Words by Alyssa Stevenson / Images provided by Clint Wilkinson
Clint Wilkinson has spent a lifetime learning from and looking up to his grandfather. As the purveyor of Weldon's western wear on East Hickory Street - he has seen the retailers of Denton weather the many storms of change through the years. Now, Clint is taking all of those experiences and is changing courses. Read on to find out what we found out about Wilkinson -and why he'll be making the bag you own for the next 50 years.
I met Clint when I was a barista at Jupiter House many many moons ago, when he was a graphic designer for a major motocross publication. He was driven and smart, and was always working - mostly from his laptop. A few years ago he decided he needed to change directions, as he was feeling the effects of working in the online world. His family has a history of leather working and craftsmanship through their shop, Weldon's, which has been in Denton longer than most. It was then that he committed himself to learning the craft of leather working, and he opened up Bell and Oak from the workshop located just inside of Weldon's.
In the past few years he has put in the hours to hone his craft, and has been successful in creating beautiful leather pieces - wallets, belts, portfolios, coasters. He has been sought after for collaborative pieces with other artists locally, and has been hired for signature pieces for clients like West Elm, Stetson, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library. However, last Christmas - there was a moment when he know something had to change. According to Clint, "There was starting to be a large overlap in the leather craft world. There was a sort of formula being followed by people in the American maker movement. I wanted to distance myself from it because I wasn't happy doing the same work everyone else was doing. I wanted to do something elite. I want to do something that you can't find a video over on YouTube - but would truly have to study the craft of the masters."
With that, he threw himself into researching the master craftsmen of the leather world, who largely reside in France, Italy and Japan. "As an artist I'm not satisfied with mediocrity. I want to be the best. I want to be considered one of the best craftsmen in America. I ultimately want to be producing world class products out of Denton, Texas." And with that, the focused shifted from key lanyards and belts to high end custom handbags, briefcases and messenger bags.
Clint knows that this change doesn't just happen magically overnight. He is committed to the time that it will take to develop the skill-set for pattern-making, and finding the tools he'll need to become a true master. If there is one thing he has mastered already, it is an amazing work ethic. Clint, like many artists, has a disciplined work ethic that is completely necessary in order to make a living off of his work. When faced with the new direction Clint said, "I'm going down a path that very few people go down, because it is hard to make a living doing it."
He has since been slowly researching every single aspect of high-end craftsmanship in larger leather goods, and building his new tool box. "If you want to do high end work, you have to have tools that set up for that. There is a point when the tools matter," said Clint. "Maintaining your tools is just as important if not more important than what you do with them." After gathering the best tools, he has to find the perfect canvas - which for him meant breaking into a small and hard to get into tannery network in Europe. Most of the European tanneries don't source to America, but after months of work and communication he is sourcing some of the most beautiful leathers in the world. He'll be using French calfskin leathers, American bridle and exotics, and American ostrich and alligator.
Beyond sourcing the highest quality leather, I asked Clint what the biggest challenge was. He responded that "As a craftsman, pricing your work is your worst nightmare. Just because I'm located in Denton doesn't mean I can charge a low end price."
I think of it like this; when you choose to purchase a hand crafted one of a kind custom handbag or briefcase or messenger bag, and the entire thing is being made by one person, you're paying for a level of craftsmanship that ensure the longevity of the product, the experience of the craftsperson, the quality of the materials, the extensive amount of time that went into not only the crafting of the bag itself, but also the hours required to gain the skills that were necessary. That should have a high price tag on it. We're excited that we'll have an atelier here in Denton that is doing something that we can't easily access here.
Wilkinson will be opening a new showroom, next door to Weldon's, in October of this year. He is teaming up with Pastrana Studio for the buildout. There will be a large studio in the back half where he'll be handling every aspect of each custom bag. He will be operating mostly on an appointment basis, so that each customer can have a detailed discussion without distractions to design their dream bag. There will be some hours where the workshop and showroom are open to the public as well, so that people can come in and see works in progress and samples of work. There will also still be a few pieces from the Bell and Oak collection available for pick up.
Clint has already renamed the brand "Wilkinson" after himself. He believes his hame is his legacy, and can be a defining aspect of a person or artist. So it is with gumption that he moves forward, and expands his legacy and craft to focus on the most elite leather goods available. We can't wait to see what Wilkinson will create next.