Fearless Nomad : Luke Davais
I am so excited to share this interview with you today! Cody and I have been collaborating and in the works with some really amazing projects with Luke and his leather goods company Flume Leather Co.
We met him through class, working on an epic music video remake of Drake's hotline bling. Soon after that fun night, we realized we had a lot in common and thought it would be really great to collaborate. The first part of our collab was getting Luke in our Fearless Nomad Series because he is supa cool, and makes really awesome leather goods. Check out his website! His products are unique, hand-crafted, and filled with so much passion!
Tell us who you are and what you do!
Hey! I'm Luke Davais and I like to make stuff and collaborate with other makers.
What are you currently working on right now?
I'm working on a few things. I always have a lot going on, but for now, I'm working on the stationary and product samples for the Flume Leather Co launch party coming up in a few months. Then I'm working with another business start-up that has made a natural based beard oil, and I'm building an identity for their start-up brand. I also made a friend through Instagram who is based in Oslo, Norway. They started a similar leather goods line and we are planning on a cross-country collaboration on products using eachothers brand styles that we could both feature on our sites. Other than keeping up with orders and custom orders for all the leather working I do, I'm always trying to start new things and make things with other people around town.
What do you like most about creating your own rules and running your own show?
I really like being different. I don't know if it is like making my own rules, but more like going about the rules differently, and making something totally different that what already exists. I really like not clocking in for work! Tracking my own time can be a hassle, but I also have the freedom to slow down and relax on a project if I can.
What is the hardest thing about having a Leather Goods Company?
Leather is a crazy material. The process that goes into making it into a material we can use for pretty much everything is pretty serious. I went through a process of finding out where I can get the leather, like local vendors, and what tannery they source their leather hydes. The tanning process used to be pretty sketchy, as in bad for the workers and the local environment. But since then there are way better ways of processing the leather that are held in a few American tanneries.
I go out of my way to get vegetable tanned leather, which is a process that uses vegetable oils and tree barks to cure the cow hyde to prep it for use. From there it was a lot of experimenting to find different pigment based leather dyes, and using these dies in a way that colored the leather well in a clean and safe environment, and then using other treatments to condition and seal the leather that aren't too harsh. I'm pretty stoked on a treatment called gum tragacanth, which is an extract from a shrubbery plant. I love being able to find natural materials to aid this process of making products from all natural materials. Even though it takes a lot more time and money to make these things in a natural way, it's totally worth using the best materials to create an honest product.
What advice would you give someone wanting to start freelancing or running their own business?
Don't let "not knowing what you're doing" get in the way of starting something. It's a little scary how little I know about running a business, let alone starting one. But the coolest thing ever is making yourself look as legitimate as you want to be. It's not one big trick into making people thinking I'm super professional, but the behind the scenes and process are pretty transparent compared to what your end product looks like. There are a lot of great work out there that is on the cusp of becoming something huge but is held back by scary business rules and not knowing platforms to host your work. I just jumped into it, knowing absolutely nothing. It was freaky. I'm starting to figure things out as I go, getting advice from a lot of friendly makers in Portland, and collaborating with as many people as I can in a way that benefits us both.
What do you feel like is your biggest accomplishment so far?
I love helping people. Whether it's making a product for someone, like the front pocket wallet to relieve back pain caused by a back pocket wallet, or by collaborating with another maker to boost their work as well. I've loved working with photographers and models to showcase the leather goods and referring to web-savvy friends about the website. I just can't believe so many people have helped out so far! I don't know if I've accomplished so much, but I have been able to schedule, communicate, share, and create something great by working with others. It's awesome!
How did you figure out your brand? What struggles did you go through with discovering yourself?
I really tried to make a new brand that is different from what else is already out there. I looked at what was local to Portland OR, and made sure I didn't' fall into any design cliche's or style phases that will be done and gone in a few months. I really tried to get conceptual with it. By remembering where the goods are hand made, Troutdale OR, I looked at a physical map of the area and remembered how many waterways and cliff sides frame the town. This reinforced my yearning to create something related to the physical landscape of where I grew up that expressed my love for biology and geography.
