Industry

BEXAR Goods shop visit :: San Antonio, TX

by , October 16, 2012

BEXAR Goods Co. (pronounced “Bare”) is a carry and lifestyle accessory brand, who focuses on making high quality handmade products, located in San Antonio, Texas, which is within Bexar County.  Duty called, I was asked to judge a beard & mustache contest in San Antonio.

I had just recently discovered BEXAR Goods Co (BEXAR / BGC), so I reached out to them about my trip down South to their city, and was fortunate enough to schedule a shop visit with the trio who are the driving force behind the brand.  They were more than happy to oblige, even though I could only squeeze it in on a Saturday afternoon.

These guys are all close friends.  They’re also family.

Guy Rubio (above) is a Field Geologist by day and the overseer of all things Bexar Goods.  Client relations, design prospecting, material sourcing, quality control, product testing, graphic design, web designer, workshop rat, and photographer (handling all of the brand’s product/brand photography), among other tasks.

Christian Craft (above) resides in Austin, regularly commuting down to handle his role as public relations manager, marketing & advertising, random facilitator production support, and product testing.  He is actively trying to get BEXAR’s product into mainstream Austinite vocabulary.

Falcon Craft (above) moved back to San Antonio from Colorado from his previous gig as a mountaineering guide, to get serious about BEXAR Goods.  Now he mans the 1950′s industrial-grade sewing machine for the creation of the products as lead designer and lead craftsman, shoots all the videos for the BGC, and fills out his role with taking on graphic design and web design.

They all pull their own weight, as a synergistic force they design the products and oversee the creative and business direction of the brand.  And that is it.  There are no other employees.  No factory floor.  No outsourcing of labor.  No additional help.  Every product that comes from BGC is made by a combination of these three guys.  As of now, they’re hand making about 20 products per week, but that number is steadily increasing.

Check out the “About Us” page on the site, their self-made video of the road trip at the top of the page is a fun watch, take a look.

This isn’t their first business venture together.  Christian pulled out an old photograph of the three of them working a lemonade stand as young children.  The humorous story ends with them having to give up every bit of their profits via a punishment enforced by Grandma, because of some mischief they got involved with just after the photo was taken.  Well, lemonade wasn’t their thing.  Despite the beverage company never taking off, they have remained close friends over the years, working on random schemes and legitimate projects.  One including a homemade zip-line that snapped immediately, fortunately no one was killed.  BEXAR Goods Co. started when they decided they wanted to make some cool, quality products that they themselves wanted to carry, ones that showed character that would mature over the years and travels to come.  “BGC originated as an outlet to create leather products that we wanted to use ourselves. Our vision is to create carry goods products that can journey the world with you, and develop character and charm from the environment and adventures they experience with you. We believe in ruggedness, simplicity, durability, and timelessness.”  But its never that easy.

Guy told me that it wasn’t very long ago that he was absolutely broke, and wanted to make a change.  While he and his wife were traveling in coastal Maine visiting family, during breakfast one morning Guy spotted a Rolex Submariner on the wrist of his father-in-law, a retired NY architect.   Guy has wanted one for ages, though he admits its somewhat of a cliche, he loves the iconic design mixed with its heirloom qualities, thinking he could pass it down to a son or grandson in the future.  As they finish breakfast, he shares his compliments on the timepiece and his plans to own one someday.  The next morning at breakfast, his father-in-law presented Guy with a Rolex box.  Inside it, a crisp $100 bill and a sincere note that read “may this get the needle ticking towards your own Rolex”, a genuine and thoughtful gift, one that he admits he will always remember.    One the final day of their trip in Maine, they stopped by a vintage maritime thrift store, and was drawn to a set of beautiful old leather working tools.  Though they only had a few dollars between the two of them in their pockets, he couldn’t let these tools slip his grasp.  “I knew they had a story and likely a history of providing solid products for that maritime community we were visiting.  And as a field geologist, I thought, hey you know what, I am going to make myself an awesome leather field satchel with these tools.  So, I plopped down that crisp $100 bill reserved for the Rolex fund, and haven’t regretted the decision (since).  While it may have not been a whole lot of money (to most), it was more of an acceptance and awareness of the craftsman heritage of creating quality, tangible, and heirloom products with your hands that has been forgotten in recent times.  I wanted a piece of that, and these tools were my catalyst.  The rest as they say, is history”.  Ends up, the tools were a little too old to use to make BEXAR products on a daily basis.  Still they sit proudly on display in the workshop, as a humble reminder of where they came from, where they’re headed, and to keep the legacy of handmade craftsmanship alive.

