Personal Safety and Awareness

A couple weeks ago, my lovely wife posted an entry about personal security. She relayed a story about a man we witnessed in the bank drive through who thoughtlessly announced to everyone else around that he was getting large amounts of cash. Yeah, not real bright. Her rant about his behavior reminded me of one of my personal peevs. All too often, I will see women in the store who have placed their purses in the kiddy seats of the shopping carts and have turned their backs on them. They will stand there in their own little world, staring at the goods on the shelf, with their valuables behind them, across the isle. I have literally walked between a woman and her purse, because that was the path that she left available down the isle. All too often, I have thought to myself that if I were not so honest, I could take that purse, unnoticed. Beyond that, someone could reach into the purse and take the wallet, going unnoticed for longer, thus affording more opportunity to get away. Between cash, credit cards, and identification, and often jewelry and firearms, women put all of their important stuff in their purses. Perhaps someone can help me with this because I don’t get it. Why in the world would you make it so easy for a thief to rip you off? Does this come from a false sense of security or what?

This is like the people who don’t bother to lock their doors. I have no delusions that the dead bolt on my front door will keep the boogyman out, even less so the lock on the sliding glass door in the back. However, I’m not going to make it easy for anybody to come in uninvited. I know full well that if someone wanted to force entry into my home, the door would kick in or the window would break. But, the bad guy is going to have to actually make the effort, and then they have to contend with me. I am by no means a high-speed, low-drag, gun ninja. Heck, I don’t even own any ‘tactical pants’. But, I do try to be observant. I subconsciously look for the exits and scan crowds for suspicious looking people. I don’t get called on it, so I don’t think I’m obvious about it. I’ve instructed my son to not talk to people about our belongings because I don’t want anyone to have a reason to want to take what is ours. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that low-profile is good even if I have friends that are a whole lot better at it than I am.

Don’t obsess, but when you’re out in the world, make sure you aren’t being the easy victim. Those women I’ve seen who don’t pay attention to their purses – I guarantee they’ll have purses stolen or picked at one time or another. I have been tempted to confront them and tell them how easily they could be robbed, but I’m afraid that would come across as threatening. It would be a lot of fun to print up some fliers about personal safety and just drop them in purses when I see this situation. Again, if I got caught doing anything of the sort, it would probably mean trouble for me. Similarly, you can’t very well start trying door knobs and wandering into peoples homes to warn them to lock their doors because you might get shot that way. I’m pretty sure I don’t have to say this to my readers, but please ask yourself whether you are exposing yourself to risk. There’s no need to be paranoid, but it doesn’t hurt to do a little self-analysis.

Snappy!

I have cringed at the poor quality of the snaps that I’ve been able to put my hands on and it shows. I’ve been so resistant to use snaps in my leatherwork, opting for any alternative. Until now. I just received my first order of DOT snaps. These things are U.S.-made and severely overbuilt! Each component is physically made of more material than any of the competitive products. As in, when compared against Tandy’s off the shelf Chinese snaps, the metal has to be twice as thick at least. Initially, I was attempting to find two different sizes in matched snaps that simply wouldn’t rust when I wet the leather for shaping. Everything that I’ve been able to find prior to the DOTs has been cheap stamped steel with a cheap nickle or brass plating. By comparison, the DOTs are solid brass with a plated finish, so they ought to do the job nicely. I’m excited and can’t wait to get to work with them! For those of you who have ordered items with snaps recently, sorry for the wait. I hope this proves to be worth it.

The Oldest Profession? Well, Not Quite…

What were people already doing around the invention of the wheel? Leatherwork. That’s what. Last month, the New York Times ran this article in which they detail the discovery of a 5,500-year-old leather shoe.

the shoe, made of cowhide and tanned with oil from a plant or vegetable, is about 5,500 years old, older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, scientists say.

Granted, I’m not making shoes yet, but some guy in a pre-society used his skills as a craftsman and cobbled up this shoe out of veg-tanned cow hide, which is exactly what I make goods out of. You’ve got to admit – that’s cool!

Previously, the oldest known leather shoe belonged to Ötzi the Iceman, a mummy found 19 years ago in the Alps near the Italian-Austrian border. His shoes, about 300 years younger than the Armenian shoe, had bearskin soles, deerskin panels, tree-bark netting and grass socks.

