel things, you’ll be successful. You’ll never be successful following the bread crumbs from someone else.” A little history on Barrett and his brand… he started sewing back in 2008 after doing a lot of 4-track recording of personal music projects, taking several textile and fashion courses, and then completing a 4 year degree in Chinese at UT Austin (he finds language extremely interesting). He was also working on a lot of web design projects at the time, which he admits, covered the bills but didn’t do anything for his intellectual side. Sometimes there is a calling, a time to stop doing what you dislike and start doing what you love. Barrett found his calling, and started perfecting his craft.
In 2010, he officially started his business under his own name. Barrett Alley had officially begun, with the philosophy of “this company is about the art of exploring new materials and premium quality craftsmanship”. Since day one, Barrett has done all of his own product photography, web design (he does have experience in this field after all), accounting, design, prototyping, handmade production, he joked “writing copy”, and all the other processes necessary to run a business. There are so many things involved with running a business that are overlooked. Its not as simple as ordering some leather, cutting it, sewing it, and selling it. So many more facets than one would expect.
All this, and Barrett Alley is just a one man, one woman shop. Barrett and his wife Camélia. They have previously tried to bring on additional help when the orders were heavy. Even with finding very talented craftsman/craftswomen, after trial and error, it proved that that it doesn’t work. No one puts the love and care into products like people who are seriously committed to the long-term vision of the brand. And these two are seriously committed to making the highest quality products that they can possibly create.
Down a narrow hallway, we enter the rear room, where all of the handmade processes happens. Massive windows looking out into a tree canopied alley provide natural light onto the two person work table covered with tools, organized and neat. I thought “sushi chef”, when I saw the setup. Camélia was crafting a series of Disciple wallets, while Barrett had a nearly finished Devilish wallet sitting on his side of the table. Visually the 19th century Japanese (Barrett explains, “from the Edo to Meiji periods“) hand-loomed hand-dyed indigo cotton fabric lining jumps off the table. That bold high-contrast pattern is hard to miss. Barrett is really interested in super unique and super rare materials that no one else is using. This fabric is a great example of that pursuit.
He opens up his wooden trunk of lining fabric for future projects/products. A waft of charcoal and antique cotton hits us all. An amazing smell from a different era, a story embedded into the fibers. I ask where he finds these ancient fabrics. “I have a guy”, he jests, while keeping his source close to the chest. I would too. This stuff is magical. 19th century Japanese, 100 year old American deadstock cotton plaid and print fabrics, antique French fabrics portraying “pastoral scenes, or reminiscing an era of Oriental trade, our antique French fabrics date back to the 19th and 18th centuries”, and many other fabrics to choose from. These fabrics could be in a museum. Very special stuff.
As mentioned earlier, Barrett likes to use unique materials. This is why he chose to offer up a Road Test of the Devilish billfold wallet made in what he calls “Deer Split”, a first time offering for his brand. This term “Deer Split” loosely translates to deer suede. This particular deer was shot in Indiana, then vegetable tanned in Texas. This tanning process, also called “bark tanning” involves soaking the deer hide in water, mixed with leaves, bark, twigs and other organic materials found out in the woods. A full-circle sustainable method, without the use of toxic chemicals like most of the other commercial leather out there.
Usually, Barrett will label his deer leather products with the number of the deer in the title, such as “The Devilish Wallet, in Deerskin No 5“. Anything made from this particular deer will be noted “Deerskin No 5″. Anything made from the fourth deer leather hide he used would be noted with “Deerskin No 4″, for example. In this case, a deer hide is split in half, essentially turning one sheet into two thinner sheets. Thinner, but still just as strong, one of the best properties of deer hide. Barret will then hand cut the pattern of a Devilish wallet from this double-sided suede Deer Split. In my years of materials research, I’ve never heard of any brand using this for their products. I really appreciate this.
I should mention, there isn’t a single sewing machine in the entire shop. Yet, this is a carry accessories brand. What gives? Every single stitch on every single hand-numbered Barrett Alley product is created by hand, using saddle stitch construction with hand-waxed thread. Barrett firmly believes that saddle stitching creates a much stronger seam than any machine can create. When a machine-stitch breaks, the entire seam becomes compromised. Not the case with a hand-sewn saddle stitch. Check out this image from the Barrett Alley website, which illustrates this concept. Read more about it on their process page.
As you can imagine, with any handmade process versus a machine’s efficiency, the handmade process takes longer. A whole lot longer. They both make every stitch carefully, not quickly. When asked on how much tension is used to pull the thread through for each stitch, Barrett says “just enough”. Its hard to explain, just something that needs to be learned through time and experience.
You can be absolutely sure that every Barrett Alley that is made will have a serious amount of time spent on its creation. I’ve been to a lot of small-scale high-quality factories, and visited a lot of people who hand make their expertly crafted goods in very small batches… and I can say with 100% confidence after visiting the Barrett Alley shop, I’ve never seen such a high level of focus and precision care put into the handmade process and execution of a carry product. Its like these two were making Swiss mechanical watch movements in front of me. There is serious passion here. And passion isn’t cheap, but it shouldn’t be.
Camélia burnishes the edges of a Disciple wallet, folds the leather, saddle stitches it into its final form, and carefully inspects it before approving it for a customer. Upon its completion, Barrett generously offers this Disciple wallet to Brian, an amazing gesture. Brian continues to snap photos over Barrett’s shoulder as he makes the final saddle stitches, carefully gluing the lining/leather seam, and precisely shaving down the edges with a sharp razor blade.
Barrett expertly looks over the the first ever Devilish wallet in Deer Split, giving it a nod of approval once its ready for product photography. This wallet is #2144. Barrett records every single product with a product number for every customer who makes a purchase. They’re all chronological and unique to each individual purchase. He showed me his handwritten book of every product he’s ever sold, impressive.
Official launch: we’re excited to announce that Barrett will launch this new Devilish billfold wallet in Deer Split into his product collection in conjunction with this shop visit post, on December 3rd 2012. Since I visited his shop earlier this November, I’ve been enjoying using this handsome wallet daily, taking notes as I take it for a long Road Test. Go check out the Devilish wallet in Deer Split for yourself at the newly launched product page.
We’ll have more on that Road Test in about a month or so. If Deer Split isn’t your fancy, they also offer the Devilish in thick buttery bovine leather (color options: Natural, Russet, and Noir), along with Deerskin No 5, and shell Cordovan No 8.
Thank you for opening your doors for us Barrett. Myself and the rest of the Carryology community sincerely appreciate it. These are some of the finest handcrafted pieces of carry I’ve ever had the opportunity to lay my eyes on, to personally physically handle, and to have the firsthand experience of watching their handmade creation.
Thanks again Brian for the amazing photos.