After dropping out of college to open a retail store, Christian Resiak decided to reroute his career path and take up leather making in his home state of Indiana. His store, Howl and Hide Supply Co., was founded in 2015, and specializes in hand crafted goods and accessories. From 100% leather tote bags to accented key fobs, Howl and Hide’s American cowhide sourced leather covers a variety of men and women styles.
Learn more about Christian Resiak and Howl and Hide Supply Co. in our exclusive Modern Midwest Q&A.
Modern Midwest: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background?
Howl and Hide Supply Co.: I have always tinkered with things and have been super interested in building stuff. Whether it was painting or sculpting growing up, I have always had my hand in the arts. I’m from Noblesville, IN, which is located roughly 30 min from downtown Indianapolis. There was a strict code growing up in Noblesville that you follow the “normal” path: finish high school, go to college, and find a stable job behind a desk somewhere. I have always broken that mold, which I feel as though helped me in the long run with my brand. I attended Purdue University for a short 6 months while working for a retailer. An opportunity arose for me to open a store in Peoria, IL and I went that route and dropped out of school. While in Peoria, I inhabited the mindset that I wanted to have an interesting job rather than something mindless and boring. I progressed through my career and moved around the Great Lakes region before heading back to Indianapolis. When I moved away from Indy in 2008, the city was in bad shape. No one went downtown, there was nothing interesting going on, and it seemed to never really progress. When I came back three years ago, my mind was blown on how the city had changed. Indianapolis, in my opinion, is really becoming a mecca for artists and visionaries and I am stoked to be a part of it.
MM: Tell us about how your company came to be.
HH: I was bored visiting my fiancé at work at this swanky mall just north of the city when I saw some over priced leather goods at a big box store. I immediately thought that it was crazy that people spend so much money on something mass-produced and lacking in quality. I went to numerous thrift stores and bought a bunch of used leather trench coats, which were easy to come by as this was in the later months of 2014. I read old leatherworking books by Al Stohlman and taught myself to hand stitch. I would get super annoyed since the leather from the jackets was far too thin to make anything of substance, so I purchased some scrap from this rad leather shop in Indianapolis that has been open for over 100 years. It has always been a hobby that grew into an obsession. I would work from 8am4pm, come home, and stitch leather from 5pm3am. After numerous people asked to buy my stuff, I decided to open an online store at the beginning of 2015. No one in Indy is putting out anything like we were doing so we blew up in the area. I was beginning to work more on Howl & Hide then my job, so I ended up quitting to focus 100% on the brand. I hired an apprentice to grow the brand with me, which was one of the best decisions I made. We moved into Indy’s first small makerspace in the heart of downtown last summer and started getting swamped with orders. It was great to see but we were quickly running out of room in the shared shop so we moved to our own storefront a few months ago. We are located just east of downtown in this killer building built in the early 1900’s. The family that built it made it into a pharmacy then turned it into a bar. It has been kind of crazy to start a brand out of thin air but it’s been amazing to grow into a company. It’s been just over a year and we have some amazing retailers and have grown into a spotlight I really never knew existed.
MM: Why did you choose the medium of leather to work with and who taught you the making process?
HH: As corny as this sounds, I didn’t choose leather, I just saw a product that was poorly designed for too much money. It kind of just came to me that “I could make this”. I’m self-taught and have zero ties to leather in my family. After working with leather for the first few months, I couldn’t stop. I have toyed around with the idea to add waxed canvas but for now I just love leather. It is killer to use a material that has been used over the centuries to make new, modern products. Cavemen used leather for virtually everything, 1900 businessmen used leather bags to store their documents, and now millennials are falling in love with it. Leather has been incorporated in every trend for every season. In my opinion, it is harder to take a material such as leather and a classic messenger design and make it original, then to create over the top eccentric pieces.
MM: What does your creative process look like?
HH: Creativity to me really is trial and error. When I first started, I would make super simple bags and over time have tweaked and added pockets to make it convenient for folks to stash their stuff. I am adamant about keeping 100% of our work hand stitched because our focus has always to been to revitalize the classic leather bag rather than mass-producing them to big retailers. I find creativity through the people that buy my bags and wallets. We currently have a line of items but it’s always rad when someone wants something extra added, like an additional pocket. If I find that that pocket is essential to the design and convenience of the item, then I’ll add it to a product in the line.
MM: How does living in the Midwest influence your work?
HH: The Midwest is a blank canvas. It is super refreshing to be on the forefront of American-Made manufacturing here in Indianapolis. Cities like Las Vegas, New York, and LA are great to show, but for a HQ it is so easy to be lost in the mix of every other company trying to make it. Here in the Heartland the sky’s the limit. There are numerous other creative people that thrive on collaboration. On the East and West coast the price of maintaining and growing your brand is so astronomical that the chances for success is not based on the quality of your goods, but the money in your account. People here are starting to see the culture of what we are doing and are in awe. The Midwest is home and it’s where I want to grow my company, rather than flee to the coast for the 1% chance of recognition.
MM: Why is hand crafting goods important to you?
HH: To be honest, I have absolutely no idea how to work a sewing machine and I intend to keep it that way. There is something so incredibly personal about buying one of my bags. A customer orders one off the site and once I get the notification, it is thrown into production. Once the bag is completed, I box it up and send it out. I find that buying something that has been sitting in inventory devalues the product. I have had numerous people from all over stop into our shop while passing through Indy just to check it out and to show me how their bags have aged. Back in the 1920 – 1960’s, our country was built on the trades. Today, we find that some of the most in demand jobs are ones that utilize your hands. It is important for me to not only offer truly handcrafted items but to drive the message of importance of the trades. It’s not all about leather – that’s just what I do – it really is about teaching people that there are more careers than being glued to a desk.
MM: What’s something new – or challenging – that you are currently working on?
HH: It’s great doing what I do because every day brings a new challenge. When it comes to orders from the site, I make everything on a production scale. I really have stopped just making one item at a time. Rather than making one wallet, I will throw ten in the mix, which really gets your brain turning, as you have to focus on multiple items. We also launched half of our ladies line in our showroom, which will be added to the store soon. I have been so immersed in classic briefcase and backpacks that adding the flare of ladies accessories did become a challenge. Being ahead of the trend is a full-time job on its own and with this new ladies line I have to be super design focused. We also have paired up with a pretty big home goods company on a project, so thinking outside the box of accessories and working with their industrial designers has not only been a challenge but a breath of fresh air.
MM: Any fun facts about the brand or making process?
HH: I named my company after my dog, Alice. She is a 6-year-old husky and talks a lot. She actually talks all the time. If she needs water she stands by her bowl and howls, if she needs to go outside she stands by the door and howls, if I’m sitting on the couch and she wants me to pay attention to her, she howls. I take Alice to my shop everyday along with my new pup, a chocolate lab named Calvin, and they have become a staple of my workshop/showroom. I rescued Alice from a humane society in Lafayette, IN. I was in no place to take on the responsibility of anything other than myself so she taught me to be selfless. It’s weird to say but I had just moved out on my own and she kind of grew up with me in this strange thing we call life.