The similarities between the men’s accessories company Makr and the Kentucky bourbon of a similar name are not lost me — both are distinctly American and each are made with care in small batches. Over the past year, Makr has built up a substantial following for its line of bags and leather goods. Recently, I had a chance to chat with the company’s designer and founder Jason Gregory about the burgeoning brand.
A Continuous Lean: Where are you from?
Jason Gregory: I am from Florida. Born in Miami but currently live in Orlando.
ACL: What led you to start a leather goods / bag line? Do you have a design background?
JG: I was a brand identity and environmental designer for large corporations that meant nothing to me. From the time I was 19 until 26 I worked in design think tanks that developed holistic brand identities for various restaurant and beverage chains. It felt really empty and fake. Everything was a façade. There were no real, beautiful materials everything had to be bullet proof, vandal proof, enjoyment proof. I wanted to create something that felt real and timeless. Something that was more immediate than waiting for a huge construction project to realize something I had half heartedly drawn. This is inline with my insistence on manufacturing locally. I want the work to be in my hands rather than sent off to be interpreted.
ACL: Makr products seem to draw a good balance between rugged and refined. What is the inspiration for the collection?
JG: I was always interested in the old luxury items that I would find in my grandparents basement. They were a completely different caliber of craft than the mass produced nonsense of the 1980′s. Camera bags, luggage, tools. My grandfather was a private pilot and although he lived in the Midwest he had incredible items from around the globe. Those items embedded themselves in my mind and 10 years later that sensibility was awoken when I inherited some of his belongings. The first wallet was created out of a camera bag that was falling apart from a lifetime in a damp basement. I cut the material into a usable flat piece and put it into a laser that the firm I was working for had just gotten. The true identity of Makr has gone through a very atypical metamorphosis. It was conceived in nostalgia, nourished through new technology and has matured with a return to traditional craft. The products are still touched by all of those elements but the essence is a proper mixture.
ACL: Has the decision to keep your production in the U.S. been a positive one for you and the company? Please explain.
JG: I feel like I have always been really aware of provenance, even when I was really young. I cared where bands were from and who was in them. I was interested in this because it was hard for me to be a fan of something that I had no idea about.
Products are the same way. I think it’s hard to care about a product unless it has some sort of meaning for you. Sometimes you can impart meaning by attaching travel or situation to an object. I try to do that with the actual creation of the object. I feel like the “soul” (for lack of a better word) of an object is extremely obvious, you can tell when something just feels the way it should. By stressing this “Handcrafted in North America” badge it draws a potential buyer into what the brand is really about and who is involved. Makr as an operational entity is technically one person. It is me without having to actually be me.
This first collection of Makr goods was almost an exercise in self reliance. I wanted to learn every aspect of the production of these objects. I wanted to know everything and be able to make decisions based on circumstances that arrive rather than melding stock elements or standards into a quasi- original product. The manufacturing techniques that I use inform my objects to a certain extent. I enjoy designing around processes. I don’t limit myself to them but I definitely push those simple boundaries as far as needed. It’s just constant learning that I feel might not happen if I wasn’t completely submerged in all processes. I really can’t imagine the project not being made in the U.S.
What the brand lacks in vowels, it makes up in craftsmanship and sturdy materials. More items from the Makr collection are pictured below.