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Bobby and Clayton Chamberlain of American Native describe their business as “a new company rooted in some old-fashioned ideas.” The brothers are both trained in design, and that training, coupled with a desire to create beautiful things by hand led to the founding of their Fayetteville denim and leather company.

Arkansas Made caught up with the brothers to ask them about what inspires them, and to get some insight into the hard work and dedication that makes their products so unique.

What drew you to your craft? How did you learn the craft?

Blogs and Tumblr pages, maybe. Denim, specifically raw selvedge denim, drew me to the craft. It’s all in the aesthetic. I love that indigo, and seeing well-worn jeans with fades and abuse got me into the world. From there leather came in, as it’s a user-experience type of material, like denim. 

Quite a bit of the leather craft was learned by doing, but also by YouTube videos. It’s a real thing, people learning from videos, and might seem silly, but it’s truly helpful. Also, there are leatherworker forums on the internet where old-timers and saddle makers spill their secrets (for the most part). A quick Google search on a question I have, and I quickly find I’m not the only one asking such things about leather. My brother and I took local sewing lessons from a shop here in Fayetteville, which has proved helpful in the textile work we do. 

What tools are essential to your craft? 

Sharp knives, metal punches, mauls, awls and a press, just to name a few. They all have their own function and most are indispensable. And then there’s the two old sewing machines—an old Pfaff that handles medium leather work, and a 1960s Singer that I use on all the denim work. 

Is there a certain aesthetic you aspire to with your work? Where do you draw your inspiration from?

Inspiration comes from clean lines and simplicity, mostly. We lean on functionality over glamour—products that look great and perform better. Most of our work is done with leather and denim—the bricks and mortar of American style.

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Has there been one piece that you’ve worked on that has been particularly challenging? Is there one that you liked so much when you finished it that you didn’t want to sell? 

So far the most challenging piece has probably been a large leather satchel, completely hand sewn. The thing was just a beast to work on, as I probably used too heavy of leather. When I was sewing the middle gusset of the satchel I had to stick my awl through three layers of thick leather. I got a workout, for sure. Then hand stitching the whole thing, it was a labor-intensive project. Sometimes on work like that I’m just glad to see it go, satisfied to have it out of the shop. 

Do you listen to music while working? If so, are there certain songs or artists that you tend to listen to most often?

Oh yes, definitely. I love Spotify, and use their Radio and also just let albums play. I listen to a bit of everything. I’m not much into country music, so that’s often left out. Rap, folk, alternative, hardcore, worship, indie and a Podcast called “BadChristian.” I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have strong favorites, so lots of things play while I’m working. 

Is there any advice you’d give aspiring artisans looking to make a business from their craft? 

Go for it, but also have a plan. Know that it’s not always a smooth road. There are things you have to do and figure out, such as taxes and paperwork. Work out a business plan, clearly defining what you’re doing. It’s okay if it morphs, as most things naturally will—just adjust to what works and what doesn’t. 

Are there mistakes you made early on that wound up teaching you more about your craft?

Mistakes? Never heard of them. Obviously there are lots of little mistakes we’ve had, and you learn by doing. Thankfully, I feel we’ve not had large, costly mistakes. We didn’t pay monthly state taxes in the beginning, as we didn’t even know about such things, and then owed on that. That’s not necessarily craft related, but it’s real-world stuff that we’ve messed up on. 

How do you combat creative blocks?

If you’re struggling, walk away from it for a bit. Get loose, get some air, take a walk or a break. It’s hard to keep going on something when it’s a struggle, and sometimes you just need a moment.

In this day and age of instant gratification and mass-produced goods, do you see people yearning for unique, handmade products like yours more as a way to express individuality?

I would say, yes. I’ve seen more and more handmade and unique items surfacing, and people gravitate towards certain products as a way to express themselves, their sense of style and awareness. In my mind it’s only getting more and more unique, though I’ve seen uniqueness multiplied— we used to have some of the only few selvedge denim aprons on Etsy, and now they’ve increased exponentially. It’s difficult to find a true uniqueness, and when you do it is often replicated.

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 Photography by Novo Studio.