Meet. A new series of posts in which we will interview and showcase some of the incredibly talented blacksmiths, leather smiths, woodworkers, etc., that we have the pleasure of working with.
As much as we are clearly a Japanese-focused shop, we still love to support our local artisans.
Meet Natalie Crittenden, owner of Haversack Leather, now based out of St. Marys, Ontario. We met Natalie through one of our good friends here at the shop. When we met Natalie she lived up the road from our old shop, which made our communication and meetings incredibly convenient. She has since moved to the Boondocks, in a town we believe just recently received electricity and running water. We now meet up about four times a year to discuss custom projects and/or new pieces for the shop. It takes Natalie nine and a half hours by horse drawn carriage, tractor and then car to reach us here in the city, and for that we are very grateful. (Natalie, Toronto misses you).
KNIFE: You obviously make incredible leather products for us, but that isn't all you do, right?
Natalie: That's correct. I like diversity. This year I also upholstered two Airstream trailers, recovered numerous motorcycle seats, and produced my own branded leather goods for online sales.
K: How did you get started? What was your inspiration for doing what you do?
N: Well, it was a bit of a journey. I studied fashion arts in school, then got into making costumes for theatre. That was a bit of a circuit, I took contracts all over Canada. I applied for a working holiday in Australia hoping to travel the country doing the same, but I got there at the height of the recession and couldn't break in. I landed a job reupholstering cars, then decided I'd rather live on the beach so I found a job doing boat upholstery, and I loved it. When I couldn't stay in Australia any longer I came back to Canada and got back into theatre, but ultimately realized that upholstery and leather work was the direction I wanted to follow.
I took a business course and found that I really enjoyed catering to niche markets. The growth in my business has really been a case of being in the right place at the right time, and following through on promises.
K: What's your number one, favourite part of what you do?
N: Delivering custom work. I love working with people to create something unique. I enjoy the collaborative process because it challenges me to think in ways I may not have otherwise. When the project is done and it functions and looks great and both parties are happy, that's the best.
K: What do you think are three most important characteristics in a true artisan?
N: Curiosity - I think it's really important to stay curious in your craft. Explore, experiment, and take on big challenges. I play around with ideas in my head, sketch things out on paper and make as many samples as I need to move forward with confidence.
Integrity - As a maker I feel like I should be proud of everything I put out into the world. If I'm going to attach my name to it I need to feel like that thing was the best I could make it. Even if that means making it three times before I'm confident that this was the best version.
Patience - It takes a lot of time to get good at anything. You will likely produce a lot of junk before you'll start to find your groove in your craft. I try to accept each mistake as an opportunity to learn something and then try again as soon as possible.
K: What's your go-to knife in the kitchen and why?
N: My Nakiri is my go-to knife. If I'm cooking it's mostly just stir frys and salads, so it's the perfect tool for me. If I cooked enough to warrant it I would have the Yoshimi Kato SG2 Nakiri. It's so beautiful!
K: What's your favourite food to eat? What's your favourite food to cook?
N: Does making coffee count as cooking? I married a chef, so I can't say I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. My favourite food to eat is lasagne, but I get too hangry to commit to making anything that takes longer than 15 minutes.
K: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
N: Melbourne, Australia. It's such a cool city to explore, with so many unique neighbourhoods. There's a lot of amazing graffiti, awesome restaurants, and hidden bars at the end of alleyways. There's a a thriving independent music and arts scene. The temperature never drops below 4C in the winter and the city is really set up for cyclists with designated lanes and traffic lights. Plus, you're never far from the ocean.
K: If you could have dinner and drinks with anybody famous, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
N: Reggie Watts. I saw him perform by chance at a really small bar a few years ago and I had no idea what I was in for. He has this way of getting onto a topic, spinning it around, taking off on a few tangents, maybe making a song out of it, and then bringing it back full circle. I can't imagine how regular conversation with him would turn out.
K: What was the last song/artist you listened to?
N: I love music, but I find myself listening to more podcasts these days. My favourite one right now is Radio Lab. I definitely miss Toronto for the music scene. Last summer I only made it to two shows - Slayer and Raffi.
K: You recently had a child, how has being a mother affected your business?
N: It's so hard to find balance! To be honest, I wasn't quite sure how I was going to make it work, but my husband took his full parental leave and I managed to keep up with work as it came in. We also moved to St. Marys to be closer to family, so I do a lot of driving back to Toronto. I still feel a bit scrambled some days, but having a baby and running a business at the same time has taught me a lot about time management.
K: If you weren't doing the job you are now, what would you be doing instead?
N: I had an opportunity a few years ago to teach at a theatre school in El Salvador. The initiative was to get kids involved in theatre and off the streets while giving them opportunities to learn practical skills and trades. I imagine I would be doing something like that again. It's pretty incredible to be able to offer direction to a person that can have real lasting impact on their life.
K: As someone who hand makes custom products in an age of big industry and fast production, where do you see small businesses like yourself in the future?
N: I believe there will always be a place for small businesses that can offer something unique. A lot of my work involves bringing someone else's vision to life, and working with individuals and businesses that value quality and craftsmanship. Small business is just as much about relationships as it is about selling a product or service. I hope that people are thinking about who they are buying from and what kind of businesses they are supporting.
Her product is obviously incredible, but we continue to work with Natalie for her insane professionalism and commitment to her customers, and we'll continue to do so for years to come.
You can find Natalie at Haversack Leather, doing what she does extraordinarily well.
Thanks for reading, EO.
Stay tuned for a new custom project coming soon from Haversack Leather and KNIFE.