Dyer and Jenkins "Forge Your Own Path" series is all about American Makers and Do'ers. We love people who have travelled off the beaten path and taken the entrepreneurial plunge. It's very important for us to spread the word about them so that other people may find and appreciate their talents. We believe that it is not only our duty to produce American Made items, but it is also our responsibility to spread the word about others who are doing the same thing.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.
Hi everyone! My name is Michael, and I am the owner and designer at the leather and lifestyle goods brand, Loyal Stricklin. I started Loyal Stricklin while in architecture school at Auburn University. In school, we would spend months designing and redesigning projects that only ever existed on paper. I love architecture and I loved school, but I wasn’t satisfied with just drawing and creating computer models. I needed something more: I needed to see my designs come to life and to become reality. I needed a more tactile creative outlet that allowed me to produce finished pieces that could be used immediately. I was inspired by several online publications to move forward with leather working, and I simply never stopped. I finished architecture school in the spring of 2013, and I’m currently in the last two months of a Master of Integrated Design and Construction. Despite the subject of my two degrees, I will be continuing solely with Loyal Stricklin upon graduation in August.
When were you born, where?
I was born and raised in Homewood, Alabama, just a few miles south of downtown Birmingham. Both my parents are from rural communities, so I have grew up in both urban and rural environments.
What were your hobbies growing up?
I was always absorbed into whatever hobby I found myself pursuing growing up. If i was going to do something, I was going to go all out. I’ve loved drawing since an early age, and got really into it until I was about 12 years old. I then put drawing on the back burner for a while to pursue skateboarding and mountain biking in my early teens. I started to push myself in skateboarding, I also started to get hurt a lot more, so I replaced skateboarding with guitar, which I still play. I also played trumpet through middle school and high school, which afforded me the opportunity to march in the Macy’s Day Parade (in the freezing rain, too!), and dabbled in percussion and piano as well. When I reached college age, I found myself heavily involved in the southern Land Rover community, and regularly went offroading and camping. That was a pretty expensive hobby, and so I started metal working to build protective bumpers and other gear for my truck in order to save money. I did an architecture program in the Black Belt of Alabama called Rural Studio through the university, which exposed me to woodworking. After a semester in Italy, I came back to the states with a quest to create a product. I didn’t have the room or money to work with wood or metal, so with a little Christmas money, I bought some leather and basic hand tools and started working with leather!
Did you go to college?
I went to Auburn University and received a Bachelor of Architecture in 2013. I’m currently enrolled in Auburn’s Master of Integrated Design and Construction, which I will complete in August of this year.
How did you decide to be an entrepreneur?
Ever since I was young, I always wanted to own my own business. From the age of 12-18, I ran my own lawn care business. It allowed me to buy all the skateboard and bike gear I needed (lots of torn up shoes and broken boards!) and taught me how to save and manage money as well. I guess the joys of being your own boss never left me. As I approached the last two years of school, I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone else. I didn’t want the 9-5 office job, and I wanted to do things my way on my own time. I didn’t care about making money, I cared about being happy and making time for all of my other hobbys, and travel. The idea of being own my own schedule and taking a trip whenever I wanted was too alluring.
Why did you choose this path?
I feel like it sort of chose me. I began selling my products on Etsy almost immediately when i mastered a basic skill set. I made a couple sales a month-- enough to buy the next side of leather. When I was fed up with my part-time job at the college library, I quit and had to push myself more in order to maintain my standard of living at the time. From feedback and simply getting better, I started making more sales and it became a viable career to pursue. The summer after I graduated college and before going to grad school, I worked on leather for 10-12 hours a day, expanding my skill set and quality of craftsmanship.
How do you try to create change through business and in your personal life?
I started working with leather because I was so tired of buying a new wallet every year. I wanted to simplify the way I interacted with the items I carried daily, and I wanted quality. It was just so hard to find. I wanted to prove that anyone could start their own business, that you didn’t HAVE to go to college to have a fulfilling life and career and not be dead broke. Although my degree absolutely taught me how to think through design, hard work and putting in hours upon hours is what took my work to the next level and allowed me to be blessed enough to reach a wider audience. I finally found my stride in creating. I fell in love with doing, with making, with working. This craft and this business taught me how to work damn hard. I’m perfectly happy working 12 hours a day or more.
Before, I always felt so lazy, so unfulfilled, and that’s because there was a gaping hole in my life where I needed to be creating. An aspect of this business that I never thought of when I started was the affect that the people who see and use my work would have on me. I keep hearing how much all my customers or random strangers love my work and want to know more. That feedback keeps me driven, working harder and smarter in order to make better and better goods. Admittedly, my social skills always struggled with strangers, and this business—through online interactions and setting up at shows around the country—has taught me how to be more personable, outgoing, and friendly, which has been one of the biggest blessings in my life from this endeavor.
What causes–not necessarily organizations, but just adversities you try to understand and have others understand–do you hold close to your heart?
I did a number of research papers on human trafficking in high school and in college. At the time there was an estimate 20,000 slaves in the US, and millions worldwide. I couldn’t believe it! It’s horrendous that slavery is still going on in our world and is a cause that needs to be won. Children are snatched away from their families all over the world under the lure of making money to send home and never seen again. No one deserves to be treated as a slave, let alone actually be one.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
Be true to yourself. Don’t live someone else’s dream for you, live your own.
What’s the best piece of advice you could give? To a fellow creative?
I’d tell them the same. Life is too short to be miserable. If you love doing something and think you can make a living doing it, live it and breathe. Put everything you can into it. Find time to practice before work, after work and before bed. If you’re driven, you will get good at it, and if you’re good, someone somewhere is willing to pay you for it.
Why do you feel Made in America is so important?
So many products are made overseas, and are made to fall apart. We’re creating stress on our economy and filling up landfills. So many people are out of jobs and there is a niche to fill. I started this business because I wanted to use items that wore in, not out. I’d rather pay $100 for a wallet that will last me 20 years and be even more beautiful beaten up, than spend $40 on a wallet that will fall apart and go to the garbage after a year or less of use. American made is usually a bit higher in price, but you can see the quality difference, because when a craftsman is making something, he cares about the final outcome and the quality of their item they have made themselves. I’ve found that plenty of Americans are fine spending a bit more for higher quality items, but it feels like many of them don’t even know that American-made is an option. "Made in China" has become the norm and our generation has become a throwaway culture. I believe it’s time to reclaim the pride in American manufacturing and I’m proud to be contributing to this growing movement!
What’s your favorite book of all time?
Huckleberry Finn was one of the first books I read on my own as a kid. That sense of adventure that Huck showed stuck with me and continues to inspire me to this day.
If there was one movie you could go back and watch all over again as if you’ve never seen it before; what would it be?
That’s a tough one. I saw Jurassic park in the theaters when I was 4 or 5 and remember being absolutely terrified. I wouldn’t mind a movie absolutely terrifying me again in the same way.
Hope you want to participate!
You can check out all of the L.S. Collection here. If you want to be featured or have any recommendations for the Forge Your Own Path series please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org