Bearskin soles? Deerskin panels? Tree-bark netting? Grass socks? Those Italian designers and their wacky footwear materials! Nothing has changed in the last 5,000-years.

she [Diana Zardaryan] said. “But when I took it out, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s a shoe.’ To find a shoe has always been my dream.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard of a woman saying such a thing. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Jennifer say similar things. Maybe the wording was slightly different. Usually it’s in a slightly different context anyway. It still really isn’t any less of a treasure hunt. :P

Anyway, this just tempts me even more to try my hand at making shoes. There’s a lot of 2011 left to go. We shall see what happens.

Custom Made Purse

This post is mostly cross-posted from The Holster Site. I say ‘mostly’ because it’s not verbatim. Okay. The introduction is different, but it’s pretty much the same post from there on. If you click on any of the pics in this post, it will take you to the entry on The Holster Site. If you’ve made a habit of reading my blog and didn’t wind up here on accident, looking for robot porn or something, you probably recall this post in which I experimented with new product types outside the scope of a standard holster. If I didn’t drive you away since then, you probably read this post in which I talk about tools and materials, and talk about a handbag that I was working on. Well, now I’ve got something to show for it.

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The details are everything. Even the dust bag is stitched from Indian silk, and matches the lining.

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Please note the seams in the silk dust bag.

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Yes. I’m that serious about making a quality product. But, you want to see the bag itself, not the dust bag!

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The black top-grain leather is soft and luxurious. The sanded and polished stingray hide (also called shagreen), adds another dimension of beauty to this handmade bag.

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The small pouch beside the bag is filled with aromatic cedar, to freshen the leather and silk when storing the bag.

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Solid metal feet won’t smash or fall off like the cheap ones that are typically found on most bags.

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The sassy, silk lining matches the dust bag and the cedar pouch. There are rugged leather pockets around the perimeter of the bag.

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This bag includes a matching key ring and a place to hang it inside the purse. In the above picture, you can also see the outline of the magnetic closure on the front of the bag.

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The logo fob is hand beaded in a peyote stitch, in coordinating colors.

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The strap adjusts between twenty-four inches for a high shoulder carry, or out to fifty-six inches for a relaxed cross-body carry. These numbers were customer specified.

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Of all the details I’ve shown you, I save the most important one for last.

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I designed the pistol pocket to accommodate a variety of compact handguns. It will easily carry my customer’s Bersa, a subcompact Glock, a snubby revolver, and many others. In this picture, my wife’s Smith & Wesson M&P9c is secured in the pocket. If you or someone you love would like me to make a custom bag for them, but they don’t carry a gun, I’m more than willing to substitute another non-gun pocket.

This bag is completely stitched in a heavy, bonded nylon thread. All the seams are finished and most are reinforced, even where you can’t see them. I did this so it would be beautiful and durable. There is no plastic or cardboard in this bag. There are no man-made materials at all. My entire product line is based on the concept of beauty and durability. I fully expect my customer’s heirs to treasure this bag one day. One like this is fully capable of lasting that long.

Husbands and boyfriends, It’s a great time to place Christmas orders!

Materials

If you want to do things that others have already done, dot them exactly like others have achieved their success. If you want to accomplish things that nobody else ever has, you may have to go about it in ways that no one has ever done before. There are moments in which it will seem like insanity. But, there is a narrow line between insanity and genius, or so I hear. I won’t claim either until I either firmly accomplish my goals or fail miserably. So far, everything is going well, thank God.

In order to make top-quality luxury products, you need three things; skill, tools, and materials. I’m not necessarily writing this as a tutorial or a how-to, but for personal introspect. No, this is not advice. I’m way too early in the game to give any. Hopefully, when I get to the other end of the tunnel, I will write pretty much this same thing as advice, and add, “This is how I did it.”

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The tools are anything that enable you to physically produce, or allow you to produce more efficiently. There is an overlap between tools and skills. I’ve accumulated a couple of sewing machines that allow me to stitch everything from fine silk and lace all the way up to saddle and strap type leather.

