Cody & Sioux has started carrying Earth + Hide's leather bags, and we wanted to learn more about the craftsman behind these products. Earth + Hide is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and run by husband and wife team, Chuck and Amy Allen. Their leather bags are new to the Cody & Siouxshop, and we have nothing but excitement about these beautiful products. We think our customers are going to love this lifestyle brand as much as we do.
Here's our interview with the man behind the brand, Chuck Allen.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Aurora, Illinois and grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Where do you live now?
Amy and I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba now. We have lived here for seven years now and love being in Canada!
How did you two meet?
We met at a restaurant where Amy was working while she was attending university in Greensboro. There’s a long fun story in there, best shared over a few margaritas!
What is it like working with your spouse?
Amazing! We’re often on the same page and when we’re not, we can usually communicate clearly. Amy has a full time job that pays the bills. I think it’s good for her to shift gears and do work that's gratifying but a challenge to have two jobs.
How does your family, and being a family business, impact your brand?
I put so much of myself worth into my brand. I am very vulnerable in my messaging. My family is a big part of that. My family is an extension of me and my brand represents that.
Why is the West important to you and to your brand?
The West is naturally receptive to my brand and by extension, me. I don’t pander to a stereotypical western style, there’s a very natural gravitation to quality leather goods.
What inspired you to start your business?
Like many businesses, mine started very organically and almost unexpectedly. Never in a million years did I think I would be working with leather goods. I started off doing pottery as a hobby business about six years ago. When I was experimenting with mixed media work which I don’t see very often with pottery, I came up with a wood handled mug, then a paracord wrap with a braided handle. Someone saw that and said “You should do that with leather!”
I still do pottery when I can, and I sometimes have those leather wrapped mugs available locally. Once I figured out how to execute that leather wrapped mug, I knew how to work with leather! I had always wanted a fancy leather laptop bag but couldn’t afford it, so I made one. Then I made a backpack for my son, then a tote for my wife. I lost access to the pottery studio for a year or so which was good timing for leather to take over. So the name Earth and Hide is a representation of the transition from pottery to leatherwork.
In all my craft work, I’ve always grasped for the therapeutic benefit to my mental health. Mental health advocacy is a consistent theme throughout my business.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’m not sure if there’s a single piece of advice that is the best. One thing that sticks out to me is something that one of my teachers said many years ago: “You can achieve whatever you want in life, you just need to have the qualifications to keep it.”
Are there other artisans you look up to?
There are so many, but one of my favourite is one of my best friends, Garth Lee, a violin maker @garthleestrings - he’s hands down the most talented craftsmen I know.
Who are your favourite artists?
Chuck Close. I love the way he takes portraiture and an extremely technical, photorealistic portrayal and skews into an abstract representation in some pieces. I love how he gets creative with his technique, the way he explores diverse techniques while staying true to his form. One of my favourite quotes comes from him too.
Most people may have heard this part: “Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
That's powerful on its own, but I also like it in context:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who'll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you're sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that's almost never the case.”
Maybe that’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard.
You say that your artisan work is evolving, what has that journey been for you?
It’s been a lifelong journey.
I finally feel like I hit my stride in my 40’s. I feel like every step in my life has led me where I am today. My first degree in graphic design has served me, not only in designing my own logo and other graphic work, but also translates well in designing my products. Working as a combat cameraman in the USMC lends itself to decent product photography. My time in the Marines also gave unique experiences and great stories to tell. After the Marines, I was able to get a business degree.
The last place I worked before starting Earth and Hide was as a manager for a construction company. That job gave me the experience I needed to be confident running a business. There’s more to come for Earth and Hide too. I have dreams of starting a maker co-op to benefit mental health initiatives.
What do you love most about being a small business?
I love the freedom that comes from being your own boss. I used to joke that I have the best boss in the world but my employee is a little suspect!
Who do you most admire on social media?
I really love following Giovanna Minnera @giovannaminenna founder of Brows by G.
What do you most want people to understand about your products?
I wish people understood how much love goes into each piece.
How long do you typically spend on one piece before it is ready?
On the pieces that I still hand stitch, I take about eight hours from start to finish.
Why is handmade important to you?
Handmade is important to me for the therapeutic benefit I get from doing this kind of work. It’s important to be able to serve the customers a quality product that’s come directly from my hands to theirs, almost like a handshake from the maker to the customer every time it’s used.
You offer courses on teaching leatherwork, how important is it for you to pass on the craft?
The most important thing for me to pass on in the class is inspiration, hope, and the therapeutic benefit of craft work. I love seeing the pride in students when they complete their piece. I love that I feel like I’m friends with everyone that takes the class!
How have you handled the new challenges of Covid-19 in regards to your business? Has it affected how you market yourself or your process?
I’ve tried to take the challenges in stride. It hit me hard like so many in March and April. I was wondering if I would need to get a job. I held off and had enough orders slowly trickle in to keep me going. In summer things opened up enough to hold classes and go to farmers markets again! Classes have been the perfect thing to do this summer, with group sizes always limited to 10 and the explosion of people interested in crafting.
All of my out of town markets have been cancelled this year which is a big hit. Now we’re experiencing a second wave that is shutting everything down at the absolute worst time. Many people who are able to continue working are diligent about supporting local and handmade artisans which means a lot and is helping to soften the blow.
To try to make up for the lost revenue from missing out on the out of town markets, I’ve opened up to wholesale orders. This has given me a chance to work with other great small businesses across the country like Cody & Sioux!
What is coming for 2021?
I think we’ll just try to recover from 2020 and find a way to return to some sense of normalcy. I will be releasing a couple new designs that I have been testing this year. If we’re able to do out of town events again, I’ll debut the #chuckwagon on the road!