Going With The Grain

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Revelstoke is a sleepy British Columbian town 174 miles due west of Canada’s Banff National Park. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains, the community has built a reputation as an active destination based on its extensive trails and snowy caps, serving as a winter ski destination and summer hiking hub. But for some, like Hannah Kinsey and Donnie Frederickson of Handon Leather, Revelstoke is home — and more than that, a source of artistic inspiration.

That’s because, despite its size, Revelstoke has made the arts a priority. The area is home to its own performing arts and visual arts centers, and several galleries and workshops; a dedicated arts council hosts a nationally recognized festival celebrating local craftspeople and performers every summer. That outsize support, coupled with the small-town sense of camaraderie, is what enables people like Donnie to explore their nascent talents and build them into something much bigger.

“Everyone chooses to be here. It just creates this aura around town where everyone’s happy and confident, and everyone’s always backing each other up,” says Donnie. “You get those little boosts that you wouldn’t necessarily get in a city where you’re surrounded by such anonymity.”

Shortly after moving to Revelstoke from her native England, Hannah met Donnie, who had made his way to the town from neighboring Alberta. Even from the first days of their relationship, a shared passion for design was front and center. “Before I knew Hannah, I did leather work, but I kind of had a rudimentary way [of going about it],” Donnie says. “I just used some pliers and carpentry tools and somehow brought it all together.”

Hannah came from a sewing family, and was immediately captivated by the idea of applying her skills to leather — and to refining Donnie’s approach. The first piece she designed was based on a leather satchel she had carried as a schoolgirl; Donnie also delved deep into his childhood memories for his first design. “I was modeling it off of something similar, a canvas bag that I had when I was younger,” he says. “It might have been my grandpa’s or something from 70 years ago, but you never see them anywhere. I always thought it would be kind of cool to have one that was leather.”

As Hannah and Donnie honed their newfound leather-working skills,they noticed an opportunity to share their unique, Canadian-crafted pieces with the world. “There was this void in the market for the kind of things that we wanted; you can’t just go out and buy a lot of this stuff that we make,” Donnie says. “You’re either buying cheap, mass-produced stuff, or really expensive stuff from the States or from Europe. There isn’t really a big supply coming from Canada.”

In creating pieces that Hannah and Donnie had been dreaming of finding themselves, they had hit upon an approach that resonated with Canadians: high-quality, locally handcrafted goods with a timeless sensibility that drew on the best of world design. They drew up a business plan, sourced hides from North America, and settled on an official name: Handon Leather, a portmanteau nodding to the co-founders’ names. “I just kind of liked how it works with the two names; it had some kind of meaning, and the word can be broken down in different ways, depending on who’s reading it,” Donnie says.

They also found a way to integrate a personal connection into the hardware of their pieces.  “There’s a company in England that creates hand-forged saddle hardware — buckles, clips, and all that kind of stuff. They’re an old company that’s been doing it for a very long time,” Donnie says. “We had this inside edge, because it’s actually pretty close to where Hannah’s parents live.” Now, this personal connection evidences itself in an Old World accent on each Handon Leather piece.

Along the way, the cofounders have also found that each piece develops its own unique character over time. “You carry it around and use it for a while, and it takes on a bit of its own shape. Different lines come out. It really takes on a life of its own,” Donnie says. “Each item changes with the person that’s using it,” adds Hannah.

Each piece is handcrafted in the couple’s Revelstoke home, which doubles as their studio and workshop, and here, those same early but differing strengths of theirs are still in evidence. Swatches of stains and rolls of leather are spread around the room, and the wall of tools hanging above Donnie’s worktable remains true to his rudimentary start in the field. “My favorite tools are [still] those that are so simple, if you picked it up and you weren’t a leather worker, you would have no idea what on Earth it was for,” he says. Ever the resourceful adventurer, Hannah has repurposed an old hospital bed left behind by the previous owners of their home as as her worktable. “I could quite happily spend all my time there working on stuff,” Hannah says.

Here, in this basement workshop in a small mountain village, Hannah and Donnie have found their points of view as artists. And, much as their origins would indicate, they strive to integrate an “Old World practicality” into each piece, designing would-be heirlooms meant to last a lifetime. “I want to make stuff that can be treasured,” Hannah says. Both she and Donnie imagine their pieces being passed down from generation to generation, with each family member making their own mark on the leather.

“I like the idea of that same thing that happened to me, where I found my grandpa’s bag when I was a kid,” Donnie says. “I think it would be super cool if I was wandering around with my walker when I’m 80 and I see some kid pull out a wallet or something that we made years ago.”

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We met Hannah and Donnie while driving through British Columbia, Canada in search of people with a continental approach to life. To learn more, visit us here. That’s Continental.

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