5 Minutes w/Chris Bray
Another great carry brand, another awesome round of responses in our 5 Minutes With series. This one focuses on Chris Bray, who makes up 1/2 of the leather and canvas carry brand Billykirk. The other 1/2 of Billykirk is Chris’s brother, Kirk (the name “Billykirk” comes from Kirk’s full name, William Kirkland). In an upcoming Road Test we’ll focus a lot more on these two gentlemen, along with the brand and products of Billykirk. For now we’ll keep it nice and simple, which is the point of this series. Chris really nailed these responses in a super thoughtful manner, which we really appreciate. Enjoy the read.
1 – What key insights drive your stuff?
We have been fortunate to establish a great following over the years. I think when a company continues to crank out well designed items that have a continuity, functionality and are constructed with quality ingredients then that company’s longevity has a good shot of becoming as revered as Filson, Red Wing or Levi’s.
Another aspect that I feel helps drive our brand is that we have never been a trend driven company or one that uses unnecessary trims. Our philosophy has always been to make goods that simply become a part of you. For example, when your boots, belt or wallet start to wear in and show your travels, and your skin’s oils start to alter its color and smoothness you become attached to the item. That item slowly becomes cherished, a trusted friend so to speak. We want our customers to have that connection with Billykirk. It’s that connection that I think helps drive our products more than anything else.
To help illustrate this we started documenting our customers’ worn-in items around 7 or 8 years ago. Not only does this show the constructional integrity of our designs and materials, it helps bring this now heavily relied on and appreciated item to life. Another interesting driver many Billykirk advocates have been associating with is our “heirloom mentality”. We are not in the business to construct goods that have a shelf life. Of course leather is not impervious to the elements and overuse, but if treated with respect it will last a very long time. Because of this many of our customers have asked us to pen letters of provenance knowing that one day they will pass down the item to one of their children. I can guarantee there are no customers asking that of any big box retailers or big brands.
This sort of personal attention is vital. Gary Vaynerchuck writes about this in his latest book, “The Thank You Economy”. To paraphrase, business owners (big and small) need to get back to the days of our grandparents where personal, polite customer service was not only expected but was the norm. It’s a damn shame in today’s world we are blown away if we get any sort of personal attention from a retail establishment or website.
2 – Who else is doing rad things in the world of carry? And why do you think they’re important…
There are literally dozens and dozens of new bag makers out there. By the time I am done writing this 2 or 3 more will have popped up. I have listed some that are doing great things and ones that I am fond of:
Filson, Duluth Pack & J.W. Hulme Co. - Continuity, dependable, names you can trust
Topo – Great silhouettes and unique blends of color
Stanley & Sons – Rugged, well made, understated
Goruck – Tactical style bags that are indestructible
Porter, Master-Piece, Workers (Japan) – Very respectable designs, authentic, quality
Ally Capellino – Great designs and very functional
Mister Freedom – Exceptional eye for detail, Heritage driven
Isaac Reina – Modern, well made, simple construction
3 – Are there any things other brands do that you think are great or could be improved?
Brands like L.L.Bean, Ghurka and Levi’s are making the right moves and beginning to on-shore more domestic-made bags, backpacks and totes.
4 – What’s next for you guys?
We are looking forward to going to Japan in April for some in-store events and to see some old friends. We have done a few soft launches of women-specific items but we want to get more serious about it in 2013. There are also more housewares items, hats and even some jackets in our future. We also want to limit our collaborations going forward so the Billykirk brand is able to thrive more. Something that is always on our minds is the idea of a store front with our design studio in the back. Having had family in retail for many years we know the pitfalls but also recognize the rewards. We all know the cost of NYC rents so the ROI is a constant conundrum.
(above: Chris’s zippered card case, carryall, vintage money clip and pocket knife)
5 – What do you carry daily and how?
I rotate a number of carryalls, briefcases and satchels. Depends on where I am heading and what I am wearing. Lately I have been using our No. 165 Medium Carryall in Ash Waxed with Cognac Leather from Horween or my Gokey/Orvis briefcase I got in St. Paul in 1989. I also don’t leave the house without one of my pocket knives, vintage money clip and our No. 189 Small Zip Card Case in Natural. (Chris emailed me later, adding that “I should have added my 9 year old No. 95 Satchel to my list of bags. I use it quite a bit as well. Also one of our new waxed iPad sleeves.”)