|FOUNT's Jackie and Phillip Wachter (and pup D'wayne) inside their|
Cleveland-based design studio. (Photos © Hilary Bovay)
For Phillip and Jackie Wachter, it was romance that made FOUNT happen. It all started two Christmases ago. Rather than buying presents, the couple opted for homemade gifts. Phillip carved Jackie a wooden cutting board and took an old jacket to make her mittens. Jackie sewed a Christmas stocking for Phillip and made him a pencil case because he liked to sketch furniture.
Creating beautiful objects reignited something inside them.
Jackie and Phillip had always been crafty. She learned at a young age how to sew and made one-of-a-kind bracelets and sold them from her locker. He once got busted by his grade school principal for selling hand-sewn stuffed animals to his classmates. "Kids were using their lunch money to buy my beanie babies," Phillip recalls.
"We both wanted to start companies when we were kids," says Jackie. "I think we were very entrepreneurial from an early age."
Though they both had day jobs (she was a kindergarten teacher and he was directing and producing commercial work), Jackie and Phillip took a leap of faith, invested in an industrial sewing machine and started FOUNT from a tiny bedroom in their Cleveland Heights apartment.
They made leather wallets and sold them at flea markets. Four months later, at the suggestion of friends, they moved to hand-sewn leather handbags. "We had six totes at the Cleveland Flea," Phillip says. "We were nervous because we thought no one would buy them. We were shocked when we sold out. It was really encouraging and we went home and made more bags."
They were on to something.
Last May, FOUNT launched its online store. Soon after, Phillip and Jackie outgrew their apartment and moved the business to the ArtCraft Building downtown. "We knew going into this that social media was so important in getting the brand out there," Phillip says. "When Folk Magazine regrammed one of our photos we got like 1,000 new followers in a 20-hour period."
Then an editor at Country Living Magazine reached out. They wanted to feature FOUNT in the October 2014 issue. Business continued to boom. Jackie and Phillip quit their day jobs, bought a couple more sewing machines, hired staff and expanded into a sprawling loft space inside the ArtCraft building.
When you hold a FOUNT product in your hands, you understand why so many people are catching on. It has nothing to do with being trendy and everything to do with craftsmanship. Premium Italian leather. Solid brass hardware. Sewn by hand. Each piece, whether it be a handbag, a wallet or a keychain, is a work of art.
"We want it to feel a little bit on the luxurious side," says Jackie. "We want people to feel that they bought something of high quality and something that you would pass on to your kid if you wanted. Something timeless."
In an age of mass production, where consumer goods are made overseas and sold cheap in stores, the response is a revival of artisans and quality goods. From bicycles and 3D printed coffee carafes to chocolate and artisanal cheese, the maker movement in America is growing strong.
"I think right now is a phenomenal time to start your own business," Phillip says. "You can almost fake it 'til you make it. Like some of these small companies that have made really amazing websites and you would never know they don't have a whole design team."
Advice for aspiring makers?
"Work hard and don't stop," says Jackie. "When we started, I was teaching full-time. I'd come home and sew 'til 2, 3 or 4 in the morning. But you gotta have faith that it could work."
Ultimately passion defeated exhaustion.
"We definitely had moments where we were like, 'Argh! We should quit! This is just too hard!'" Phillip says. "But we really, really love it."
If you're in the Cleveland area this weekend, be sure to check out FOUNT's Trunk Show and Studio Tour on Saturday. Jackie and Phillip and the FOUNT staff will be running tours, demonstrations and will offer a sneak preview of up-and-coming designs. Plus, they will be selling handbags and accessories of discontinued color or slight imperfection for 10-50% off.
See you there!
Photos by Hilary Bovay for love, -j.