The name Billykirk comes from Kirk’s full name: William Kirkland. “Our father called me Billykirk,” he says. “Southerners have a thing for melding together first and middle names.” In the workroom, Chris handles the finances and big-picture planning, while Kirk is more focused on each season’s designs, which include everything from wallets and belts to padded briefcases and carryalls.
—MEN AT WORK—
Chris and Kirk started Billykirk while they were both living in Los Angeles. They learned the art of leather making by apprenticing with a third-generation craftsman named Arnold in downtown LA for three years before moving back to the East Coast. They now have a workspace in Jersey City, where they do much of the hand-stitching and -finishing.
—TOOLS OF THE TRADE—
After standing over Arnold’s shoulder and watching him work with leather all day, Chris and Kirk started to buy jack shears, cutting tables, belt strippers and cutting dies from Arnold on layaway. Many of the old-fashioned machines had been previously owned by Arnold’s grandfather.
Chris and Kirk sketch the original designs in their Jersey City studio and source their leather from U.S.-based tanneries such as Wickett & Craig, which specializes in vegetable tanning. They’ve enlisted the help of Amish craftsmen to work on many of their leather goods, and all of the designs are cut, oiled and edged by hand in their studio.
“We’ve always been intrigued by leather and how it changes over time,” says Chris, who points out that often something as simple as a hook or a buckle will inspire a design.
“We work with an heirloom mentality, where you pass things down,” says Chris. “Our products last. They’re not throwaway items.
Photography by Alan Gastelum.
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