Leathermen, Pup Boys and Bears, OH MY!
Well it is that time of year again! Mates is around the corner, and for some reason I feel good about the preparations for being at this event. Mates Leather weekend is a once a year (well twice if you include snowbound) that occurs in Provincetown, Massachusetts usually just around Columbus day weekend. It is a gathering that draws people from all over the world and all walks of life and fetishes. So this year, I decided to be one of the vendors and display my wares. I am using this more as a means of market testing and doing some networking in the local leather community.
Perhaps I should talk about what got me into making leather for the leather community. As I have said in a previous post, I started making custom leather in the 1980's. I was attending quite a few reenactment and live action role playing events. And among the throngs of kids attending, costumes were horrid. So I decided I was going to start making period costumes and armor. Luckily as a child I had an aunt who between her and my mother were constantly sewing and as such I had some great teachers. But in the LARPing and Ren-Fair communities, sewing is only part of the process. To have a great costume you had to be a maker and try and reproduce everything from chainmail, to plate armor, to leather armor, and period footwear. Obviously I had to learn to work with leather.
So as all first timers do, the run to their local Tandy store (there were a lot of them back then), and you buy a simple starter kit and a couple of veg tans and next thing you know, you are making leather. Maybe perhaps it isn't GOOD leather, but its leather. I was told I had an artistic eye, and people really were drawn to my costumes, so there I was doing commissions for one of a kind costume builds for dozens of people, all incorporating some form of leather along with the clothing, capes, and hats. What I found quickly is that a great costume can look awesome, but if you are running around with a piece of veg tan tied to your chest, it better LOOK awesome too, otherwise the rest of the costume is worthless.
So I learned to cut, finish, dye, edge, stiffen, shape, wax, skive, sew, rivet, and buckle my way into producing some pretty complex gear. One thing for sure, if you want to be a versatile leather smith, try making leather gear for the LARPing community. They can throw very creative design challenges at you without blinking an eye. So after about ten years of refining my craft, I ran into an old college buddy of mine who lived in Provincetown, Mass. And he says, "Why not come for a weekend and we can hang out?" Little did I know that he was inviting me to Mates. So, once I arrived, all I saw everywhere around me were men walking up and down the streets in various forms of leather attire. Biker gear, military gear, Police uniforms, Western Gear, Equestrian Gear and BDSM gear.
Once I adjusted, my friend was interested in exposing me to this wonderfully diverse community, but he says there is a catch. I need to get some leather. This wasn't a big deal for me since I was already used to being in "garb" for Ren-Fairs, so off we went to the local leather shop to peruse the endless assortment of leather gear hanging on racks and walls. The options were endless, but I went with a simple yet nice Y harness and got some bracers and a really nice pair of boots. And off we went to go "do the rounds" as he called it.
One thing I can tell you is that leathermen are leatherMEN. There is no confusion about this. Yeah some are bears, twinks, otters, or muscle men. They can be doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, and construction workers. But regardless of WHO that person is, what they have in common is their primal attraction between them and their leather and their attraction to men dressed in leather. It becomes part of their identity, and of course you can always tell the timid guys that are not leathermen who try to fit in. They don't last long, or they very quickly become converts and then brought into the fold.
But because of my leather smithing and costume making for Ren-Fairs and the LARP community, I was quickly drawn to the construction of the gear. I would look at all the different harnesses and gear and quickly draw conclusions as to "thats custom", or "that is production", or "that is mass produced overseas" and "oh my god, this is such CRAP".
Now, I am also a biker (Harley Road King and a Yammy VStar Classic 1300). Or should say I was (it was time to park them after the daughter of a good friend of mine got killed by a reckless driver while riding). And at the time, I had a house up in NH near Laconia. Laconia is host to one of the oldest and largest biker rallies each year. 250,000 bikers from all over the country descend upon us each year and I can tell you... Looking at the biker leather, they looking at the leather community, even though there was overlap, the difference was huge. The quality is so much better. Much more attentive to style and design and creating subtle yet simple differences, that one set of leather can be so much different than the next.
So let us fast forward to now... 90 percent of what I see out there for the leather community is crap. Don't get me wrong, there are some really cool and nice products but the number of companies that achieve quality designs, artistic flare, and produce a finely made product are few and far between. And one thing I know from the biker community. Custom is king. When you roll down weirs beach and line up your bike and show off your ride, the last thing you want is for them to say, I saw that same thing over there. So! Since the leather fetish community has progressed into this mass made in China or Pakistan thing, I decided to bring old school leather back to the community. So here I am, showing off my latest designs, and Im getting nothing but positive feedback.