Nate Olp is the brains behind 1979 Co, a gritty and sophisticated leather goods brand. Though he has only been doing leather work for about 2 years, he has had great success by listening to his customers needs and creating unique goods, both custom and his own designs. He prides himself by keeping his work local by getting materials from a shop in downtown Indianapolis and through supporting other artists by giving them a space to showcase pieces in his shop.
To start off, can you tell me a little bit about how you got started?
I started doing leather work about two and a half years ago out of my apartment. I was just selling it online or to friends, and then it started to get more consistent, so on June 6th, I opened the shop in Irvington. We’ve been open a little over a month and it’s been great. The reason I did the shop was to make things more available and visible. People can now see and feel my work before dropping $200 on something that they haven’t touched in real life. Also, I wanted the shop to be a cool, creative place. There’s art on the walls from local artists and two other leather workers you can shop from to widen the variety. There is not much to it besides me grinding for two years, kind of having fun, but still taking it seriously like another part time job and doing it all the time – even when I did not want to. Then, it was really a matter of coming together and just doing it.
Considering the state of the world right now, has COVID affected your opening?
Considering all that is going on, things are consistent and good. I have enough work to keep me busy for two weeks out. It is surprising, but I am really grateful for it. I did not think it would be like that and I was sort of like I will just risk it and see what happens. The people in the neighborhood have been awesome, supportive, and positive! They have an Irvington Facebook Group, and I have had a lot of people come to know me from that. A lot of it though really is word of mouth, really grassroots style.
I love your slogan “handmade leather goods for those with sophisticated grit.” Can you describe what sophisticated grit means to you?
It’s kind of like an understanding of low brow style, kind of raw. I like things that are rough around the edges, not perfect and not mass produced. Just because it is gnarly doesn’t mean that it is ugly, and just because it is beautiful does not mean it is over created. It is an awareness for that rough lifestyle.
Who and/or what influences your design style?
Honestly there is not a person, but it is more like problem solving. I try to walk a line tough, beautiful, and functional all at the same time. It is really up to me and how I want it to look with colors and stitch lines, but at the end of the day I just want it to feel special for my customer, though I don’t doubt I make a lot of shit people find disgusting.
Where do you get your materials from?
I get pretty much everything, so leather, hardware, and materials, locally from a shop in Indy called Landwerlen Leather. The shop is over 110 years old and family owned and the guys who work there are really helpful. That is another cool part of what I do, keeping it here in Indianapolis, keeping it local.
What percent of your work is commission based? Do you like that better than the regular retail model?
I like both! The custom commission stuff makes me go into a world I have never been in and pushes me out of my comfort zone. I also really like making stock from the designs in my mind and that’s just as fulfilling, maybe more. That is where it is, total artwork and I get to just sit there with raw materials and make something out of nothing. I think the custom commissions definitely help me be better at making stock.
What is your favorite type of piece to create?
Tote bags are my favorite to make because it feels like a blank canvas. When you construct them, there’s a bigger surface area where you can see more of the leather and its characteristics as opposed to wallets, which are smaller and you don’t get to see the stretch marks on the leather. I can also be more creative and put my stitch lines anywhere when designing on a bigger surface.
Have you ever had “artists’ block” and how have you dealt with it?
Kind of, but I would say not as much “artists block” as opposed to lack of motivation here and there. Sometimes I get in the rhythm of doing the same thing and I have to challenge myself to do something new. This work takes a lot of commitment because of the hours and hours it takes to make a piece, but you just gotta do it.
What advice would you give to people who want to work with leather goods?
I would tell them to keep an open mind as to what people like and really listen to people and what they need. Like I said, a lot of this is just problem solving and fixing a design flaw on someone’s accessory, like a cell phone holster. Look for solutions to a problem people have in their everyday lives and you’ll get a ton of customers from that.
What is your design process?
I kind of work backwards. Like, I will picture what I want the end result to be like and then take it apart in my head stitch by stitch and the shapes of the pieces. For wallets, I always sketch a scale drawing. For bags, I can kind of mess with how I want it and sketch different shapes on the poster board and cut them out to create the pattern. It is like super elementary school type shit, but it works!
Do you have a dream client?
Haha I don’t know, but I haven’t really thought about that. I kind of just make what I want and hope that people like it. That being said though, I don’t want to make anything that I don’t like. I will make something maybe in a color someone else prefers if they want it that way, but when I am thinking about something to put in the shop I do it with my taste in mind.
What makes your work different from other people’s?
I would say my use of color makes my work different. I can offer a single style of bag in 10 different types of leathers and colors and it’s always up to you to decide. That’s why I call it custom because you can really build it anyway you want. I love giving people all the options to make it unique to them.
How should customers get in contact with you to order pieces?
Instagram is definitely the best way. Just send me a DM on my Instagram and we’ll pick styles and colors and make something happen.
Anything else you’d like to add or want people to know about your shop?
There is more than just leather wallets and bags though. There are vintage clothes from the girls at Rebel Vintage, Lisa from Tribe 79 who creates wearable leather pieces, like chokers and earrings, and 1979 Co t-shirts. All the stuff is super unique and you can only find it there!