Rough beginnings.  But now things are turning up for Bexar Goods, through hard work and a focus on craftsmanship.  I arrived to the shop on a Saturday afternoon.  Their shop is located just near downtown San Antonio, with a crazy clear view of the Tower of the Americas needle, from the yard of the shop.  The door swings open, I’m greeted by Christian, Guy, Falcon, and a heavy whaft of leather.  They’re all dressed casual, in clothes that are ready to get some work done.

They each have a Shiner beer in hand, there are already a couple of empties visually peppering the room, which was fitting since I brought 12 more Shiners to put in their YETI cooler (my favorite cooler in the world, and probably the best… I’ll do a Carryology writeup on the great performance and features of YETI coolers in the near future).  Shout out to Topo Chico, who was also starring in the cooler and on the work table… the unofficial non-alcoholic beverage of Texas.

BEXAR’s aesthetic sense of style and design is made up of equal parts minimalism and the visual elements from an old world factory, topped off with heavy handed splash of bourbon. Below, the stamps used to press the BGC logo deep into the surface of the leather on their various products.

The collection of items around the shop is widely varied, showing their eclectic taste, with objects made from iron, wood, leather, copper, brass, and more.  Other than a few of the tools and the Apple computer, all the decor looks as if were made no later than the 50′s, or even much earlier.  “…based in Bexar County, Texas, the heart of the Texas Hill Country, an area with a rich heritage in leather use for outdoor travel. While our roots are based in Central Texas, our vision and inspiration are drawn from cultures around the world.”

Overall, the interior’s aesthetic is balanced with a level of restraint and balance that is executed in some of the coolest shop interiors I’ve seen only in magazines.  It is a small shop, but the use of space is killer. They had mentioned the picked up the bottle of Woodford Reserve bourbon whiskey (above), the day before, so we could drink it once I arrived.  They couldn’t resist, and had “some” the night before.  No problem, I know the temptation, of that particular bottle specifically.

Guy’s boots are kicked up on the work table.  We each have a beer.  We share stories of way out in West Texas and of stories of the road, among others.  We have some more beers.  Seriously easy gang to get along with.  After realizing we were blasting through time like we were on a porch on a Summer’s afternoon with nothing to do, we had to get some work done, as I had facial hair contest to judge in just a short while (side note: Miss Fiesta San Antonio was also a celebrity guest judge).

Not to mention… Falcon had agreed to completely sew and construct a Land Carry while I was there, in order to photo document the process for Carryology.  This is all coming up in Part 2, followed by a Road Test of said Land Carry as Part 3.  Falcon tells me he had already cut the fabric and done some preemptive steps to save some time, but that we still had a a couple hours to go until it was finished.  Usual time for the Land Carry construction is about 2.5 – 3 hours.  Compare this to the 16 hours per BGC Porter leather satchel. Every satchel is hand cut and hand sewn.  This process might take longer but no machine can match the strength of hand stitching.  This is just the actual time spent making the products, which is only a small percent of overall time required, but I’ll talk about that later.

Out comes the camera and the Moleskine for notes.  While Falcon sets up his work station, Christian suggests we grab one of the massive leather hides down off the shelf to craft me up a handmade belt before our time was up.  The offer is hard to pass up.

Guy and Christian take on this task, slicing a strip of thick beautiful vegetable tanned English bridle leather, into a long wide strip (about 1.5″ wide).