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There are multiple cutting systems in my arsenal that include specialized scissors and shears, rotary wheel cutter and mat, knives, skivers, and other blades. I have made several tools, and modified others. I’ve gone from free-handing patterns onto lined yellow legal pads with a pencil to precision drawings using graph paper and a protractor, and transferring that to other media to translate it to leather. I have two vastly different rulers, two measuring tapes and a tape measure – each that get used on a regular basis. My work requires dummy guns precision cast from plastic and aluminum. It is safe to assume that this will be an ongoing process of accumulation, and weeding out of tools that proved to not be as useful as I originally thought.

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All the best tools in the world are themselves useless without the skills to operate them properly and effectively. Anyone can gain skills with practice and experimentation. There are only two ways to gain skills quickly – formal training or purposeful practice and experimentation. I’ve taken the route of the latter. If I don’t like how something has turned out, I figure out what went wrong and how I must do it differently next time to get the results I want. My close friends and family have been impressed at how quickly I’ve picked up the necessary skills. My response, “I had to.” I don’t have the money or time to go through school, and I don’t have the time and luxury to learn this stuff on my own at a slow pace. Therefore, I’ve pushed myself to pick up the skills quickly. I’m not there yet, but what I lack in skills I can get with patience at this point.

Jonathan Swift coined an old saying that goes, “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.” This is to say that you can’t produce a luxurious product from crappy materials. This is one of my biggest irks about the direction American retail is going. It was not that long ago that Jenni could buy Italian-made, all-leather shoes at the discount store on any given day. Now it seems that all the shoes are mostly (if not all) made from cheap, artificial materials. It’s not just the shoe industry either. Clothing is poly/cotton blend (if you’re lucky), furniture is particle board with a veneer, sprinklers are plastic, watches are battery-operated and largely disposable. Home electronics are designed to be obsolete in a few years. I have an antique chrome toaster with bakelite handles on it that just keeps on going. Any modern toaster that I’ve owned burns out after only a couple of years. Where are the things that last? The luxurious things? They are being driven out by the flashy and cheap. I know that I’m not the only one that doesn’t want to participate in a disposable lifestyle. Hence, the materials that I like to work with. I have made practice runs with cheaper materials simply because I didn’t want to screw up the good stuff, but I don’t want to make a real finished product with anything less than great materials.

Recently, I was commissioned to make a purse by an internet friend. Like me, she wants something special, unique, and luxurious. We settled on a basic concept and a price, and I went to town gathering up the materials necessary. The bag is to be black, because black goes with everything. So, I will start with buttery-soft, top-grain, black leather.

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This stuff is soft and strong. Many of the factory-made bags are made of mystery cloth or vinyl. Even when they are leather, often they are a finished split instead of top-grain hide. Usually a top-grain bag is going to be expensive when you can find one.

She asked if I could line the bag in the brightest magenta that I could get my hands on. I scoured the local fabric stores until I sourced this heavy, tightly-woven, imported silk.

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Not only is this stuff beautiful, silk has a tensile strength greater than steel, and it is highly abrasion resistant. As delicate as it feels, it is incredibly rugged and durable. At sixty inches wide, a yard is way more silk than I need to put a lining in this bag. But, there are other things it will be used for in this project. I’ll get into that more in a later post.

She asked me if I could do some accent work on her bag in stingray. She was open to color options on it, but wanted something extra to give it a little extra spark. So, I sourced this ivory-colored, sanded and polished stingray pelt.

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(in sunlight)
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Here are the three materials together:

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Of course, the whole thing will be stitched together in Kevlar thread where it doesn’t show, and bonded nylon where it does. I’ll finish the bag off with nickle findings and more pockets than you’ll find in a typical bag (including a couple of specialized pockets at her request). I’ll be working on this one next week. I have a feeling that it’s going to occupy most of my time over the course of the week to get everything just right. Of course, I’ll post more pictures when I’ve got a final product to show off!

