Tactile Craftworks

American Made Since 2011
2014 Wildcard Finalist

Sarah Kirkham & Anna Warren

Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Tactile Craftworks makes handsome leather goods that are as satisfying to hold as they are practical to use.
Crafts, Fiber Crafts

Tell us about your business.

We love how visceral working with leather is: it's all sharp knives, metal stamps and rawhide mallets. While that rough process is always apparent in the leather, we're intentional about achieving refined results. We are always playing with the perceptions of leather as a material, how it is substantial and durable but also seen as fine and handsome. We aim to create products that balance these qualities. Tactile Craftworks is based on sharing solid crafting ability, a somewhat masculine and rustic aesthetic, and a strong friendship. Over the last several years, we have worked at tailoring our style and product to create pieces that are lasting, beautiful to look at, and satisfying to hold. We're lucky to be working as a pair. It allows us to bounce ideas off of each other, challenge each other, and produce work that is better than the sum of our parts. We are always thinking about our customers. We don't think of it as you buying our journal, rather we're making your journal.

Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.

We are in love with our new workspace- it feels like home, because it is. We've always been crafting nomads, working wherever we have time, tools, and inspiration. Now, we have a new studio in Sarah's beautiful Milwaukee bungalow- with windows for sunlight and two big tables- close enough to talk while we work. We're thrilled to be creating a space just for Tactile Craftworks- our dreams are big.

What inspires you?

Our craft is most inspired by history, our customers, other makers, and currently, the outdoors. Inspiration comes in waves and phases. We consider ourselves lucky to be a tiny part of a traditional craft, and we feel a sense of responsibility to work hard at it. We try to honor the craftsmanship that has come before us, while trusting our own eyes and aesthetics. We often wish that we wish we could hold every morning meeting in a canoe. In all reality though, some of our best ideas have come from looking at textures and colors outside, taking cues from antique photographs of mountains or canyons, and researching historic signs of the National Park System. We like to use materials that make sense in those places. We strive to create goods that make sense in those places.

What makes your business stand out?

We like to think that our friendship makes our business different from any other- that’s what comes first in everything we do. We’re also quite excited about how we’ve been able to combine old world crafting techniques with modern technology to create our products. Handcrafting is the heart of what we do- but the laser etcher allows us to add a new dimension to our work, one that enhances our craftsmanship instead of replacing it.

What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?

Always keep striving to do what you do better. Trust in your taste and stick to your guns, but be willing to learn and never be afraid to fail- that's when you'll learn the most. We love this quote from Ira Glass- "Do a lot of work. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your work will be as good as your ambitions."

What does American Made mean to you?

For us, American Made means that we can strike out on our own, and make our livelihood using our skills to create things we care about. By being part of a larger community- Milwaukee, The Midwest, the US, we have people who support us and we feel part of something bigger- a shared dream that we can make a life we love for ourselves, and for each other. Our craft is intentional and specific to us and our home. We love that our work connects us to our customers, our suppliers, and our surroundings. That's what locally made means, real connections between makers and users, between work and home, between hands and heart. As we grow, we try to honor that in the choices we make for our business.

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