Thursday, July 14, 2011
The other day I paid a long overdue visit to Stanley & Sons. Just down the street from my apartment in Brooklyn, each bag and apron is handmade, start to finish, in a 350 sg/ft studio space on Grand street a stones throw from the East River. Having long admired the nearly bomb-proof construction and straight forward utilitarian aesthetic of S&S goods, I thought it was about time I stop in and see where it all comes from.
Stanley & Sons, in a way, just kind of happened. Chris' grandfather Stanley(hence the name)opened The Apron and Bag Supply Company years ago on 2nd Avenue in the city. Prior, he'd worked for years at a company making the same goods until its closing. As the story goes, Stanley eventually bought all the machines, hired everyone back and opened up shop in the same space. Years later, before Chris had any ideas of reviving what his grandfather had started two generations prior, he'd been making bags and aprons mostly for himself and friends. Aprons to wipe bike grease covered hands on. Bags to ride with or head out to the beach with. Space was limited; bags were cut and sewn on his bedroom floor. Rivets were hammered late at night on the sidewalk. Chris would take a few to his buddy's shop in Brooklyn, Luddite, to sell. Around that time, while at Eleven on Elizabeth street(now Quality Mending Co.)buying a roll of fabric, he had an offer from owner Oliver Harkness to sell them there. And, as they say, the rest is history. It was with a little encouragement and a lot of undeniable quality that Stanley & Sons came to be. The quality of his bags and aprons speaks for itself. The bags I first caught sight of(and for now, the same one's still on the S&S site) were sewn mostly from repurposed military tent and duffel fabric with hand cut, hand riveted 12 oz leather drop handles. Always on the hunt for old machines(and with a damn near encyclopedic knowledge of them), Chris recently got his hands on a beast of a leather cutter able to cut multiple handle straps at once and he's moved to working mostly with either deadstock or new fabrics. There's also the recent addition of an old Singer able to stitch through nearly a half inch of doubled up 12 oz leather which Chris demonstrated. And there's the chainstitch embroiderer that's got Chris thinking of a thousand ways to use. But for all the new/old machines, the bags and aprons have not only retained, stitch for stitch, their original handmade craftsmanship and superior quality but are constantly evolving design-wise. They've just gone next level. The bank bag Chris converted into a hell of a nice rucksack was a standout as was the murdered out black canvas and leather messenger bag. While updating the Stanley & Sons site is on the shortlist of things to do, you can keep up with new S&S stuff on their blog. Chris is constantly banging out new bag designs, generally start to finish in the space of an afternoon. Custom orders are taken and two styles of tote bags are available through Hickorees.
It's Chris' very particular attention to detail, a deeply engrained knowledge and deftly skilled hand that's made S&S just kind of happen the way it has.
Stanley & Sons has had the kind of organic, quality-based word of mouth growth that's allowed Chris to keep production steady and stay as busy as he wants to be. There's a few more employees, some interesting side and custom projects and always the next order to fill. And in the coming months, and at an important phase of growing the operation, they'll be moving down the hall to a space three times the size of the current one. And for Chris, that undoubtedly means he'll be once again on the hunt for more machines.