With the growth of handmade goods in the menswear industry, Full Harbor is one of the companies that has stood out to me the most. I had a chance to talk to Austin Saylor the man behind this exceptional brand. It is my pleasure to introduce to you a brand that excels in quality and functionality.
Tell us about yourself and what you do?
I am inspired by good tools, good ideas, and things of exceptional beauty and craft. Working with my hands was a dream from when I was in high school. So when I found myself designing on a computer at a full time job and freelancing at night, it was a natural rebellion to ditch the computer and work with my hands.
How did Full Harbor come about?
I saw a video online of some guys making leather goods and thought, “I could do that! Yeah. I could totally do that!” So I apprenticed under a self-taught bag maker, Malcolm Smitley of Fallow Fleet, and later under a 40-year veteran leather crafter. I am still employed at a software company and run Full Harbor after hours. I’m taking things at a slow pace and learning new tricks of the trade all the time. I’m discovering what I really enjoy doing.
What were some of the challenges that you had while putting Full Harbor together?
The single hardest thing for me has been trying to narrow down what Full Harbor is. I’ve been exploring men’s accessories (wallets, belts, key holders), messenger bags, duffels, purses, and I’ve even thought about making suitcases.
What is your first memory of handling leather?
When I went to college, my dad gave me his leather briefcase that he used when he started working for IBM in the 80’s. It’s been a special piece that is lasting forever. That was my first significant moment related to leather. But it was only a couple years ago that I made my first bag with my friend Malcolm. It is great to look back at it and see how far I’ve come.
I understand that you make all of your goods by hand, what do you think about the rise of handmade leather goods, footwear and apparel?
I think the rise of handmade leather goods is fantastic. It’s certainly fun to see all the innovative things people are creating with their hands. There is something almost anti-magical about it that I love. So many leather crafters are showing in progress pictures and videos. The process really matters. You, as the consumer, get to see how it was made and who made it. These goods are not magically made by some fancy machine or made in a sweatshop by underpaid workers. I think people are really catching onto that.
You mentioned that you also work for a software company. Have you ever thought of taking Full Harbor on a full-time basis?
For now, I’m happy taking it slow. This is giving me the freedom to experiment and make ‘mistakes’ on a small scale. I plan on pushing my style and techniques during this period. It will be great to go full-time with Full Harbor. It will happen.
What is the most difficult item that you have made by far?
It’s probably a toss up between a backpack I made for my now wife and a large camera bag I made for a friend. They both required tremendous amounts of hand stitching. They are also some of the only large bags I have made.
I read that you also take on personal requests. How has this changed the way you work?
Custom orders have proven to be challenging, but with that comes stretching of my skills and style, which is always good.
What does success mean to you?
Success, to me, is a journey. It is found in doing what makes you happy. It is found in learning. It is found in loving people. It’s a journey that Jesus is taking me on and it’s pretty awesome.