Ten Lessons Learned with WestEast Armory

What is your name, your leather craft business, and where are you located?

Howdy friends! I’m Phillip Kimm, and I am the sole individual behind WestEast Armory out of San Antonio, Texas.

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What types of leather goods do you make, or what is your role in the leather craft business?

I make belts, small wallets and notebook covers, some bags, and all sorts of custom leatherwork!

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your leather crafting in the last six months (or in recent memory)?

Hmm.. I’ve read all of your previous interviews and this question is still hard for me to answer. It’s very possible that I have not bought anything significant in the past 6 months, so I’ll cheat a bit and say that my 3D printer that I got a while ago is the single purchase that has most positively impacted my work. I went to school for Mechanical Engineering and learned how to use 3D modeling software, so when I got the printer, it opened up the possibilities in making templates, guides, and wet molding forms. Quite handy since I’m bad at drawing by hand!

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For your 3Dprinter, which one did you go with, what sort of software do you use, and, if it’s not too much trouble, what would be an easy first project for someone who wants to use a 3Dprinter to augment their leather cratft?

The 3D printer I went with is the Monoprice Maker Select V2. I bought it during a Black Friday sale when it was something like $250. Now I bet these and other similar printers sell for less on sale! The print bed isn’t the biggest, but it’s large enough to make decently sized templates. and really large wet molding forms.

The 3D modeling software I use is AutoDesk Fusion360. It’s currently free for hobbyists and small businesses, which is great because it’s one of the most powerful modeling programs available for free. If anyone is interested in getting into 3D modeling, whatever you do, for the love of all things holy DO NOT use Google SketchUp. It has far too many constraints when it comes to usability and functionality, where you will never outgrow Fusion360 unless you’re a professional designer, in which case you’re already using AutoDesk Inventor or Dassault Systems CATIA. To go along with your 3D software, you’ll also need a slicer program which converts your 3D model into something that the printer can understand. The slicer I use is called “slic3r” and it’s also free! It’s not bad, especially for the price, but it requires some tweaking to get working really well. 3D printing, in general, is not something that is plug and play. If you don’t like tinkering and messing around, you’re not going to like trying to get your printer working or calibrated.

An easy first print for the leather worker with a 3D printer is to make templates! Any flat template that you would trace around is a prime candidate for 3D printing. I find that printed templates hold up better than paper/cardboard, and getting super precise designs is a breeze as long as you can draw it in your modeling software. I even made right angle triangle templates at super specific angles for when I decide to get more serious into geometric/basket weave tooling. By angling your basket weave at the correct angle, your legs stay a consistent distance from the edges of your work which looks nicer and is easier to work around.

 

How has a setback, or seeming setback, set you up for later success in leather craft? Do you have a “favorite failure”?

My most real failure was one I did a while back for an upscale wine bar in a fancy part of town, High Street Wine at the Pearl. They wanted new leather menus, and once we closed the deal and I was paid the 50% down payment, I soon found out that my estimation for the amount of leather I needed to complete the project was literally half what was actually required. The supplier I was buying leather from immediately stopped responding to my emails and calls and refused to help me any further than supplying the leather for my original order and taking my money. The order with this supplier, as well as all the other supplies I needed for the project, burned though all of the original down payment I was given, and I still needed that other half of the leather.

The menus that High Street wanted were relatively simple, and I needlessly complicated the design for the sole purpose of being “true to the craft” and to make something that met “my” expectations. I added time consuming features and expensive materials where they would never be seen or noticed, which added zero functionality to the end result. I was so excited to have gotten the job from them that I forgot how much time and work it would take to deliver what they asked for. In the middle of this project, once I had used up all the money and made half of the order, I was flat broke and I had a mental breakdown in front of my parents. Being only half finished with the order, I felt like I had completely failed to deliver what I promised, and I couldn’t even responsibly afford to fix the hole I dug myself into. I ended up using my credit card to buy the rest of the material without knowing if I could finish making the order in time to get the final payment and pay off my card’s balance. I was thankfully able to finish the order in time, get paid, and pay off my card before going into debt. From start to finish, the entire project took 6 months when I told High Street it would only take around 3. During this whole process, High Street was extremely patient with all my delays, which I’m extremely grateful for. If they had wanted their menus sooner, which they had every right to, than I’m not sure what I would have done.

At that point in time, I was depressed, burned out, broke, and terrified of the potential of having to tell a company that paid and trusted me to do a job that I might not be able to finish their order and I wouldn’t be able to pay them back. Once I managed to finish the order, I took a week off to reflect on everything that happened. Turns out, going through something that you previously thought was an impossible situation, only to come out the other side, was pretty empowering. That one experience taught me so much about myself, as well as giving me many different lessons about running a business. I’m better now because of the hardship that I faced, and I could only be this better version of myself by going though what I did.

With embracing failure and incorporating that into your crafting process, are there any books or resources that helped you accomplish that?

What really helped me get through my failures is having a great group of friends that I can rely on. I’d vent and rant at them, and through it all they always were willing to help me in anyway I needed. My good friend Jon even offered to loan me the money to finish my job for High Street, and I would have taken it if I ended up falling into debt. In my opinion, having people who you can absolutely trust and rely on is one of the most important things you can have.

