A Conversation with Waskerd's Derek Shaw
Posted on 31 March 2016
When I was 8 years old, my late grandmother, less than a year before she passed, gave me a two-fold leather wallet with a Nebraska Cornhuskers logo impressed on it. (I'm from the Midwest.) In love with both the wallet and my grandmother, I carried that leather gem for 16 years. It now sits in my desk, torn up, mangled, reminiscing on the times it was lost and found, dropped in dog feces, and the dollar bills that greeted it, sat beside it's leather hearth for just a while, and swiftly leapt out whenever I needed a burrito or cheap, collegiate-quality alcohol.
Okay, so the wallet had seen a lot, and naturally, it held a lot of sentimentality in it's folds. As 2014 turned into 2015, the wallet well and truly started falling a part - the stitching was coming undone, binding was tearing, and I was losing the few precious coins I kept in-pocket for the parking meters. With reluctance, I began a search for a new wallet.
Ultimately, I found Waskerd. It's a small company out of Norfolk, Virginia, and it's sole proprietor is a terribly nice dude by the name of Derek Shaw. We exchanged emails, I told him the above wallet tale, and my grandmother's name, "Marjorie," is now monogrammed inside my Dupont. Though it may seem odd to be so romantic about a wallet, I just can't help it. I now feel some sort of allegiance to Waskerd and the truly fine, quality, and strong work being done by Derek. He knows I'm a huge fan, and he's a fan of ours, too. So I sent him a few questions to answer for when he wasn't too busy stitching and cutting. His responses are below...
What inspires your style? The simple but bold stitching, clean lines, simple folds.
In a strange way, my travels to Central and South America have inspired my style. However, it wasn't the waves in Costa Rica or dancing in Argentina; it was what I packed in my bag. Leaving a closet full of clothes, I learned that if I carefully edited my items, I could easily live for four months with the contents from one or two small bags. If I could live for four months with seven shirts, why did I have 50?! I found that balance between simplicity and functionality to be liberating, and today, the minimal/utilitarian mindset is the inspiration behind my designs.
Why is it important for you to have a personal, human side to your business?
I look at the user experience as an art, and I really enjoy the challenge of creating a personal yet professional experience. You could make a purchase every single day for an entire year from Amazon and never feel appreciated. But, it's also unlikely to get a prompt email response from most artists and small businesses. I've designed my business to include small yet noticeable personal interactions because I think it matters. Whether it is because of the quick personalized email to let them know I shipped their product or the handwritten note I include with each order, I've found customers comment on the presentation of their products and the customer service equally as often as they comment on the quality and construction of their wallet or bag. Having a business with a personal touch is an investment in the customer, but it also makes it more enjoyable and rewarding for me.
What does an average day look like for Derek Shaw?
I start my day off playing with our daughter for a little while before walking her down the street to day care. I respond to any urgent emails, then start working on projects (updating the website, new product development, etc.). I do my best work in the mornings, so I try to put a dent in some of my long term projects early in the day before I start making goods. One of the biggest perks to having an in-home workshop, is being able to share breakfast with my wife, Mae. It's usually brief, but it tends to be my favorite part of the day. I start making leather goods and packaging them up, while listening to music or business podcasts. (I've been binge-listening to The Fizzle Show for months now. I believe they are based out of your hood.) I work until just before the post office closes. It's about a mile away, and I always walk. The walk is very helpful to clear my head when I've been inside all day. Many of my best ideas occur when I get out of the workshop and away from the computer. After dinner, I typically spend an hour or two responding to emails, taking/editing photos, and tying up any loose ends. We are getting near the end of the box set, but my wife and I like to watch an episode of Friends before heading to bed.
When you're not working with leather, what sort of things do you do?
I've sacrificed a lot of my free time for the last six years in order to build Waskerd. I used to spend my summers fishing and surfing everyday, and I played soccer growing up and throughout college. I haven't touched my surfboard or soccer cleats in years - these days you can find me with a stroller and my cowboy boots instead. My wife Mae and I enjoy walking around Norfolk - typically going out to eat or to grab a drink at one of our local restaurants or breweries. We do make a point to hang with our parents every few weeks. Lately, my dad and I have a fierce ping-pong battle going. Now that Waskerd has grown to a sustainable level, this is the first year I've started to put more of an emphasis on my work and life balance. (Ask me again in 2017, and hopefully my answer will include dusting off my surfboard and cleats.)
What're your future hopes for Waskerd?
My dream would be for Waskerd to grow to the level to support a small team of maybe 10 employees. I would want to stay very hands on, but I would love to be able to focus more of my time on new designs and product development.
And if you didn't make leather goods, what would you do for living?
I always loved making wooden rings. Actually, I was offering them on my site at one point, but later decided to take them off. If I wasn't working with leather, I think I almost definitely would be doing something similar with wood.