Interview with Thomas Brennan | Reclaimed: Project

Interview with Thomas Brennan | Reclaimed: Project

We recently stopped by to chat with our Director of Design, Thomas Brennan, to learn more about our latest capsule collection called the Reclaimed: Project. The collection, made from leather hides that are traditionally discarded, celebrates the imperfections and natural markings that make this leather unique and beautiful. Learn more about this leather we've named Heirloom from our conversation with Thomas.

Tell us a little bit about Heirloom—the new leather used in this capsule collection.
The technical answer is that Heirloom is a leather tanned at the 150-year-old tannery we work with on many of favorite leathers (Brompton, Titan Milled) in Bassano del Grappa, Italy. Leather is graded on an “A” to “C” scale based on the look of the hide, how many markings or scars does it have? Are there any stains? How consistent is the color? We have always used “A” grade hides because they typically need no “correction”: the sanding, painting, and stamping that obliterates superficial stains and scratches but also the unique grain, wrinkles, and color of each hide. Heirloom, by contrast, is “C” grade leather. With the same integrity and strength as “A” grade hides, Heirloom looks significantly more natural. Some hides have sprays of markings on them, like freckles; others sport areas of discoloration or constellations of scars.

The less technical answer is that Heirloom leather reminds me of just that: an heirloom. The leather looks weathered and broken-in; it has a story behind it. Buying a piece from this collection is like unearthing a vintage bag at an incredible flea market or discovering your grandfather's old duffel in his attic. The bags using this leather each seem to radiate their own unique history. I love them because they look like you’ve had them for years.

We view all leather as a sustainable material, why is Heirloom even more so?
The leather that became Heirloom was brought to our attention by the tannery in Italy. They had a backlog of tens of thousands of square feet of this “C” grade leather languishing in storage purgatory (“Purgatorio” to you Dante fans), not “clean” enough to be tanned without a lot of time- and resource-intensive refinishing but not actually bad leather. An inflated demand for leather that is “perfect” (an impossible standard for a natural material) means that literal tons of quality hides are needlessly discarded, often in ways that can be detrimental to the environment. Tanning responsibly and giving hides new life as leather is an act of sustainability.

With Heirloom, we also hope to shift the conversation to be more inclusive about what can be considered “good” leather. Rejecting hides for being aesthetically “imperfect” creates the false equivalence between quality and a generic sameness. If we only see flawless hides as valuable, all of the organic, interesting, variable traits of leather are flattened into uniformity and we create needless waste.

How did this leather influence your design?
“Heirloom” has always been a term I love to focus on when designing. When I’m working my way through a design, inevitably over-complicating it at the beginning, shoehorning too many ideas into a sketch or sample, it helps to ask myself "What’s going to look good several generations from now?” It’s a good trick for warding off (most!) trendy details or extraneous decoration. I wanted the designs to have a vintage look to complement the aesthetic of the leather: the circular shape of the varsity duffel, for instance, is indebted to gym bags of old; the backpack is instantly recognizable as the luxe version of a bag I carried in high school. That said (if I may immediately contradict myself), I did enjoy being able to fold in styles and details—the hip bag; the angled handles on the tote—that were a bit more adventurous and contemporary than the bags in our main line.

What's your favorite piece in the Reclaimed lineup?
I love the backpack. I actually designed that bag for the main line—the angled zipper into the main compartment is a nod to the similar opening on the Quinn Commuter Backpack—but shifted it to the Reclaimed collection after sampling it in the more relaxed, softer Heirloom leather. Can I have two favorites? I have to give the tote its due, too. The crisp seams of the bag give it a structure and presence that feels way more professional than your average canvas freebie from the New Yorker (no offense to that tote! Or the New Yorker! Thank you for the tote if you’re reading this).

Are there plans to expand the Reclaimed collection beyond the initial drop?
Yes. I have several more designs in development that will debut in the spring—including a possible collaboration with some conscientious, sustainability-minded New York friends!

Shop The Reclaimed: Project Collection: