Monday, December 19, 2011

Wilder Style: 10 Questions For / A Conversation With Eric Heins of Corter Leather

Eric Heins, the one-man show behind CorterLeather, personally designs, makes, and ships every item that bears the Corter name. I recently visited him at his studio in Brighton, which is a photographer's dream. The walls are decorated with vintage signs, the light streamed in through the windows, and leather goods in various stages of completion lay on his worktable. We talked about many things from the Mayflower to Garth Brooks to the AOL Screen names of our youths. Read on to find out what inspires Eric and check out my photos of his pieces; once you see how beautiful they are, you won't be surprised that for the past few weeks Eric's been up until 4am making wallets and addressing packages. 

The Folded Card Wallet, a new Corter design not yet available for sale. 

(Interview after the jump)

1. How did you get into leather work? 
Back in 2006 and 2007 I would go on all the time, which is a fashion forum. It was the beginning of the raw denim and big wallets craze, but you couldn’t get any over here, they were all from japan. I really wanted a wallet from Red Moon, a Japanese leather company, but they were around $400. So I just ordered some scrap leather and a couple of really rudimentary tools from a place called Tandy Leather, which is like the JoAnn Fabric of leather work. I picked a wallet I liked, reverse-engineered it, drew it out, and made a copy of it. It took me six hours and nothing was straight. I posted a picture on, and since there was no place to get anything like that in the states at the time, I started getting messages from people who wanted one. I had to say, “wait a minute, I don’t actually know what I’m doing yet,” and so for the next few months I made 15 or 20 wallets just to practice, giving them away to friends. Eventually I started a “for sale” thread on the used-clothing forum of and that’s it, I was custom order based for the next two years or so. 

The first wallet Eric ever made. I love how worn in the leather gets--compare this to a shot of the Snap Wallet at the bottom of the post to see what it once looked like. 

2. How did you choose the name Corter?
It’s actually from a John Mayer song ["Why, Georgia," when Mayer sings "might be a quarter-life crisis]. My AOL screen name when I was 15 was “quarter-life crisis” but the “q-u” was taken so I used a “c” instead. When I was in college, posting on sites, I used the alias Corter, and when I started making the wallets people just started calling them Corter Wallets. It made sense, because I didn’t have branding, I was just a kid online making wallets. So I made it my own and stuck with it. And I love it, I wouldn’t want to change it. 

3. How have you seen your wallets change aesthetically?
I went from reproducing wallets and then I slowly evolved into designing my own things. A lot of my customers are people like me who didn’t have a ton of money, so I started simplifying things; not everyone wants a huge or Western style wallet. I wanted things at different price points so that everyone could afford one, whether they had $200 to spend on a bi-fold or less to spend on a card carrier. When I started designing, things started to click.

 The inside fabric comes from a 1950s feed bag.

4. Where is your favorite place in the world? 
Cape Cod. I grew up going there, I designed my first collection there, and…I don’t know, it’s just so…you can think freely out there. It’s wide open; you get farther out and there’s no one there, you can walk for a mile on the beach without seeing a single person. And it has a family tie for me. I love the beach more than anything else. It’s inspiring. 

Eric's personal bag. I love the Narragansett Beer pin. 

5. Whom from history (personal or general) do you admire most?
EH: Besides parents and stuff? I mean, that’s really hard. I don’t think I could answer that without sounding like a total idiot. 
CW: I think that’s a good answer, then.
EH: Well, from history…my great-great-great-great-great grandfather came over on the Mayflower?
CW: So did my ancestors! I bet they hung out!
EH: Yeah! Mine was Elder Brewster, like Brewster MA. That’s why my first collection was called the Brewster collection.

The Brewster Long Wallet.

6. If you were stranded on a deserted island (you’ve got water and food and the essentials) what one thing would you bring with you?
EH: Do I have tools? So I can build things?
CW: You could bring tools to build things.
EH: Wouldn’t tools be part of the essentials, though?
CW: Oh, yeah. That would make sense.
EH: So I’ve got tools? 
CW: Sure, you've got tools. 
EH: Then probably a guitar. And if I didn’t have tools, I’d bring a saw so I could build myself a house.

Guitar picks. 

7. What inspires you? What do you look at or listen to before you design something?
I listen to a lot of popular culture. Whenever celebrities do talks I listen to them. It sounds really cheesy, but I think there’s a reason people who are successful are where they are. And that, in a business sense, inspires me. Visually? Well, as you can see looking around [my studio], I’m into everything. It can be anything from a sign I see on the side of the road, to a bumper sticker, to the lines of a new car roof. And a lot of times I get inspired by concepts before visuals. For example, with the folded wallet, I wanted to make one that was one piece of leather. That’s where that whole idea started. And from there it got into folding, and how many pockets I want, and what I could make on the inside. 

See that lovely light switch casing? Guess who made it.

8. How does your personal style affect Corter?  
When I started I wasn't planning to make a company, I was just making a wallet for fun. So now, I never want my offerings be products, for example: a long wallet, a medium wallet, and a small wallet all in the same design. I just want everything to be able to be used. Usability should be the only vein that runs through everything in my own personal brand.

9. What’s your favorite product to make?
I don’t offer it anymore, but the ring wallet was my favorite. Because that was the first piece I designed from the ground up, it was the first version of the idea behind the pouch-style wallet I use. It didn’t really take off, but personally I was really proud of it because I set out to design my own ultimate wallet, and I did, and it worked, and I love it. I use it all the time. Besides that it’s the For Japan bracelet [whose profits I donated to help ease suffering caused by the earthquake]. Just because we were able to do so much.
CW: How much did you end up donating from those?
EH: 32,000 dollars.
CW: You’re kidding me.
EH: Nope. 

10. What are you listening to at the moment?
Well it’s Christmas, so the Sufjan Stevens box set is on rotation. And Garth Brooks’ Christmas album. I’m super Christmassy right now.
CW: I love Garth Brooks!
EH: Me too!
CW: It’s funny, I feel like people would say, “you blog, you design, you’re supposed to be cool, you’re not supposed to like country music.”
EH: Oh no, not at all. I’d love to go out to Vegas and see him. He was the last real country artist, the last real poet in country music in the mainstream. And he was also the last mega-artist—he still outsells everyone today and he’s been retired for 20 years. It’s insane. That was the golden mid-90s era of country music. 

So I lied, this "10 Questions" actually has 11 questions. 

11. Last question: what’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done?
Graduating college and not applying for any jobs. Yeah. I just kind of went for it.

Eric makes sure each piece is exactly right. This Snap Wallet was a second quality piece, meaning he didn't ship it to a customer because something was slightly off. It looked perfect to me, but Eric makes sure he ships only his best work to customers.

The remains of a piece of leather from which Eric cut guitar picks. The leather is Horween's Navy Shell Cordovan, a material that takes about seven months to produce.

 The Card Wallet made from the same Cordovan leather. 

"I don't know why I did that," Eric said of the mermaid on the wallet. "Well, I want it," I said.

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