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If you could create any leather good, with unlimited budget, what leather and hardware would you use? (Horween #8 Shell cordovan bag with Japanese brass hardware, for example)

This question needs more context! Is this assuming my current skill set or a theoretical anything? If this includes things that I can’t make yet, I’d love to make a saddle. Something about making the interface between horse and human, and making it well enough to be seamless to both the rider and the animal has real appeal to me. If we’re talking about my current skill level, I’d love to make a classic two pocket briefcase entirely in an exotic leather like (Himalayan) Crocodile.

Okay, here’s some clarification — sorry about that 🙂 — For the saddle, let’s say you can work with another crafter to help you make that item. Who do you choose and why? It can be someone you only know through IG or someone you know personally.

If I had to choose another person to work on a saddle with, it would hands down be Ben Geisler. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him in person already, and I appreciate his views and opinions on leatherwork and business. I’m still waiting for him to hold a saddle making class so that I can take it!

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What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

I would say that the best investment I’ve made is in my education. I did not graduate from college. I studied Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University for 7 years before they kicked me out for the last time and told me not to come back. Even so, I continue to use what I learned in school (like how to use 3D modeling software to make patterns and forms for my 3D printer), and I also continue to stay curious and try to learn about all of the things that pique my interest. Education doesn’t have to be just a degree. You can learn so much by traveling the world, engaging in politics, studying religion (even if you aren’t religious), debating philosophy, and by just really listening to people who know things that you don’t. Keep an open mind, and I guarantee that you’ll be a better person because of it.

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What’s an unusual or odd technique in your process that you’re pretty sure most people don’t do?

Quite possibly the use of my 3D Printer. I know that other people use them, and they’re getting more popular and affordable, but I still don’t personally know too many other leatherworkers who use 3D printing to help them with their work.

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In the last five years, what new mindset, behavior, or habit has most improved your leather craft?

5 years almost includes my entire leatherworking career! The one thing that has helped me get to the level of skill that I have now, is to understand that embarrassment is the enemy of progress. I’ve heard this said in many other creative disciplines; before you can create a truly great piece of work, you must get all your failures out first. This could not be more true. In order to progress, you can’t be afraid of messing up or completely ruining a project. Failing does not make one a failure. I strive to fail as fast and as often as I can so that I can hurry up and get to making some really amazing stuff!

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What advice would you give a smart, driven person about to get into leather craft? What advice should they ignore?

If you’re completely new, go light on the tools and pick a first project that is relevant to you. It’s easy to get excited and want to buy all the tools and things, but in the off chance that you don’t end up making leather a long term hobby, you’ll be stuck with lots of tools that are hard to sell and will likely not hold their value. A cutting mat, utility knife, steel ruler/straight edge, harness needles, waxed thread, scratch awl, diamond awl, wing dividers, and maybe some affordable pricking/stitching irons and hole punches are all you need to get started. Belts, SIMPLE wallets, bracelets, and keychains are also great first projects should they make sense to you. Don’t go making dog collars for your first project if you don’t like dogs, your motivation will likely be nonexistent. Getting too ambitious with your first project is a quick way to feel overwhelmed and make it easier to give up. Again, your first projects should be simple, quick to finish, and relevant to you.

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Advice to ignore – This one is a bit trickier. Lots of advice is given from different perspectives, and may be relevant to some but not all. If I had to give one thing to ignore, it would be to try and learn too much at once. If you want to start tooling leather and mixing your own dyes and creating your own huge projects, that’s all fine, but take it one step at a time. Be sure your fundamentals are strong, or else your work will never be as good as it could be. (My biggest pet peeve with leatherwork is when someone tools at an extremely high level, but their stitching looks awful.. IT IS JARRING AND PAINFULLY OBVIOUS!)

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What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?

Bad recommendations from my area of expertise?? I hardly feel like an expert at anything!

If I have to mention something, I would say to watch out when anyone speaks in absolutes. Things like, “you must price your items using this method” or “only these types of items are worth your time to make because the margins are too slim otherwise” are almost never 100% accurate. Many times they come from a place of personal experience, and the individual giving the advice has found that this works for them. That being said, we are all different, and it’s worth exploring your own style though your own work and experiences, not by taking for gospel what others have told you.

Be sure to take everything with a grain of salt. There is much to learn from all sorts of people who are crafting at all levels, but always try things for yourself!

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When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

I do something completely unrelated to leatherwork when I start to feel burnt out. I’ll take a whole day to nap and catch up on shows. I’ll go to the gun range and try out some new handloads that I’ve cooked up. I’ll spend time with friends and have a good time. It’s important to take care of your own needs and your mental health, so taking a break every so often isn’t a bad thing. Lots of times, people think that if you aren’t working, you’re being lazy. I’ve struggled with this my entire life since my parents raised me to have that mentality, but you’d be surprised how often taking a small break or a day off either gets you feeling fresh and recharged so you can tackle that project you’re working on with full force instead of halfassing it all week, or in the middle of your time off, you are struck with inspiration or ideas.

The big caveat to this is that if you are unmotivated, this can very quickly lead to loss of productivity or general laziness. Be aware of yourself and your own limitations, and do what you need to do to stay happy, healthy, and productive.

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Where can people find you (links to online store, blog, twitter, Instagram, etc.)

My website is www.WestEastArmory.com and there you can find the things I sell and a gallery of my favorite past custom work.

For social media,

Thanks for taking the time to read this! I hope this has been helpful and informative to someone!

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