Guy knocks out some holes in the leather, then hammers down the two copper rivets, permanently affixing the copper Bexar belt buckle.

This hand-hammered copper rivet step isn’t quiet, to put it best.  But it is strong as Hell.  Nice to have understanding neighbors for this one.

All of their belt buckles are custom hand forged to their specs by a metal artisan just down the street from their shop.  They had a selection of styles to choose from, 1″ wide, 1.5″ wide, rounded end, squared off, all as nice as the rest.

Next up we measure the belt around my wait for the overall length.  Then Guy hands me the tools to perform the final two steps of the belt making process.  The first, to cut the length using a geometric design leather cutting blade and hammer.  Two strong taps with the hammer on the handle of the cutting blade and the excess leather falls to the ground.

Lastly, one final measurement, in order to cut out the one single hole for the buckle prong, what BEXAR calls the “sweet spot” option for their leather belts.  One single hole, for the perfect fit.  Difficult to get right the first time, but it is a feature that I think is quite clever, keeping the look super clean.

The leather is very light in color, just a hint of tan and orange, but very neutral, nearly flesh-colored.  Over the years, the patina it will darken from the oils in my hands and through the exposure to daily life.  They showed me how their belts were darkening through use, a couple shades darker so far.  Guy’s BEXAR leather bracelet was a deep rich brown, as it is more exposed near the hands and darkens quickly.  His 100% leather BEXAR satchel was just starting to show its patina, an Autumn orange brown.

The materials BGC chooses to utilize are all top notch, no expense spared.  These guys aren’t about a bottom line, they find what they like and what has been proven to work for years and years.  Quality and durability are what is important.  They have several rolls of Tradition Textile’s Martexin Original Wax cotton fabric under the work table, ranging in various colors, mostly muted organic colors.  The red/orange roll you see there was acquired after a shop from Singapore (who only carries a curated collection of quality USA-made products) ordered a custom batch of BGC products in this vivid color.

Tradition Textiles makes high quality waxed cotton canvas in the US, and they’ve been doing it since the 1838, which tells you something.  This stuff is known around the world for its durability, and because it ages nicely.  When you handle it, it feels much like leather, a great tactile feel.  The stuff will stand up on its own, but slowly collapse on itself organically.  It feels cool, yet warm, and almost wet.  You can make a light colored scratch mark on the stuff with your fingernail, then rub it away with the pad of your finger.   From the website; “Martexin Original Wax is a cotton-based fabric impregnated with Martexin wax proprietary mixture, a unique formula that gives the fabric lifelong resistance to inclement weather, while cotton fibers allow it to breathe. As the fabric ages, it develops a well-worn and comfortable patina, which enhances the look of traditional outerwear, hats, and bags. The patina develops with more and more use, in the same manner that leather ages and burnishes with time.  The Martexin formula consists of food and pharmaceutical grade waxes, and is completely non-hazardous.  Martexin Original Wax is environmentally friendly and is available domestically from the same company that has supplied the United States market for over 160 years”.

Personally, I’m enamored with the copper rivets, also sourced from a US manufacturer.  They glow, and beg to be handled.  Especially as they’re so prominently displayed in glass jars on the shelves around the shop.  For me, they perfectly highlight the handmade process with a visually interesting/beautiful element, while being functionally critical in the construction.  It was in 1870 that Jacob Davis (a Latvian-born immigrant to the US) had the idea to affix copper rivets to fabric, pants specifically.  In Jacob’s own words, from an interview, “a customer asked me to make a pair of ‘cheap’ pants for her very large husband whose pants wore out very quickly. I had already discovered that heavy thread alone would not always hold pockets on to work pants.  So I had a brainstorm. I decided to try out copper rivets to reinforce the pockets and other points of strain. They worked very well when I used them on horse blankets.  I started using rivets on all the pants I made; first on duck and then on denim. It wasn’t long before other tailors were beginning to imitate my idea with the rivets. I started thinking about how could I protect my idea?”  He contacted Levi Strauss about sharing the patent, 50/50, which they did.  And the rest is history. A great turn of the century American invention, one that has been proven durable over years and years of heavy use from the likes of coal miners, cowboys, and motorcycle riders.  Perfect for reinforcement on BGC’s products.

