Make Unique Leather Goods One Detail at a Time

It can seem difficult to develop your own style when you are creating your own leather goods. You look at iconic product designs both large and small and think, “I’ll never be able to come up with something that creative.” Great designs can seem like they came out of thin air, fully formed and completely unique. This might be true on occasion, but more often than not these design innovations can take months or even years to fully form. You might be tempted to not start at all on what feels like a long and difficult road to designing your own projects. Today, I want to show you that not only can you get started right away, but that there are easy ways to see immediate improvements in your current work. 

Uniquely Solving a Design Problem

I was recently conversing a with a student, John, who discovered Ondrej Sima on Instagram, an inspiring and skillful leather goods maker from Prague.

John pointed out this great construction detail of how Sima terminates his zippers. Instead of crossing over the tape, which can be difficult to negotiate, Sima will instead come in one or two stitches over and then stop.

Sima Prague via Instagram

If you are familiar with installing zippers, you might have experienced some difficulty dealing with where the teeth cross under the leather at the end of the opening. Sima’s solution is to not fully sew over this part. This gives him more flexibility and ease to end the zipper underneath. Typically, you have to add the zip stop and then negotiate the remainder of the tape under the end so that you don’t sew into the teeth and ensure the zipper lays down evenly. With Sima’s method, you can let the teeth go under or put a stop just past the tuck under and not have to count teeth to the end. It can just run longer, and any asymmetry is hidden.

This small design change could have been an ‘aha’ moment of inspiration or it could have been a practical solution to solve the above-mentioned challenges. Either way, the result is both innovate and aesthetically-pleasing. It’s a brilliant way to solve the very practical challenge of nailing the ends of a zipper.

Taken by itself, this detail might not seem like a big design distinction but when combined with all of the other ways in which Sima crafts his bags, the piece as a whole feels different. The work will seem different and unique even though you may not notice right away what  is different. I certainly didn’t until John pointed it out to me.

Revisit Past Inspirations

Even though I have been following Sima for a long time, I had not noticed this detail about his zippers. As you change over time, so does your perception and your ‘eye’ for detail. Like me, you can make a new discovery in something you’ve seen many times. I often find something new whenever I re-read good books, re-watch movies or look at someone’s work anew.

The difficulty is in the mind’s tendency to gloss over what is already familiar. When I revisited Sima’s photos, I had to spend a lot longer to find the new details because I was looking too quickly. If you can slow down and take a moment to really look at a piece, you can discover more of its complexities and nuances.

Small Changes Can Lead to Big Design Improvements

As you improve your designs, you don’t always have to make big changes. Great design improvements can actually be quite small. They  often solve practical construction problems but serve to make your piece aesthetically unique at the same time. These changes can evolve through several versions as you improve your technique and refine your finished products, and because everyone thinks differently, how those refinements evolve is what can lead to each person’s unique style.

You can see how Sima’s small details like the zipper stop adds one more part to his overall design. The refinement of this detail over time and its combination with other design choices generates his own unique personal aesthetic. Similarly, your design choices don’t have to be big or extreme to achieve a unique look. Even a simple choice like color can become an iconic part of your design. As an example, think of Louboutin’s red soles or Tiffany’s blue boxes. Your signature details don’t have to be big to make a big impact.

If you get better results by using more extreme or ornate design changes, that works too. By exploring bigger changes you stretch your boundaries and find a new level of complexity or sophistication. But if you’re feeling stuck or lost in how to make your work more unique, you can start by making just one small change. If you take it a step further and refine that change over several versions, you’ll be well on your way to making your own unique work that will truly stand out.

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