MAKERS // TOMAHAWK
There’s pretty much no cooler reason for doing something than “because it’s badass.” Case in point, Mike Elias and his line of leather-based goods, which he named Tomahawk, not only because the moniker represents strength, but also because it sounds, you guessed it, badass. “Tomahawk started off with me making cycling caps and other random goodies out of recycled fabrics,” Elias explains. “As I started to get more of a feel for how patterning and sewing worked in general, I began to branch out and try different things. Leather started to show its face in my work very soon after and exploring that was something I just fell in love with.”
Elias got his first sewing machine after he moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2006, and from there taught himself everything he knows through trial and error. His learning approach is deconstructionist, meaning he’ll do things like spend hours at the Goodwill studying different bags so he can figure out how they were constructed. His creative magic takes place in an old barn that has been outfitted into a live/work space. “As far as I’m concerned, there isn’t a better place in the city to do what I do,” he says. “I’ve filled it with things that I love, things that inspire me and things that make me feel like I might not be in the middle of a city. Aside from my work area, it’s got a little hang spot with a couch and a ton of ol’ country records, a couple guitars for procrastination, and a built in vibe that I would never try to change.”
Such simplicity permeates Elias’s designs as well—if he could pick a theme song, it’d be Guy Clark’s, “Stuff that Works.” High on his list of priorities is creating something that is good looking, practical and long lasting. He wants to make things that people can use everyday, not just on special occasions.
“Take my Elliott wallet as an example,” Elias says. “There aren’t too many wallets out there with that simplicity. I personally wanted something that I could put a couple cards and some cash into, have look beautiful, and that’s about it. I’m not a ‘Costanza’ wallet kind of a guy, so I wanted something that could be super slim and useful.”
A man of his hands, when he’s not crafting away in his barn, Elias works as a stonemason, a bartender and plays guitar and sings in a band called Denver (who have an album coming out in July!). Although that keeps his schedule interesting, his days always begin the same way. “It always starts with getting up with my wife and son, making some coffee and enjoying a little time with those guys,” he says.
Nothing he makes is mass-produced (twelve is a big run for him), and as much as possible Elias likes to source materials locally. The more attention he can pay to an individual piece, he says, the better. And because his inspiration comes from everyday life, living in a city like Portland—where it feels like you can find something unique around every corner—couldn’t be a better fit.
“The creative community here is unmatched,” he says. “Whether it be music, craft, beer, et cetera, it seems like people are always up to something awesome.”
To learn more about Tomahawk Portland, visit them here.
Photography by Elizabeth Rudge
Words by Barbara Sueko McGuire