American Craft: Spotlight on Billykirk


(Left) Photo: Rhiannon Newman (Right) Photo: Josh Wool

In conjunction with Made in the USA, we’re celebrating contemporary American ingenuity by highlighting some of our favorite American artisans featured in the museum shop. Today we interview brothers Chris and Kirk Bray, who comprise the Billykirk team. 

What is different about your products from other leather and canvas goods that makes them stand up to wear and tear?

Where leather is concerned, we source only top quality genuine cowhides from respected tanneries. Once that base is covered there is just so much one can do to improve the integrity of a leather item. You can slather on all sorts of waxes and conditioners but at the end of the day ones oils, sweat, environment and how the item is treated ultimately dictates its longevity.

Canvas is another interesting material in that it comes in all sorts of weights and is woven in a number of different ways. We try and source heavy weight cotton canvas that is similar to the canvas used in the boating industry. It’s rugged and built to last. Similarly, we use mil-spec cotton webbing, which means it meets military weight and quality standards. These choices are more costly but guarantee the product to last many years.


Photo: Rhiannon Newman

Kirk and I both design for the company. Kirk is more the architect and pattern producer, making sure the angles and things flow correctly, and then I come in to shake things up and kick the tires.

Regarding trends and classic styles: Our design philosophy has always been to design items that are not the focus of attention but rather blend into the user’s clothing choice. We feel this conscious decision to be subdued ends up preserving the life of the item. In other words, our items go with just about everything and are not designed based on a fad, so they tend to stay in rotation for many, many years. Once that happens, the item takes on a whole new persona. It not only becomes relied upon but also revered. That’s the connection we are ultimately after. It’s not unlike an old pair of Redwing boots or Levi’s jeans.

How do you source your materials? Do you purchase the leather finished or are you involved in the entire process of creating the material?

We only buy from reputable tanneries in the USA and England. These are finished goods. Luckily, over the years we have built a good relationship with a number of these tanneries so they are now willing to produce custom colors and weights for us.

Do you have a favorite American artist? If yes, who, and why?

Too many to list….
Wharton Esherick—His design sense was stellar. Perfect harmony with materials. His Ash Chair is a favorite of mine.
William Eggleston—his photography is real, crisp and superbly framed; and he is from Memphis, TN where we are from.
Alan Magee—he is a fantastic realist painter. His painting Countermeasure is wonderfully soothing.