I met Jackie years ago (like high school age) and fell in love with her creative spirit. It came as no surprise when I learned that she, along with her husband Phillip, were the ones behind the beautiful, well crafted leather company, Fount Leather. I can vouch for the quality and beauty as I own one of their bags and can't leave the house without someone asking me about it. We were so excited to get to interview them about their business and creative partnership!
*All photos provided by Fount Leather
Tell us a little about yourself and your creative endeavor (when you began, medium, clientele)... Hi there! We are Phillip and Jackie Wachter and we are the creators of FOUNT, a leather design and production house based out of Cleveland Ohio. The company started very humbly as just the two of us having some fun experimenting with sewing leather. We quickly became very passionate about creating our own designs such as wallets and jewelry. We learned lots of hand stitching and punching methods and had a blast working on different prototypes. Soon we had some requests to try to create purses and we were eager to accept the challenge. We invested in an industrial grade sewing machine, which could handle sewing leather. From there we put our heads together and came up with The Bellfield Tote. We then decided to launch a website and start selling our products (which at this point included two wallet styles, dog collars and leashes, penny pouch necklaces, key chains, the Bellfield Tote in petite and full size, and the first version of the Nicole Satchel). We were shocked by the support and reception of our community at local shows, like The Cleveland Flea, so we just kept on making bags and accessories as fast as we could in the spare room of our apartment, not sure what would come next, but just excited to be on the journey. We then took a leap of faith and decided to both leave our other jobs to focus fully on FOUNT.
When did you first begin collaborating and what made you want to do it again?
Since we started dating we were always collaborating on different creative projects for fun! Early on we would collaborate on photo shoots together. Jackie would style the shoot, preparing some looks and booking a model or she would use her trusty mannequin, Penelope, and Phillip would take the photographs. We also sold vintage clothing together under the name Parivrtta, which is Sanskrit for “Revolve.” Often we’d find ourselves brainstorming about different business ideas and creating business plans just fore the fun of it.
When we started working with leather we quickly realized that this was more than just a hobby. We found ourselves spending nearly every free moment talking about, sketching, and planning what we wanted to design and how we were going to execute it. We dove into the prototyping process head first, and it didn’t feel like work at all, just one really big and exciting project!
What's been your favorite project?
That is a tricky question because FOUNT has been one huge project! As far as designs go, we both agreed that our favorite project was The Bellfield Tote. We wanted to design a bag that was extremely functional and timeless. We worked through many prototypes until we arrived at the size and proportions that we were happy with. We spent a great deal of time working on the finer details of the bag. Early on in the design we knew that we wanted to have hand-sewn straps because a hand-sewn saddle stitch is much stronger than the stitch of a machine. We designed several styles of straps but were not completely satisfied with how the stitching appeared from the interior of the bag. Additionally, we were concerned that if the bag was heavily weighted, the leather may stretch at the points bearing the weight, where the straps meet the body of the bag. We then put our heads together long and hard to design an interior weight bearing piece, that would ensure the strength of the strap and also give the interior of the bag a polished look. That is when we came up with our completely unique design, which makes the bag’s straps so strong that you could literally fill your entire bag with bricks and not have any issues. Finally we were very happy with our design, but when Jackie started carrying it, we realized that she was constantly digging in her bag for her keys or phone. We then decided it was essential to have interior pockets and a spot where you could clip your keys. We made these changes, and decided upon the name Bellfield because it was the road we first lived on when we got married. It was then time to launch our purse into the world, and that was the next best project ☺- working on all of our marketing, photoshoots, and the website. I guess the main reason that all of this was so much fun was- when you have a start up company, you have to wear all of the hats that a whole team would typically wear (designer, maker, photographer, stylist, set design, web design, marketing, graphic design, shipping…). Haha we were both wearing a lot of hats for the first 9 months of FOUNT. It was a ton of hard work, but we loved every minute of it and it really allowed us to open up and grow in new areas!
What does your daily schedule look like?
We arrive at the studio at 9a.m. and work until 6. We all kind of chat it up for about fifteen minutes and then we dive into the day, usually picking up on whatever projects or designs we were working on the day before. Phillip and I both like to start the day by compiling a daily “To Do List” – one for production/design and one for the business end of things. It’s unbelievable how helpful taking five minutes to revisit the day before and to see what is yet to be done – then creating a new “To Do List” can make for a much more productive and structured day.
Do you have any advice for the moments when you can't seem to see eye-to-eye?
Luckily we both have very similar taste in design and have shared vision for the look and feel that embodies our company, so that makes that side of things nice and easy. As far as not seeing eye to eye- We would say that it is really important to talk it out. Often when taking time to talk through a situation or decision, one party may bring valuable insight that the other party hadn’t considered yet. Often if we aren’t sure about a decision, whether it is a big or small one, we will present it to the team and see what the majority thinks. That’s one thing we are pretty big on- taking a vote. When we are torn one way or another on a design element, we take a casual vote and if its unanimous, it makes the decision a lot easier to make. This is important to the dynamic of our team because everyone’s opinion is valued and heard.
