Handmade in St. Louis, 39 North Leather joins The New Territory CornerStore
BY MALLORY DAILY | THE NEW TERRITORY CORNERSTORE
Traveling the 39th parallel north through the Midwest takes you near some of its best-known cities: St. Louis. Columbia. Kansas City. Lawrence. Topeka. Thousands of people spend the bulk of their lives on this latitude line. They jump from city to city to attend college, find work and start families.
Valeria and Jonathan Klamm are deeply rooted to this strip of the Midwest, and they’ve paid homage to it in the name of their leatherworking collaborative, 39 North Leather. Jonathan creates sturdy, elegant leather goods, like wallets and cuffs, while Valeria expresses her artistic eye through her earring designs.
Valeria spoke to Mallory Daily and The New Territory about the couple’s vision for their work.
You can find their beautiful products in The New Territory‘s CornerStore. Each purchase helps fund the magazine’s artists, writers and designers.
How did 39 North come to be?
Jonathan started leather working in 2013. He started by designing and hand-stitching a wallet for himself, and from there he expanded to sunglass cases, cuffs, key-fobs, cable wraps, valet trays and some larger one-off pieces. I watched him get fully immersed in the craft and learn the ins and outs of every tool, material and technique.
39 North Leather was inspired by the 39th parallel, the latitude that connects the three cities where Jonathan has lived most of his life: Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis. At the beginning of 2016 I started thinking about how I could use his tools and materials to make a simple, yet elegant jewelry item. Inspired by abstract natural shapes, I created our signature single and double-leaf earring designs. We have sold pieces to friends and family here and there, and in February 2016, we began selling in a retail space at Union Studio in St. Louis.
This is a part-time hobby business for us. We both work full-time jobs in marketing during the week, and I freelance for Feast Magazine.
How did you learn your leatherworking techniques?
We’re self taught, plus a lot of YouTube videos. There’s some trial and error involved in the learning process until we each find what works best for the item we are creating. But most of the credit of any given product goes to Jonathan. He recently taught me to sew so I could start assisting him in creating products, but he really makes the bulk of the pieces. I stick to the earrings.
What have been some of the biggest challenges since starting 39 North?
Since we both work full-time jobs, we’ve had to manage expectations, both our own, our customers and our retail partners. We typically tell people a larger item can take up to two weeks to get to you, and that’s just because it takes time. It’s also challenging to price our products fairly – fair to the time and materials spent on them and fair to what a customer might expect to pay for a similar product elsewhere. At the end of the day, though, we don’t want someone comparing our products to a mass-produced wallet or dog leash they can pick up at any given store – we hope people value the time, handwork and attention to detail that went into making each unique item.
Have you encountered a lot of people interested in this kind of artistic craftsmanship in this region?
We definitely think handmade leatherwork is valued throughout the country right now, including in Missouri and the greater Midwest. There are a lot of other leather artisans throughout the region that we admire, and it definitely makes what we do more relevant to consumers.
We were lucky to find Union Studio, a retail space that supports us and the larger St. Louis community of artisans that create handmade products. We hope to be able to collaborate with some of the other artisans in the shop, as well as the owner, Mary Beth, who designs her own clothing and pillows with beautiful textiles. It’s fun to be a small part of this larger local, handmade products community.