Mitchell Barber: The Leather Maker
I came across Hecho a Mano Co. ('handmade' in Spanish) recently when researching locally made goods for another photoshoot. Each wallet is handmade by Mitch in Melbourne, mostly in his charming weatherboard shack in the backyard. They are made from kangaroo leather sourced from Tasmania, and the waxed thread used to hold them together is also locally made.What started off as two simple gentlemen's wallets is now evolving into a range of travel wallets, women's wallets and also custom made wallets with personalized engravings - a real lesson in simplicity and design.
Can you give us a history of yourself, your business, and YOUR work?
My name is Mitchell Barber, I was born in New Zealand and migrated to Australia when I was six. I've been interested in textiles and quality objects for as long as I can remember. I would always get frustrated with the quality of wallets I would buy and how bulky and complicated they were. It didn't really occur to me that I could make my own, so I just kept spending money on products I wasn't happy with.
What made you decide to take the leap to start your own leather-goods business?
I guess the desire to make something different and worthwhile, something that fulfilled my need and satisfied my obsessive attention to detail. I was lucky that I already had some of the skills necessary. Hecho has always been a culmination of where I am and what I have learned in my life up until now.
Can you walk us through your process?
A wallet design usually starts with a passing idea which I will marinate on for a while. Once I figure it out to a certain extent, I will then draw it up on Adobe Illustrator so I can see a blue print-like exploded view in front of me. I will then fine tune the details on the computer before I get a prototype cut using a laser. When the pieces have been cut out, I stitch them together using waxed thread. If there is anything that needs to be changed, I will rethink and start the process again. This usually happens a few times...I'm always thinking of ways to improve things.
What is the most fulfilling part of your work?
Finishing the last stitch on a new product and putting my bank cards in it. Sometimes everything comes together like you want it to, and when that happens, it's very satisfying. Seeing my friends using my wallets is also pretty cool, most of them have one now and it's great to see how they are aging differently.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I have more self doubt now that I have ever had before. I'm constantly asking myself if my products are good enough or if people will like them. I guess that pushes me to be better though, so it's a good thing. I would say, it's pretty common among creatives and small business owners to feel this way--it's all part of the game.
How do you find "balance" in what you do?
I don't know if "balance" as we know it outside of ourselves really exists within. Instead, I think there is a constant state of unbalance and rebalance. I'm constantly swaying between, "I'm happy with what I'm doing", and "What I am doing, is this right?" The ocean comes in and goes out, it never finds balance.
To answer the question, I don't find balance. I'm either obsessing over something and it's all I can think about, or I'm walking though the forest not thinking about anything but leaves under my feet. It's a roller coaster ride. I like it that way.
What is the best part of being a working creative?
Freedom in the sense that I can create what I want. There is no one telling me how things should be. Hecho a Mano Co. is an unfiltered expression of how I think a wallet should be. I am extremely grateful to everyone that likes them, as they are the ones that allow me to do what I love. •••