Stephen Jones believes that products ought to come from a company with a story. And for his leather goods and canvas luggage brand, Black Anchor Workshop, he builds that tale, piece by piece, through cutting, sewing, and burnishing each item by hand, ensuring that the products he makes are made to last years, if not generations.
Jones started his company with a salvaged industrial sewing machine purchased from a military auction. To this day, several years and a couple of workshops later, the machine is a daily reminder of the company he built. Jones says of the machine "it's a workhorse"; one can say the same thing about everything that Black Anchor makes. It isn't called heritagewear for nothing.
ShopTalk: What neighborhood is your studio in?
Jones: We're located in Tacoma—actually in Nalley Valley, an old industrial zone next to the railroads and under the freeways. It's just gritty and all you have driving through is big-rig trucks. It's a neat area; we're in an old historic building, the Harmon Building. Furniture used to be manufactured in here, and so we're proud to be carrying on that legacy of handcrafted goods.
Are there any cafes, restaurants, or bars worth checking out in your neighborhood?
In Nalley Valley, not a single one. No sir.
What got you started designing?
I was in the Air Force working with my hands a lot and there were all these bags. They're all synthetic material, which is fine, but they will tear and the stitching could have been done better. It inspired me to go back to the heritage of how products were made in the United States, with materials like canvas, leather, solid brass, and stainless steel; all that good stuff.
What do you do to get yourself in a productive headspace?
Maybe I'll take a couple hours and go to a coffee shop and listen to a good audio book. I like something that's going to inspire me and let me learn and add more things to my tool belt of information.
What are five things you can't work without?
There are a lot of things I can't work without, especially my tools, but the five core things are good music (jazz or Black Sabbath depending on the mood). I need coffee, lots of coffee. Food is super important. An inspiring setting, which I have in this beautiful building. There is always inspiration from the people that I work with. And for what I do, I think the most powerful tool that I have is the pencil. As a designer, whether I'm sketching out what a bag looks like or writing down dimensions, having a pencil on my person all the time is essential.
We're big fans of your online journal, which has pictures of everything from your wedding to a short how-to guide for chopping down a Christmas tree. What creates the inspiration for your online journal?
Honestly, I want to get a lot more into the journal, whether it is business-related or more do-it-yourself. It's comes from when we have fun jobs or go to fun places—mainly things that we want to share through beautiful imagery.
When I first started Black Anchor, I thought, 'man everybody needs to think I'm a big company because big companies do things better.' But in the last two years I've come to realize that it is important to intertwine my story with the goods that I make, because my lifestyle is based around quality, family and friends, and being in the outdoors. It's important to expose that lifestyle to people so that they can understand exactly what they're buying into.
Where can we find your pieces and where would you like us to find them in the future?
Mostly online at our website. Last year I did dabble in wholesale a little bit so E. Smith Mercantile down in Pioneer Square, and in Tacoma there is Do The Extraordinary on Pacific Ave; and Urban Exchange carries our smaller goods like wallets, key chains, and bracelets.
In 2015 our main focus is to get our leather goods nationwide in fine boutiques that have the same passions and values that we do.