When I recently interviewed the venerable leatherwork artist Jim Linnell at his Elktracks Studio in Venus, Texas, he suggested that a better question than the ones I’d asked might be, “What will the future styles of leathercrafts look like? Who will continue the artform’s evolution into the next generation?”
One answer, Jim, is David Walt, 16, of Franklin, Tennessee, proprietor of his own leather business, FarmStrong. “I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands,” says David when asked what sparked the idea for the company. “But it really started in January 2017 when my pastor, Jason McAnally, and his wife had their first child and he couldn’t devote the time to his own leather business, Kindfolk. So he taught me some things, and I discovered I had a knack for it.”
The pastor noted that David had natural artistic gifts and skill, and that he picked up the craft quickly, becoming polished as an artisan and gaining business experience at an age “when most of us were just getting an education.”
“David has always been artistic,” adds his father, J. D. Walt. “He likes to draw and work with metal.” A man of varied talents himself, J. D. is a lawyer, theologian, publisher and entrepreneur. He’s shared business tips with his eldest son.
The FarmStrong product line includes journal covers, bifold wallets, key fobs, cord wranglers, Mason jar covers and beanies. New to David’s line are “farmer’s belts” and “The Minimalist,” the latter being a handy leather case for business cards. All of the items are handmade and hand-stitched. Products on the drawing board include clutch bags and other pieces geared for ladies.
David also reveals a gift for the merchandising lingo at the age of 16. The Field Notes Journal Wallet, $99.99, is “made with Brown Latigo leather” from the Horween Tannery in Chicago. “Made to be easily carried around throughout your day, so you can get all your great ideas written down! Comes with one field notes journal.” The Bifold Wallet, $79.99, is designed “for those who don’t want a bulky bifold or a minimalist wallet. A four-pocketed folding wallet handmade with Dark Nut Dublin Horween leather. This wallet has plenty of room for cards and cash while remaining thin and pocketable. This wallet is tediously and meticulously handcrafted and is made to last throughout the years.”
David also already knows that any good leathercrafter must always be refining their skills by studying the methods of more advanced artisans. He picks up online tips through social media “mentors” like Wilde Moon Leather of Oklahoma and Little King Goods up in Canada. And he says it’s also important to keep upgrading one’s equipment and tools. David recently acquired a burnishing wheel and an arbor press.
The FarmStrong CEO is also a forward thinker in the “giving back” department, passing leathercraft knowledge to younger folks down the line. “I’ve taught my younger siblings some things,” he says. “Of course, since they’re free labor, they don’t much like having me for a boss.”
Marketing, getting the products out there both online and in brick and mortar, is also a priority. Peggy Franks, owner of The Barn Door in Franklin, says FarmStrong products have been very popular and he’s been the shop’s featured artist for Franklin’s First Friday Art Crawl. He’s also got applications pending to appear at the quarterly Franklin Sunday Market and the city’s Made South Holiday Market in November.
It’s obvious that the teenager is learning quite a bit through the business and having some fun. He plans to keep FarmStrong going when he enters college in a couple of years. And that brings us to perhaps the most serious aspect of the enterprise. What about the name?
“I didn’t name it FarmStrong just because it sounds cool,” David says. “I come from a long, long line of farmers, and I’m proud of that.” Going back several generations, the Walts grew cotton, rice and soybeans in Arkansas. “I want to urbanize the agrarian,” David continues, busting out the five-dollar words. “And by that I mean I want people to know about the simplicity of life on a farm, the rugged and rustic life, through my leather products. Farming is really in vogue right now. The more urban our society gets, the more we long for the land, for the basic things in life like producing food from the earth. People want to be in touch with where their food comes from.”
That sentiment struck a major chord with me, and I offered one of my favorite maxims – “If you eat food, you’re involved with agriculture.”
And Papa J. D. brought it on home with the best line in years – “If you’re gonna complain about farmers, don’t do it with your mouth full!”
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