Just walking through the streets of Tallinn’s old town, past the craft guilds situated on Katariina Passage showcase ample examples of Estonia’s long relationship with textiles, as well as leather artistry. And not too far from here, in the Solaris Centre in downtown Tallinn, Craftory also provides beautiful leather products, displaying a clear devotion to this timeless craft. However, a greater part of their growing appeal and worldwide reach come from the infusion of modernity they have put into an industry which has traditionally been filled with, well, traditions.
During the recent celebrations of Estonia’s 98th Anniversary of independence, Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas gave a fantastic speech highlighting, among many other topics, the startup scene in Estonia. On this topic, he specifically celebrated the Estonian outlook and attitude of: Our culture favours gumption and an open-eyed, curious outlook on the world to grab an opportunity when we see it.O Well, perhaps he didn t know it at the time, but the words he used perfectly describe the story and authentic truth in image of Craftory, arguably the hottest new design startup to come out of Estonia.
Founded ‘accidentally’, after founder Mihkel Männik visited an old leather tannery by chance and in his own words ‘instantly fell in love with it’, Craftory was started for real in the fall of 2013. Embodying the can-do attitude and alert approach the Prime Minister alluded to, the company is described by partner-founder, Timo Vikson as being an accident of inspiration turned to profitability. It’s the perfect story, the three young Estonians founders had hit a point in their lives where what they had been doing, and where it was leading to, had become questionable. Mihkel was studying aviation, Timo – journalism and the third co-founder, Martin Saar had studied product design. They all came from different backgrounds, and were working in different industries, but after a slight hiccup caused Mihkel to be kicked out of his studies, it nevertheless seemed the best way forward.
Starting their company with only a small amount of capital between them, they ‘believed that true companionship and different stories are interesting enough for people to follow our path.’ And they were right – with their first sale happening within 30 minutes of being online.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive for a leather company to be founded by individuals with more inspiration than experience, it is exactly this factor which is helping move them from a simple idea to something more like a mass movement. It is also this phenomenon which is causing so much resonance with Craftory’s audience. When discussing their competition, Timo notes, and pays homage to, the fact that the leather trade is a very long-established industry, and many of the companies surrounding them place a great deal of weight on their heritage ‘where the tradition of making things is everything’.
With Craftory however, the rule lies in being authentic, being sincere and being yourself. ‘This unpretentious design and also attitude means that we give you a simple and beautiful design, but it comes without this burden of company history, traditions, big brand stories and you having to come from a certain sector of society in order to buy our goods. We have this honest story of how and why Craftory was founded,’ Timo explains. This openness and accessibility is what is giving them a long reach to multiple fan bases across many different groups and subcultures. That said, they are quick to point out, when asked about specific styles, that Craftory has never tried to define their goods through any particular style type. Mihkel underlines this by adding that ‘we believe that our clean aesthetics leave a lot of room to suit everyone, from young urban dwellers to mature white collar types. And it is amazing to see that our users are extremely individual, from very different backgrounds.’
With such a big reach, Craftory places great importance on the ideals of their clients, however they don’t just rely on this one perspective. Craftory also places a high value on conceptual ideas for their designs. Without the emphasis on a past legacy, they have a focus on the future very much at the heart of their design process.
‘We don’t have long history, but we have great will to do things well … our ways of consuming are changing and we have to rethink what is functional and what we actually need,’ states Timo and this has been their mindset from day one.
When asked about their products, Timo and Mihkel describe them as ‘simple and functional, but we also have to make sure that we stay true to our aesthetic concept and not start to make things that are already there. We try to offer something new every time we release a new product. Design has to be in evolution, otherwise it will get boring quickly,’ they go on.
Additionally, Timo states that their viewpoint as relative newcomers to leather craft has undoubtedly shaped their design influences and helped them to see things from a different angle than their competitors, perhaps even allowing them more freedom to reinvent things on their own. This has been the case with the Slim Note Sack, which Mihkel points out was designed from the get-go to deliberately be suited for our evolving technology and changing usage habits. Featuring a tighter fit forever shrinking laptops and their chargers, in fact Mihkel states that the new MacBook 12 is the first to be able to ‘show the product off 110 per cent’
Whether shopping at their bricks-and-mortar location in the Solaris Centre, checking out their products stocked at TRUNK London, or perusing their online shop, everywhere is it clear that the simplicity and functionality of each item is equalled by a beautiful aesthetic. Craftory’s most popular product, the Naked Portemonnaie, shows off a fantastic example of these features, and also highlights Craftory’s forward thinking perspective on changing consumer tendencies.
With a slim fit, and smaller design tailor-made to support the idea that in the future, less will be more.
Additionally, Craftory’s handsome Great Sack, embodies modern functional leathercraft. A minimalist satchel in appearance, it is large enough to accommodate a laptop – with power supply, portfolios, artistry supplies or even a full sized digital camera; making it ideal for any professional on the go.
For these, as with their other products; from the more feminine Model Clutch – ‘a dignified and confident chic without any kitsch’, to the functionally purposed Slim Pouchie, the available colours serve to highlight and accentuate the natural textures of the leather. Their organic vegetable-based stains, entitled ‘Cognac’, ‘Natural’, ‘Black’, together with a more limited line of ‘Caramel’, each differently exhibit the innate characteristics of the leather, making the decision of ‘which item to buy’ when shopping at Craftory an individual experience.
Yet this is only the beginning for these young men with big plans for the future. Having been gaining more and more attention worldwide, they were recently featured by THE magazine for the trendsetting global citizen, in issue 88 Inventory pages of design magazine Monocle, AND in a recent Section D design program episode on Monocle 24 Radio. In fact, they were doubly honoured, as Craftory was the first Estonian company ever covered by Monocle.
All of the new attention this is garnering is especially helping this company from Tallinn in getting recognized on the London scene. With plans for both their hometown and London, they have already started a cheeky new ad campaign to show off their ‘goods’ in a London environment. Timo also tells me that they are aiming to add more strength to their London presence by opening a pop-up shop there by the autumn of 2016. As regards Tallinn, they have plans to open their own workshop for people to become more directly involved and ‘craft things out of leather … show how we make our goods, talks about leather in general (different types of leather, history of using leather etc.) and sell our products.’ They also currently do special orders for top restaurants, their first Tallinn partnership being with Noa, and now including co-operations with Leib Resto & Aed, as well as Art Priori and Tuljak. In Moscow they are involved with the Metropolitan Hotel’s new-Nordic restaurant and have their sights set on expanding this part of the business even further.
If you want to take a look at everything Craftory has to offer, their shop on the first level of the Solaris Centre is a permanent fixture in Tallinn, so go and taste for yourself what is quickly becoming a growing international brand.