The English bridle leather is top-quality, super thick (usually 3.5mm-4mm), buttery, and sourced from a tannery here in the US.  This is the type of premium leather that bridles for horse riding are made from, hence the name.  They have gone through a few tanneries to find this kind of consistent quality. English bridle leather refers to the way that the hide was finished at the tannery, has the top (grain) and bottom (flesh) sides stuffed grease and finished with wax.  This creates a super smooth, completely even finish that is great to handle, which is extremely strong and durable.  This type of leather is meant to be used, hard, and stand up to rain, snow, hail, spurs, thorns, dust, mud, and whatever else the horse and rider may encounter.  As you can imagine, the labor that goes into making this type of quality leather is extensive.  And they only start with the highest grade of leather to begin the process.  So, you guessed, this leather is expensive.  Its damn nice.

The hand-forged copper belt buckles, as previously mentioned, are very nice.  Falcon and I were talking about their selection process of thread, finally settling on a high strength option which they found suitable in their tests.  More expensive than the rest, but worth it.  Other than that, there isn’t too much.  They keep things simple at BGC, which is one of the most appealing aspects.  The way these materials and hardware bits come together is what makes their stuff unique. Its craft, which happens to be Falcon and Christian’s last names.

The form factors they offer are simple and handsome.  Several Totes, Weekenders, an Urban Vagabond Backpack, a Rolltop Rucksack, belts, bracelets, and other various products worth taking a close look at.  There isn’t frilly marketing or ridiculous product features to hide behind here, just quality, simple, hard-working products that are made by hand in Texas by these three gentlemen.

Check out their products on their official BEXAR Good Co website/webstore.

The BGC Facebook page is here is for you to meander through.

Their Tumblr page is one of the more entertaining I’ve found yet, a collection of imagery that capture old school Americana… primarily featuring the Old West, whiskey, and Toyota Land Cruisers.  It also includes lots of product photos/photo shoots, the hand made process, nature shots, discounts, brand announcements, and much more.  Keep an eye out for Part 2 (showing the  process of hand making the Land Carry, in detail) and Part 3 (the Road Test of the Land Carry).

In the meantime, you can keep yourself busy on their Vimeo page, each self-shot video is a real treat to watch.  Go take a look.  There happens to be a video in there of Falcon going through the steps of the process to craft a canvas bag, which is certainly relevant.

Thanks for the great time, Guy, Christian and Falcon. I look forward to hanging out with you all (y’all) again soon.

  • Moritz

    More like this! Excellent… I’m late now!

  • M.S

    I have been checking out their products and really like them, but now i like them even more! What an awesome story behind the company and the people, they seem like really down to earth, laid back guys. Carryology this is brilliant and defo waiting for the other parts and BGC best of luck and keep up the good work!

  • Moritz

    Here you can find some more details about their collaboration with WanderWonder.
    http://streething.com/news/2938

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  • Justin

    Never a dull moment, Taylor- great read.
    I think what I like the most about BGC is their attention to detail. From the craft to the brew…
    YETI cooler? Yessir.

    Hope your belt bronzes and these lads find success.

    JP

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  • Smithe

    I’am leather smith, I just want to convey to you that there is a need for I-phone cell phone cases with metal clips. I’ve had several people asking me about this, made a few. Buy a cell phone kit close to the I-phone size, and expand off that. I usually use 3 oz leather in my craft. The reason being for protection, “glass .” Use a bumper for that certain flat phone, so that you’ll be able to size that phone. This way, you be able to know how much room to give free movement with that cell phone. May the hammer light your way.

    Smithe of Annihilus

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