Forum Posts

Toby Chye
Dec 19, 2018
In Say Hello Before Posting
Hailing from a tropical island of a nation where one of the great evils of crafting reigns with an iron fist, humidity has always been the enemy from the start... But that didn't deter me from embarking this perilous yet rewarding journey in the world of leather. I just had to deal with it in some way (and to this day too, damn). I started out around 9 years ago by stumbling upon this quaint little shop in the heart of Orchard Road (a famous shopping district here). A really out of place store that doesn't gel well with the glitzy modern aged decor most modern malls are known for (even till today I find it so). I was attracted to it somehow, probably the unmistakable smell of fresh leather rolls (much like the smell of coffee and tea). So I went into the shop and the rest was history. Anyway, the short of it was I was a customer first for a period of time and later on worked for the master (who is the owner of the place too) who somewhat became a mentor. It was quite the experience to be at that place at that time too. During that period, or rather a break from the monotony of university stuff, I was quite immersed into Native American and vintage Americana style of leatherwork. As weird as it sounds since back then having a place like that seems really far out for a place like Singapore, it is where I fell in love with that acquired taste of craft work as well as fashion in general (work wear, vintage). Essentially, that sparked the interest and stayed on till this day. I never really had "formal" training per se, as most of the time working for my then master meant I had to tend the shop most the time and be in the front line of sales. Begrudgingly, at that time I always yearned to learn the actual skills of crafting, but there wasn't an opportunity to do so. Though, looking back, the master is probably right about this! The reason is... After some reflection (elderly Chinese don't really have a way of fully expressing and teaching a way of doing things), I realised he wanted me to experience the trade in its entirety. From the start of chatting up with customers, knowing what they want, learning how to speak their "language" (getting to vibe their style) and closing a sale in which later getting crafting a product and selling it... Basically canvassing and selling yourself before the behind the works stuff happens. I never knew that until leaving the shop after university anyways. But it felt good that this self-realisation hit me. And as for the crafting side of things, well, all I can say is that my cryptic master said once said "I always do my work in this open area, you can see my day in and out, all the process laid bare... So if you can catch it or have anything you want to ask, just do so". Hence with that statement, the only crafting work I initially did was just "staring and trying to register" what was seen during that time in my life. After 2 years of working with him, I left the store eventually. Did I learn something out of it or was it just for nothing? At that time I felt that I missed out a lot... But I could safely say (right now), it is the journey that counts, every little bit of experience makes a difference. What made a difference was it sparked that yearning to learn more, to experience more in any way possible... The rest was history anyway. I began scouring the different sources post to working at that shop and setting up my home workplace after (still using it till this day), eventually shifting more towards learning finer leather working styles and of course eventually as I went deeper into rabbit hole, I caught the addiction of tools collecting (till this day, damn). Back then, it was Japanese books mainly and the thankfully I could read the translated ones in traditional Chinese... A couple of YouTube videos, a few sites like the proverbial Tandy and that was basically it I guess. It's all different today, however, so many sites, so avenues and resources available at the fingertips. Social media has definitely changed the entire game. The mystical lines are blurred as more people shared stuff online and what was once closely guarded secrets from each master, these days it's better to learn from anyone and anything. From the relatively more affordable stuff that China churns out at a rapid pace, selling them like hotcakes via Aliexpress for most of the non-Chinese speaking world, and Taobao, Wechat, QQ for those who daring enough or proficient with the language, to probably more "reputable" international sites, the world of crafting gets easier as access is better. Needless to say, this site and the forum is awesome for what it is... Another outlet for sharing which I believe it's the only way forward in this day and age. More people knowing means more exposure which eventually leads to the entire industry not imploding due to "secrecy". A wise artisan once said (in Chinese), "Why do I impart my skills and knowledge? It's simple, I teach for a fee just anyone else in any other industry. Mystifying the techniques only hurts the industry more, why? Because it makes selling the wares even harder, and by then probably only factories are making leather goods. The only thing that should be a mystery is the crafter's thought process and his inspiration. I want students to put techniques as his foundation and let his own creativity be the unique thing that sets himself apart from the rest instead of having the lack of skills be the forefront of what's good and what's not so." ....yeah, but always take it in with a grain of salt though. Cheers! Hopefully, this forum paves the way for more stories shared among everyone!
Toby Chye

Toby Chye

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