Behind the Scenes with One of Cleveland's Most High-End Fashion Brands

Monday, August 20, 2018

I took a long lunch break one day last week in order to attend a lunch-and-learn event at the headquarters of FOUNT Leather, a Cleveland brand that specializes in high-quality, handmade leather goods - namely, really beautiful handbags. The tour was hosted by The Cleveland Flea, which has recently begun running fun "Flea Club" events like this, & it seemed like a fun way to spend my lunch hour.  

Prior to this event, I hadn't known much about FOUNT, but clearly I was in the minority: I was one of just a few attendees who wasn't carrying my own FOUNT bag on the tour. My friend Jessa of Citrus Social was carrying their big, beautiful Banjo Bag... which I later learned has a price tag of upward of $1,400. Indeed, that was almost all I knew about FOUNT going in: that their bags are gorgeous & expensive.

What I discovered during the tour, though, was that that price is set with good reason: FOUNT's bags are all handmade, and their business is incredibly devoted to ethical practices. They use high-quality leather imported from Italy, from a farm that uses every part of the cow. They save their scraps for years, using as much as they possibly can, & when they can no longer use the smallest of the pieces, they donate them to local artists & youth art programs. Oh, & they pay their workers fair wages & strive for a positive, healthy work environment for all.

FOUNT's founders, Jackie & Phillip Wachter, spoke with us about how the business got started (out of their home in Cleveland) & how it eventually grew to into what it is today. They hit it big when Country Living magazine featured them in a two-page spread, & business began booming. Today, they employ about 40 people, plus one house puppy (whose job is just to be cute).

We spoke a little bit with each of the artisans working on FOUNT's bag production. The lead designer showed us her patterns & zipper prototypes; we met a woman who hand-paints the edges of each bag; each artist sitting at a sewing machine told us what he or she was working on. I wish we'd gotten to know a little more about them, like what sort of background led them to this job. I have a feeling at least a few of them were alumni of Kent State's fashion school. (Go Flashes!)

I know, in theory, that buying handmade is the best way to go - but who among us isn't tempted by the fast fashion of Target & Old Navy? There was something so real, though, about standing inside a production studio, watching people hand cut, sew, & a burnish product, paying close attention to detail & imbuing it with love.

FOUNT does not hold sales; their bags cost what they cost, period (though they do occasionally run sample sales, selling discounted bags that are slightly "off" or lightly damaged). This ensures the integrity & quality of their products & allows them to maintain their high standards. Yes, they know their bags are expensive, an investment - but they also create them to last for years, to be passed down from family members, to be a lifelong wardrobe staple. They aim to create heirlooms.

At the end of the tour, we enjoyed a quick lunch from Cleveland Field Kitchen, a boutique catering company that's also one of my favorite Flea vendors. They served us delicious, fresh salads... & the best chocolate cookie I've ever tasted. That sea salt on top was the key!

I so, so, so want to own one of FOUNT's Petite Coventry Bags, a mini hobo crossbody that comes in three colors. At $240, it's a steep price for me, but I'm thinking that maybe I could buy myself one toward the end of the year, as a reward for doing so much Harness Cycle this year. Have you ever made a fashion investment like this?

Read more about FOUNT & shop their gorgeous leather goods on their website. If you're local, go learn more about upcoming Flea Club events, too! I'll be at the Emily Roggenburk studio tour. See you there?

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