Make Smith Leather Co.

American Made Since 2012
2014 Style Finalist

Steven Soria

Santa Barbara, California
Make Smith is a family-owned & operated business run by Steven Soria, a 3rd generation leather craftsman. We make home goods & fashion items.
Style, Accessories

Tell us about your business.

My grandfather and great uncle apprenticed as saddle makers after serving in WWII, eventually owning their own shop. My parents carried on the family business as a leather repair shop. I cut my teeth working on 3-D forms in their shop and went on to study sculpture in college. Looking to combine my experience in the fine arts with my family's artisan traditions, I started Make Smith as a custom leather workshop. The workshop has since expanded to include a Make Smith brand product line, which aims to make handmade craftsmanship available to retail customers. Inspired by my family's heritage in saddlery, my goods are primarily constructed from equestrian leathers such as bridle and latigo, which were developed to be strong, durable, and weather-resistant, yet flexible and smooth to the touch. They will last for years and only grow more beautiful with age. Whenever possible, materials are sourced in the USA. Each piece is made by hand at the Make Smith workshop located in California.

Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.

If I could summarize the Make Smith space in five words, they would be: organized, interactive, creative, productive, and fun. It's located in a old warehouse in downtown Santa Barbara, right behind the original location of my parents leather repair shop. It seemed like destiny to be back in the old neighborhood. The space is only 400 square feet and contains both the Make Smith design/manufacturing studio and retail space. Consequently, customers in the retail side can see the entire workshop side, which I love. There's something special about going to the source of creation, and it's rarer and rarer these days, so our customers really are excited about it. When you visit our shop you get to see all the machinery and raw materials and see me working on each piece. It's the retail equivalent of visiting an on-site farm stand. The rustic/industrial aesthetic of the workshop wasn't crafted by an interior designer for mood, it's the real thing!

What inspires you?

The Make Smith style is rooted in the western equestrian look, with a bold stitch and rustic leather. My goal is to take that aesthetic and apply it to fine leather goods in a pared down, refined way. Take, for example, my wallets: I use my father's traditional saddlery sewing machine, which produces a heavy stitch, enhancing that functional line quality and celebrating it, rather than trying to make it disappear. I also find visual inspiration from turn-of-the-century industrial designers such as Carl Auböck and from fine artists such as Constantin Brancusi, incorporating metal and wood with an organic richness into my home goods designs. While these sources of inspiration may seem disparate, I think it makes sense when you look at the objects I create. I look at anything I make as a sculptural object that needs to evoke a visceral response from seeing or feeling it. We call this the "nugget" effect in the studio (as in, does it feel substantial, rich, like a treasure).

What makes your business stand out?

Our story makes us stand out and we pride ourselves our unique history . We are a three generation family owned leather crafting shop. Our heritage influences our design direction, our attention to quality, and our mission. Sometimes it seems that America, and the world at large, is focusing speed, novelty, and growth at all costs. Make Smith is about an intimate connection to the production, the product, the marketplace, and the consumer. We're about building relationships, and products, that last a lifetime.

What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?

1. work hard 2. create a solid group of entrepreneurial friends/community 3. make a list of skills you are good at, and make another list of those things you are not so good at, and then hire people to help you with your weak points. 4. Never stop learning. 5. DON'T EVER GIVE UP!

What does American Made mean to you?

American Made means the world to me because of my heritage; it's my family, my roots and my way of life. It's a about working hard and doing good work. The most important thing for me is to make sure that Make Smith retains a sense of integrity, craftsmanship and honor while adjusting to world around us. American Made means keeping with tradition while addressing the needs of Americans today, and making American goods that we can be proud to display to a world market.

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