We first heard of Tom Farrah when we were running the Cutthroat Beard and Moustache Championships at the Blues and BBQ Festival. We were so impressed by his amazing leather goods, we all had to buy some. And then we said, ‘hey you should be in our magazine’. So..here he is
How long have you been crafting leather? Is that how you say it, is their a specific word for your trade?
I guess I would say first and foremost I am a designer, then leather worker. I started playing around with leather as a kid, my father is an industrial designer and he used to work with leather a little bit in the 70’s with a guy called Bill Amberg. Dad then passed on what he knew to my older brother Monty who had a fascination for the WW1 Light Horse brigade. This fuelled his hunger for leather work and by the age of 12 he had made an entire horse bridle, by hand. He was incredibly gifted with his hands. Monty passed on skills and techniques to me as he learnt them. He then went on to enrol in industrial design, as did I. I guess you could say our work is a blend of contemporary ideas and traditional materials and techniques. Unfortunately monty passed away in 2002. I still use a lot of his tools in the making of my products today.
What got you into it in the first place?
I used to travel a lot with work (snowboard and ski instructor in another life) and at the time i had a tri-fold wallet with heaps of pockets. I found that the more pockets i had to put things in, the more stuff would end up in it, whether I needed the contents or not. I decided then to make my first wallet, a slim line wallet that would carry the essentials, cash credit card and ID. The rest of the pieces developed from there.
When did you start your own business?
I registered the business name in 2005 and began selling wallets to friends and family. That went on for some time and stayed more of a hobby to experiment with ideas until around 2 years ago, when i decided to start up the website and really push the business.
Tell us about your business/businesses?
I am the owner, designer and manufacturer at Farrah – life equipment, i am also a co founder and product designer at The Field Equipment Company. I guess between the two business’ I have covered my passions, design, leather work and the outdoors. Farrah products are those that are used in everyday life, i try to design and make items that will always have a purpose and use to ensure that they stay relevant in their function and aesthetic for a lifetime. www.farrah.com.au
The Field Equipment Co started when my business partner Matthew Gardner and I were entertaining the idea of a portable rotisserie for people who live in apartments or like to go camping. 18 months later we now have the Sachin field kitchen, a portable charcoal grill and rotisserie that is made entirely from stainless steel and can pack down to 5cm thick. We are also about to release a traditional style canvas swag, a kit bag and other items that we see as being essential when you are camping. The philosophy behind The Field Equipment Company is to design items for camping that can stand the test of time. They might be a little more heavy than your super light modern hiking gear but are made to last in the harshest environments you find yourself in.
Do you custom make pieces or do people buy pieces you’ve already made?
I tend not to do custom work these days as it is so time consuming. With a heap of product development happening with Farrah and The Field Equipment Co and family life (a wife and 8 month old baby boy) I’m short of time to say the least, but never say never.
What is it that you love about what you do?
Making a living from your ideas, to me it doesn’t get any better than that. I think anyone with a creative passion can understand what I mean. I don’t need to be wealthy or famous, if I can make an honest living from my ideas, then in my eyes I’ve won at life.
Describe the process – designing, sourcing/finding the leather, tanning etc to completion
The design process is probably the most important part for me, exploring the interaction of materials so that they can work together to solve the design problem. Over machining or too much cutting and stitching can interrupt a material’s core characteristics, which i find to be a shame. The money clip in my wallet was custom designed by myself to work with the leather, its woven through the spine of the wallet because there is an inherent strength running through that area of the leather when it is moulded shut. This eliminates the need for another seam to create a sleeve to hold a standard money clip.
I then buy my leather (tanning is an artform in itself, one which i’m not game to attemot as yet), I source all of my hides in either sides (cow hide) or full skins (kangaroo hides) then everything is cut glued and stitched in the studio in Montrose Victoria. I will then ensure a product prototype is tested and properly put through its paces before a product is released, this is why my product development happens at such a glacial pace.
Once a product has been tested and the design is good enough I will make a batch, condition them with a leather conditioner and dispatch
How long do you work on a piece?
It depends on what i’m making of course but a wallet from start to finish will take approximately 10 hours, including moulding time
Is it a dying trade?
Saddlery for sure, there is minimal training accessible to people these days for someone wanting to become a full saddler in Australia, however, from what I have seen recently leather work in general has seen a big increase. Self taught enthusiasts are having a go which is fantastic to see. Youtube has also proven to be a really powerful tool for people wanting to revive any skill or trade, not just leather work.
Do you think people are happy to pay more for something made by an expert craftsman?
Absolutely. There is something about handling a piece that someone has designed and handcrafted, you get a real sense of their passion coming through their work. Financially today is a pretty scary place, but hand crafted items of considered design and high quality and craftsmanship provide comfort in supplying something real, genuine and long lasting in a world that can seem fast paced, disposable and sometimes non meaningful.
Do you feel a sense of satisfaction each time you make a piece- or is it sometimes just a job?
Every time and without fail. I have hand stitched hundreds of wallets and with each and every one I have a tremendous feeling of satisfaction. My makers mark is the last thing I stamp into my products, and is only stamped onto a piece that meets my level of satisfaction with quality. It’s a great feeling stamping a product and packaging it up for dispatch, even better when i stumble across someone with one of my pieces down the track, to see how they wear in and the affection that has grown between the owner and their piece is great.
Describe a typical working day
There really isn’t one, my typical day is so varied, for example I have just returned from 3 days in the North East Victorian bush, product testing a swag that I have designed for the field equipment company on the banks of the Wannangatta river. Two weeks ago I drove around 5000 km in my landy (96 defender) to Port Macquirie and back, then drove over the Victorian Alpine region for events with the Farrah gear and field equipment co. A “typical” day in the studio though will generally start with a strong coffee, some music and peeling back the curtains of the Montrose studio work space. It’s a fantastic view straight out into the bush that sets the perfect backdrop for me to get to work.
Do you work quietly – no noise, or do you have music or talkback or anything on?
I depends on the day, but usually J.J. Cale is on while i’m working or just silence, it really depends on the mood i’m in.
If you weren’t working with leather, what else would you be doing?
It’s hard to say, I have already worked in so many different jobs, a ski and snow board instructor, a station hand on a sheep and cattle station in Yass, I was even an art valuer and auctioneer Prahran, Melbourne for 2 years, then I spent 2 and a half years as a FIFO worker supervising exploration drill rigs in QLD. Perhaps I would try my hand at acting or landscaping.
How long did it take you to be an expert? Are you still learning new skills in your craft?
Im tentative to call myself an expert as I’m constantly learning new skills and approaches to the mediums I use. I think its important to try and always push your boundaries no matter what material you are working with. This also keeps things fresh. My work involves a lot of traditional materials and processes but I am always experimenting with and trying new techniques not usually seen in traditional leather craft, for example, the belts i make. They don’t have any rivets or stitching in them so my most important tools for the job are an offset metal workers vice and a saucepan of hot water. You have to push materials and their application.
Tom will be appearing at the following events coming soon.
me space – June 3rd to June 28th
Menske – June 12th to 14th