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Alt-Crafter Jon Wye

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Jon Wye, http://www.jonwye.com

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Specialties: Printed leather belts, dog collars and wrist cuffs; also designs T-shirts

Price range: Belts, $65; cuffs, $20; dog collars, $28-$35; T-shirts, $20-$36

Ask Jon Wye whether he's part of the alt-craft movement, and he'll demur: He has been too busy building his leather-belt business to run in the craft circles.

More than any other maker here, Wye seems almost post-craft. His ambitions are to build his brand and expand his line beyond the belts, cuffs and T-shirts that he currently makes; next up are guitar straps. He shyly mentions dreams of wide recognition for his work (an accessories and T-shirt brand like Ed Hardy comes to mind).

Evidence of his growing empire: Wye, 30, hires other artists to collaborate on the "intellectual pop" designs that adorn his belts. Outside artists also help design and print the T-shirts. And his workshop -- the back of his parents' Capitol Hill home -- is full of massive machinery that hints at imminent industrialization: an industrial sewing machine; a hulking thing whose only job is to punch out perfect little belt holes; another noisy device plugs in his signature rivets (which bear a little explosive poof that he had custom-made in an ambitious batch of 25,000.) He has given up his job, moved back in with his parents and taken out loans to completely focus on his goals.

For now, however, you can still find Wye's fingerprints all over his wares. He's the one in the workshop, thinning the leather and printing it with the designs; the method involves printing the leather like a tattoo artist might tattoo skin, getting the dyes beneath the surface.

Having pinned down his process ("We're very industrial about things this year," he concedes), he's focusing on the business side. Says Wye: "My dad sat me down at one point, and he said, 'You love making this stuff. You hate selling it.' So I had to learn to love to sell it."

These days, he's got his approach down to a science. "All of it matters. Every little piece," he says, ticking off his market-day rules. "I will always stay late at an event. I will never pack up early no matter how bad the show is. I will always stand and be in an attentive position; never any sunglasses, always wearing my own product."


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