How do your skills compliment each other?
We knew from the beginning that we were going to have a blast working together as a duo because we shared a similar passion and both had different skills to bring to the table. We both love making things and being able to have a creative avenue. Phillip has experience with film-making and photography, which has been valuable beyond belief for photo shoots and product shots for our company, as most of our sales are online and you need to constantly update photos. Jackie’s background was in fashion design and styling… So, when we combined our talents and past experiences, we were off and running and learning all kinds of the new skills we needed along the way. (That whole lots of hats thing ☺)
We're always interested in the balance of personal life and creative work. How do you manage time for all the important things and people in your life?
We both think that it is really important to have balance in your life, and to be honest we did not have healthy balance the first 9 months that we started the company because it took everything we had in us to get everything done that needed to be done. It’s funny, we often look back at that time and know God gave us extra strength and unbelievable amounts of energy and enthusiasm to get through that first season of FOUNT where we were both working full time jobs and working on Fount on the side. It was our passion project and hobby so it was incredibly enjoyable. When the time came to hire our first few employees it was a little bit scary, but we knew we couldn’t keep doing everything on our own anymore and that we couldn’t keep the schedule we were keeping for an extended amount of time. As soon as we hired our first employees we started to have much healthier hours and work/home balance. Our family and friends, and quality time spent as a couple are super important to us, so we try to cram as much fun into the weekends as possible!!!
Was there ever a point in your career when you wanted to throw in the towel? Can you describe how you overcame that time and kept going?
There have definitely been some tough decisions and long hours that we have had to work through, but we are both so excited about FOUNT and the awesome team of employees that we have, that we couldn’t imagine giving up on this dream that is daily growing into a reality.
What's your favorite thing about working with (awesome buddy's name here)... vice-versa.
When we worked apart we missed each other all day and couldn’t wait to spend time together. Now, we get to hang out throughout the work day and share our passion project, we get to see each other using our strengths and get to constantly brainstorm next steps for the company.
Phillip is super fun to work with because he is always positive. He has an incredible ability to maintain optimism at all times and cheer our team on.
Jackie is full of great ideas and such a hard worker. She is always coming up with new ways to look at something and make it better. Also she is just so much fun to be with!
What's your favorite thing in or about your studio and why? (this can be a decoration/natural light, etc.)
We feel so thankful for our studio space especially after starting off working in our apartment for the first 6 months. By far the best thing about the studio is the natural lighting. We have 12-foot high ceilings with giant paned windows that stretch all the way up to the ceiling. We got lucky enough to get a space in the South East corner of the building that lets in the most beautiful light for photo shoots and for all of our plants (over 50 plants- haha we might be obsessed). A bunch of us just set up our green house in one of the windows so we can all start our seeds for our gardens this summer ☺. The lighting of the studio makes the days go by so quickly because you never feel cooped up, plus we’ve got a view of the city and Lake Erie.
Two are better than one because...
Everything is better when you can share it with someone. Work seems lighter, laughter is more enjoyable, ideas are more developed, hard times are more bearable, and accomplishments are more gratifying. We are beyond thankful for each other and the team we have at FOUNT, and we strive to maintain a community where we all support one another and work together. All of our designs have been a collaboration amongst our whole team. At first that was just Phillip and I, but now when we start to work on a design we will sit down with the entire team and hash out exactly what we want our new design to be. We find that when we’ve got all of our heads together we can come up with designs that are not just aesthetically what we were going for, but functionally a design that the customer will be satisfied with. We really have a blast designing and creating: We constantly marvel at how fast the days fly by!
What is your favorite thing to do together outside of work?
We both love being social and out in the community whether it is getting together with pals at someone’s house, or hitting up a local event. We love living right outside of downtown so that we can frequent the museums and take advantage of all of the cute restaurants and shops that are popping up.
What is your best way to relieve stress? Together or individually?
We are movers and shakers so we tend to relieve our stress by hiking with our dog son D’wayne, riding bikes (D’wayne rides in the basket), hitting the gym –yoga and group classes for Jackie (I’m a sucker for zumba) and weights for Phillip (He is addicted to pull-ups). Honestly, the best stress is just getting out and having a totally care-free time together or with pals – the city pool, board games (Clue is our current favorite), and a good happy hour are also high on our list.
How do you kick an afternoon slump?
Our studio is really close to Chinatown, so when it is warm out a group of us usually head over to our favorite local Pho restaurant for an afternoon bubble tea. We may have a bit of an addiction, especially during the hotter months.
How do you take your coffee or tea?
I’m mostly a tea drinker with maple syrup or honey. Phillip would usually pass on both coffee and tea for a hot cocoa - some days I join him in that! At the studio we have a smorgasbord of tea that we have all brought in and little stove-top espresso maker that keeps everyone happy.