Wild Frontier Goods Brand x Illcutz "Enter The Tasu" Belt
When Mike of Wild Frontier Goods Brand suggested we should do a belt together it didn't take a long time for me to think it over. I have been talking with and following Mike since 2016 and we have bought and exchanged goods (Hatters Anonymous) between ourselves so there is a mutual respect for what we do and the craft that goes into it.
When choosing the leather for the project, we both knew we wanted to go for natural vegetable tanned leather, sourced of course from Japan from the esteemed Tochigi tannery which was founded in 1937.
Tochigi leather is usually pit tanned for over a month and is mixed with several oils, which produces a soft shine. The grain is subtle, but the characteristics can be clearly seen on closer inspection.
The leather is 3.8mm thick which is a good middle ground in my opinion when paired with already substantial fabrics like denim. It can be tempting to go all out and get a really beefy leather only to find out later that it's not comfortable to wear over long periods of time.
It is 4cm wide which works well with a range of belt loops. In terms of length each belt will be made to measure when you place your order with Mike, so you know you will be getting a perfectly fitted belt.
The edges of the belt have been burnished, which means you have a really nice finish. This is a feature that a lot of makers leave out as it is time-consuming but definitely makes for a better product in the end.
The oval buckle we chose is made from solid Japanese brass and is secured by a saddle stitch which is precisely done by hand, utilising warm yellow polyester thread which will accent nicely with jeans or other trousers.
Finally, we added a stitched in "+" using hand-dyed indigo thread to symbolise the collaboration between us.
I also had the chance to ask Mike questions which I thought would be interesting to learn about.
Can you tell us how long you have been making leather goods and how you got into it?
I started working with leather when I was in college. While I was in school I took a variety of art classes and would often paint. A professor at my school was making a variety of things with leather and I thought that looked fun. I came across some simple leather tools and made myself a bracelet. I really enjoyed it and decided to dive a little deeper into leather-work.
Where does the name Wild Frontier Goods come from?
Wild Frontier Goods comes from my interest in travel and adventure. I loved American folk tails when I was a kid and used to be interested in Davy Crockett. He is often referred to as "King of the Wild Frontier". I guess to me the name represents adventure, excitement, not being tied down to anything...just setting out into the unknown to find fortune and glory (Indiana Jones reference).
For this collaboration belt, we went for Tochigi saddle leather, what makes this leather special?
Tochigi leather is a very high quality, vegetable-tanned, Japanese leather that ages beautifully in my opinion. The saddle leather's surface is oiled and glossed to give it a nice finish. Most leather around the world is usually tanned in a "drum washing machine". It's basically a large barrel that spins the leather and tanning agent together like a washing machine. Tochigi leather uses a different approach. In order to prevent rot and allow the tannin to penetrate evenly, the leather is placed into a large tank (think Pool) that moves up and down like a see-saw. This is a very slow process but I feel it creates a superior product. Think about how the denim industry evolved in Japan. They wanted to create a superior product that is geared towards a niche market. The leather produced in this country is no different.
Can you describe some of the stages that go into making a belt?
A high-quality belt always starts with good leather and a buckle. I prefer to use solid brass because it ages beautifully and will patina along with the leather. After the leather has been cut into a strip I then burnish the reverse side. I then mark all the holes and punch then out by hand. Before attaching the buckle I smooth all edges on the belt. For me personally, this step takes the longest amount of time. I really want to edges to be very smooth and in order to do that you need to sand and burnish repeatedly. I always notice when people skip this step or don't spend a lot of time on it. I use a variety of ways that get the edges smooth but that main component is time. After the edges are finished to my satisfactory I stitch on the buckle.
Why do you prefer sewing the belt over using rivets over other hardware?
Aesthetically speaking, I like it much better. It takes a lot of skill and craftsmanship, not to mention time, to properly stitch leather. Aside from looking good, I think it also provides a stronger, even hold. I use a method called "saddle stitching" which prevents the thread from unravelling even if one section breaks (think the opposite of a chain stitch on jeans). The polyester thread is made in Japan and is very strong. It won't rot and snap over time like cotton. Stitching also distributes the load over a larger area therefore, making a stronger connection. A rivet connects the load in only one spot. Over time the leather can stretch out around the rivet creating a loose connection.
What are some of the biggest challenges when working with leather?
I guess maybe paying for it hahaha....
If I am actually working with the leather then I am usually enjoying 100% of the process. I was once told by a fellow craftsman in Japan that touching leather gives people a sense of calm. This is because leather is skin. When we are babies our mothers hold us and that touch calms us and makes us feel safe. It's ingrained in humans from birth to like leather. It's an interesting point and I think there might be some truth to that. I'll let people decide for themselves.
If you are interested in acquring a belt please reach out to Mike direct on the below links.