It took a while, but after researching, I found "flume." The word Flume is used to describe a winding stream between a deep narrow ravine. This perfectly describes how Troutdale is the gateway to the gorge, a landmark between Oregon and Washington just on the tip of a beautiful drive through a million great hiking spots. Even more than describing the origin of the company, I wanted to have a name that held meaning for what the brand stands for. I think it does this by recognizing we are not the only small leather goods business out there, but we are trying to do things differently than the rest.
There are plenty of rivers, but each river carves its own path, as does Flume Leather Co. carves its own path in the leather goods industry and goes against the current. By naming the brand flume, I have committed to naming subsequent products after natural waterway terms as well. The first was the Tributary long wallet, because of its inner cards sleeve. A tributary is one river meeting and flowing into another, just as the wallet has a pocket meeting and flowing together as one piece. The conceptual names follow through with the Shoreline bi-fold, the Delta pocket pouch, and so on.
I think the biggest struggle with discovering my brand, or discovering how I could make something out of it, was finding a deeper meaning in it all. I know that starting with a strong concept has created this small brand into something that has real potential. With a strong concept, great products, styles, aesthetics, mentality, and ethics can come from them as well. Finding those in my brand, and realizing some of those are the same concepts that have built me up as well is very eye opening.
What do you do when you are not creating and running a business?
I'm a full time student at PSU in the Graphic Design program. That takes up a lot of my time outside of Flume Leather Co with all my class projects and being apart of F.O.G.D(friends of graphic design.) I'm always helping out with fundraisers, events, and setting up field trips with really cool design agencies around town. Other than that I'm probably at church, hanging with friends, chilling with my pug Cooper, or re-watching episodes of New Girl on Netflix(don't act like it's not hilarious).
How has travel and seeking adventure helped your business and brand?
I've stayed pretty close to the West coast my whole life, but I have made it over to Canada and Mexico in the past few years. My long drives to Mexico were not really for a vacation, but I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip with my church to help out a family in need. As of now I've been down there 3 times, the first being my freshman year of high school. It was spring break of 2009 and all I could think about was how cool I looked and how I based my identity off of how others saw me. But then I went on this trip to Mexico, fund-raised like crazy to be able to afford the materials, and working with a group of other kids to build a small house for a family that was in real need, It really changed my outlook.
I realized that I was way too concerned with my materialistic life and all the things I had rather than my relationships or my own character. I still remember Luise, one of the boys that lived in the neighborhood where we were working that week, and how he was one of the happiest kids I had ever met. Everyone there was living in small structures made out of ripped tarps and old tires, But to this day they were still the happiest people I had ever met! I couldn't believe this on my first trip there, realizing how ridiculous it was how much I cared about looks nd found these people with genuine joy even in the conditions they lived in. Luise didn't even have shoes!
Seeing the landscape filled with these makeshift houses, and the happy families that filled them totally changed how I lived from there on out. It really did change my life. So it is travels like this that have not only affect my business or brand, but they remind me that people and relationships are most important rather than profit or success. Wherever Flume Leather Co. takes me, or any other design path I go down, my ethics and morals will stay the same. In that, no matter what I do, all I really want to do is help people.
What is your absolute most favorite place to find inspiration?
Wood grain! That may be a little specific, but I really do love the unique wood grain patterns I see every day. This really applyes for all awesome patterns i see in nature, but through my woodworking I've been able to use many different kinds of wood, that all have a different color and grain pattern. Things like Oak that is known for its strength and shows a light colored speckled stripes pattern, Walnut that is a deep dark brown and has some mixed swirls of dark grain, or even cedar that had a bright shiny orange look that even smells great. I think I draw inspiration from the curves, edges, colors, and even the conceptual use of these woods. The grain affects how strong the wood is or how it can be used, and certain woods are used for certain objectives. I think it goes back to having a strong concept, and using the right wood for the job. Sometimes you don't get to choose because you have to use a certain kind of wood, but then the patterns of that wood grain builds the aesthetic of the piece based on need. I think it goes back to letting function design your form, and letting the concept build your aesthetic.
Stay tuned for our upcoming collaboration project with Luke! We will be sharing updates with you along the way.