Heritage has become a buzz word lately, and – after reading hundreds of brand pitches touting heritage ideals and craftsmanship – for products that looked poorly made even from my laptop screen – it was starting to lose it’s meaning.
And then I visited J.W. Hulme in St. Paul.
And suddenly heritage – real heritage – made a lot more sense to me.
I’ve been a fan of J.W. Hulme bags for years – that weekender is entirely impractical for my preferred methods of travel but is just so gorgeous that I’d consider working out just so I could carry it around the airport with me – but didn’t know much about the brand until Ashley and I visited the factory a few months ago.
After this visit, I have such a different understanding of what heritage really means – and it is impressive.
J.W. Hulme opened in 1905 as a field and sport company, and all products have always been produced in St. Paul, Minnesota, using domestically sourced materials. The company has always focused on quality over anything else – the bags are classic, meant to be used, and are guaranteed to last.
The production of these bags is rather incredible. The company only uses A-grade, heavy leather hides from carefully selected partner tanneries across the US. The leather arrives, is inspected, and then is split – which thins the leather out to a uniform width, and hand cut using a steel die. Each bag is made up of 8-10 pieces of leather, using the right part of a hide for each piece is imperative – and knowing which part that is is an art.
After cutting, the ends of each piece are hand painted (!!!) for consistency, and then the leather is lined and backed. If the product is part of the American Heritage line, the leather is hand buffed and burnished to create a patina. The bags are finished with solid brass hardware and Riri zippers – considered the best zippers in the market. And the bags are guaranteed – for life.
Making bags is labor intensive, but the attention to detail – and the respect for the craft – of each employee was obvious. Many of the employees have worked for the company for over 20 years, and J.W. Hulme is also a partner in The Makers Coalition, an organization working to build a trained cut and sew industry within Minnesota. I asked Laura, the Vice President of Brand Management, about her experience at J.W. Hulme, and she said “There is an amazing level of integrity that everyone brings when they come in in the morning. It’s not just a job, this is a mission. Everyone gets what we are doing and why we are doing it.”
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