Words and Photos by Carly Mitchell
August Ortiz was already on a skin-shedding mission when, on a mountain in Guatemala, a small girl chased after him, begging for the soccer cleats sticking out of his backpack.
Obliging, Ortiz watched her happily bound back down the hill and felt a soul shift that would lead him on a quest to deliver more gifts of practical and lasting value to the world.
"I spent the first 15 years of my life so selfish and all about me and me and me," he said. "That moment was a simple, gracious wake up call."
August Ortiz's family-run business, Amos Leatherworks, didn't officially begin until 2011 when Ortiz's father crafted a travel bag for Ortiz and his new bride, Monica. Impressed by his dad's work, Ortiz set to work learning the trade and designing leather goods that reflect his love of life, travel and the gadgets that make both more enjoyable.
"Every time I travel to a different country, I get a new idea," he said, citing a concept for a motorcycle seat dreamed up on a bike trip across Nicaragua last year. "Everything we create is inspired by our adventures."
The way Ortiz describes the struggle and reward of leather working, it is easy to pick up on his metaphorical approach to his craft and how much thought he puts into the design and execution of each piece. By using the lasting quality of leather to accessorize the modern-day essentials of iPhones, iPads and MacBooks, Ortiz hopes to draw his young peers into his larger message: living simply with few, handmade possessions opens us up to own more experiences, see more of the world and forge more meaningful relationships in our communities and world.
Though currently working out of a small, unheated garage he shares with his brother-in-law, a woodworker, Ortiz has big dreams to pool the many talents of his family and friends and expand his leather working to build a brand that motivates people to live inspired lives. He foresees a large warehouse collective of all kinds of makers and tradesman inspiring, supporting and collaborating with one another.
"It is not about becoming famous or having the biggest Instagram account. We really solely want to be a beacon within the storm," he said.
But the challenges of establishing a craft brand today do not escape Ortiz. From the basic - yet undeniably tough - finances of a small business to the much harder to articulate internal battle every artist understands,
"There is so much satisfaction in just making things with your hands," he said. "I love how when I make a design or make a piece out of leather, I can immediately start using it."
AMOS Leatherworks' products are all geared for travel and many have multiple uses. Travel wallets comfortably house a passport, credit cards and plane or train tickets. An ipad case smartly features an external strap that perfectly hugs a classic Moleskin, a nod to Ortiz's clear dedication to marrying digital to analog.
"Leather will more than likely last longer than your life," Ortiz said. "There is a lot of story, a lot of history when it comes to leather."
Ortiz's designs are classic American - not a lot of fuss with an air of ruggedness; his dad, who lives and works in Houston, designs more detailed pieces with a European sensibility. Each AMOS Leather piece is tanned, stretched, cut and stitched by hand.
"It requires a lot of patience. It requires a lot of thinking," Ortiz said. "It is always about the last stitch. You can cut it straight, dye it right and get it all right, but if you mess up on that last thing to finish a product, it is over."
Ortiz's goal for AMOS Leather, the name an acronym for he and his three sibling's first names, is to turn it into the flagship brand under the umbrella incorporation. "We Live Studios." He envisions a conglomerate of crafts people creating products to help people live their best, most adventurous lives.
"That community of makers will be a family and a home base," he said. "I don't want to do it just to make a whole lot of money but to inspire others to live their dreams."