Practice builds strength and commitment and in leathercraft that repetition can easily become an integral part to your craft and yourself. We caught up with Deyan Stefanov, 43, founder of DS Leather Goods, to get a glimpse of what goes into the design of the wonderful wallets and bags that he sells.
Located in Bulgaria, Deyan, a colorblind father of two, and former IT representative, dance teacher, and photographer, creates simple, elegant, and extremely creative designs for wallets, bags, purses, and leather knick-knacks. Apart from sharing the same initials, DS, Deyan and I both share the same passion for leather craft, but you’re not reading this for my perspective, so let’s hear what Deyan has to say. And hopefully–just like when working on one of Deyan’s designs–you’ll learn something.
My name is Deyan, and I am from Bulgaria. I am 43, father of two and husband of the only one. I am colorblind, with a bachelor’s degree in Finance, working in IT, former dance teacher, always a photographer and leather crafter and designer by heart.
How did I get into leather crafting… by accident! Back in the beginning of 2018, I made a camera strap out of paracord for my daughter and it looked pretty awesome. I wanted a cool camera strap for myself too and I started browsing online for leather ones. I stumbled upon some YouTube videos of straps being handmade and one leather crafting video led to another. A week later my beginner leather crafting tools set was already in the mail and so the DS Leather Goods brand was born. Since then, I have ventured into making bags, wallets, accessories, and other small leather goods. Even leather flip flops! *laughs*
With time and experience I have specialized into designing and making wallets that have been widely recognized among the leather crafting community and my customers. I wake up and go to sleep with wallets on my mind…It is a true passion that brings me happiness.
Neither actually. *smiles* I started with the mindset of making this a business from day one. While I was waiting for that first tool set, I was already designing my logo/maker’s mark. At this point I never expected that I would eventually fall in love with the process of crafting and designing leather goods so much. It is part of who I am now.
This will be probably the longest answer, but I need to go a bit deeper on this one. I am consciously pursuing to “disrupt” and elevate as much as possible the experience I have had both as a beginner and as an experienced crafter using other makers’ patterns. First is the learning experience. The Boat Wallet, a beginner pattern on mine for example, includes detailed instructions that explain how to use trim allowance to get flush and easier to finish edges that–once learned–crafters may apply across their works. Or in a more complex build–the Galleon Wallet–I have step-by-step assembly instructions and pictures on how to make seven card slots on one side of the wallet interior vs. the usual even number.
It is important to me that one learns something when building a design of mine.
Secondly, use conditions. Single person leather crafting businesses can sell the final products they have hand made using my patterns. I see crafters around the world successfully adding my designs to their product lines and I understand how this can make a difference for a small business. Then comes novelty. It is not easy to innovate in a craft that has been around for so many years, but it is possible, and I get really excited when I get “I wish I thought of that!” and “What a clever design!” type of feedback and comments on a new model.
Easy-to-craft is another significant factor and focus of certain designs especially for crafters that run a business and need a quick-to-build, functional product that will “fuel” their revenue numbers.
Last but not least is the crafters’ experience as customers. I strive to innovate and delight in that perspective too – from sharing tips & tricks and answering crafting questions in my Facebook group to implementing what I call “free pattern firmware updates”.
[So] what is a pattern firmware update? It is, for example, adding more versions to an existing pattern and distributing the update for free to crafters that bought it previously like with The Tinclad Wallet. Or with The Corsair Wallet – I added a bookmark and a key fob pattern so the panel of leather used for the wallet can be fully utilized and no leather is wasted. I also have multiple crafters with various skills test my patterns before they are released widely – a quality control process so to speak.
In conclusion, if one crafts a DS Leather Goods pattern and they can say at least one of the following “I learned something”, “I sold this and I will sell more”, “I have never seen such design before and I loved making it”, “This was quick to make, I can make a ton more”, “This was an excellent buyer experience” then I have achieved my goals. Crafters’ feedback I have received in the last year has been amazing (and inspirational!) and I am grateful for everyone’s support.
I draw inspiration both from within and outside leather crafting but first comes function. I usually start my “process” with who will be the end users of the products and what needs they may have. In the last couple of months my mind has been heavily occupied with designing for Field Notes users. We have all seen the usual “notebook on the right, couple of card slots on the left” Field Notes covers but it turns out that with some research there are more (or less!) requirements than that. For example, some customers need just the notebook and a writing device (then those card pockets are a waste!), while others want to carry their Field Notes in their everyday wallet (but can they go with just two card slots?). Some use notebooks to draw in and need more than just one pen, and so on… My Field Notes designs will be addressing those rather different uses *fingers crossed*. Of course, the tough part is coming up with a design that not only addresses the end users’ needs but is also pretty to the eye and is what I like to call “craft-able”.
[My] favorite pattern? That is a tough one, but I am totally nerding out over my fan-based Star Wars wallet designs –The Tie Fighter and The Bounty Hunter wallets. I hope 2023 will bring another one to the series –The Father wallet. May the Force be with me on that one! *laughs*
I work exclusively with vegetable tanned leathers. There are so many that I have tried (and so many I still haven’t) that I can hardly pick just one as my favorite. But if I was forced to use just one type of leather it would be simple natural veg tan. No dyes or paints, carving or stamping, just leather in its basic, primal form. As far as favorite tools, I love my Crimson Hides pricking irons.
I feel like I have barely scratched the surface even after years of crafting. But, this is also what’s great about leather working. Its rich heritage, the vast knowledge to acquire, and the many product possibilities out there will power my own learning and excitement for years to come.
That is a topic big enough for a separate interview probably. *sighs* I wrote a short article recently in my newsletter around this and my advice will be threefold.
First, never call it a hobby if you plan or even just secretly dream of making it a business one day. Secondly, find out what you like to make over and over again–no matter if it is wallets, bags, watch straps, dog collars etc.– and put all your focus and efforts there. Last but probably most important, compete only with yourself! [Focus on] how to make your craft and products better, increase sales and wow your customers. Comparing how others are running their business will only slow you down. In a more general sense, starting and running your own business is tough and a ton of work. Be ready to invest a lot of time and effort to make it successful… and never forget to have fun!
Ahahaha! Here we go! My worst piece of advice is: Buy cheap tools! Ahahaha!
Thank you, Dan, for the opportunity and the great interview. It was a pleasure! And to the readers of the International Leather Journal, I will say: leather crafting comes “packaged” with a great community. I truly believe that together, by striving to learn, innovate and share our knowledge with fellow crafters we will not only keep leatherworking heritage alive but bring it to new heights.
Happy crafting! Deyan