Sewing Machines & New Products

Some people (and you know who you are) have been bugging me to see the new, non-holster wares that I’ve been working up. I was kind of dragging my heels on this until I had a few examples of stuff that I’ve done for review. So, without further delay – Lady and Gentleman, the original prototype designs from Haute Couture Leather and Sac De Cuir by Michael…

Part 1: Sewing Machines

Well, maybe just a little delay… In all fairness, I have to give a little disclaimer/back-story before proceeding. When I got the sewing machine, I jumped right in and attempted to start making leather bags. I knew that the first one wouldn’t be perfect. Heck, I didn’t know anything about sewing! The ‘practice’ or ‘learning’ leather that I originally bought are four upholstery hides. These are not top-grain hides, mind you, but they are what is called a ‘finished split.’ This material is still attractive, but it is not nearly as tough as top-grain leather, which is the material from the top of the hide, as you might infer from the name. Split is more of an under layer of the skin. Usually split looks like a suede, but they will apply a finish to it which makes it look like grain, and that is an excellent, economical material for upholstery or other applications where you may want the beauty of leather, but it doesn’t need to be as tough as grain leather.

The first couple of ‘bags’ that I made were not ready for prime time. They were valuable classes in the School of Hard Knocks. Because I’ve been letting the creative juices flow freely, and unabashedly sewing away with all kinds of materials, I’ve quickly gone from not knowing beans about sewing all the way to producing viable products that have piqued the interest of those that see them.

I told you about the Juki industrial walking foot machine that I purchased. That machine is a brutal beast. At first, I kind of hated her. The machine stitches 1,800 stitches per minute and operates full-throttle on a clutch motor instead with a throttle-controlled foot pedal like a home machine. As in, it is either on or off. There is no slow going with it. It pulls like a horse. It will stitch through pretty much any material from light weight cloth all the way up to bone (I have heard stories). Imagine learning to drive on a supercar that runs either throttle open or throttle closed. Wrecks are inevitable. After using it for long enough, I have eventually learned how she works. Now, I’m beginning to enjoy stitching with this machine. That being said, I quickly learned that she shines on the heavier material. Although she is capable of stitching lighter fabrics with lighter threads, the settings to do so are touchy. It would be a major slow-down to go between light materials and heavy materials and back just because of all the setting adjustments and everything. It quickly became clear that I needed a light-duty machine.

Jenni and I have tended to be pack rats in the past. We don’t drag crap home like we used to anymore. Now, if we don’t have a clear and present need for whatever the object is, it’s not coming home with us. There was a point in time that we had three dining room tables. We don’t have a singular dining room to speak of. Jenni inherited her grandmother’s sewing machine – a Pfaff 130. I inherited my grandmother’s sewing machine – an Adler 589A. We still wound up picking up three other vintage sewing machines since then – two of which we believed to be a pair of Singers, but turned out to be a Singer model 66 made in 1926 and a similar vintage Japanese knock-off. The third machine was a Kenmore made by the White Sewing Machine Company in the thirties. This is a bizarre straight stitch sewing machine that actually spins backwards from anything else I’ve ever seen.

As far as I’m concerned, Jenni’s Pfaff is out of the question for my purposes. Although the Pfaff 130 is widely considered the toughest dressmaker machine ever made, I very simply will not risk breaking her grandma’s machine. When I got into my grandma’s Adler, I found that the timing belt has rotted out. Where we stand with it right now, I can order the belt out of Germany for some $35.00 (which I don’t really have right now), and anybody that can work on the thing is apparently dead. I’m hunting for a service manual for it to see if I can perform the replacement myself. I’m mechanically inclined and don’t see how it could possibly be all that complicated. If I had properly documented instructions, I ought to be able to git-er-dun. But, I can’t very well count on that for my upstart business either.

We douched out the old Kenmore with Gun Scrubber and reoiled it. The machine is strong. I need to rebuild the light, but it happily stitches through over 3/8-inch of calf or pig skin. Since I learned to hang on to my material tightly running the Juki, I wound up thinking that the Kenmore wouldn’t stitch a straight line, and concluded that the feed-dogs were worn out. So, I shelved it and got out the two ‘Singers.’

I quickly discovered that the one was a cheap, Japanese knock-off of a Singer and that the bottom end of it was rusted solid. So, I salvaged the motor off of it and threw the rest of the head in the dumpster. After a little research, I discovered the other to be a Singer Model 66 from 1926. I douched it out with Gun Scrubber and thoroughly oiled it. When I went to stitch with it, it reduced its motor wiring to a smoking, gooey mess. I replaced its motor with the one off the Japanese knock-off. It worked like a charm! We purchased extra bobbins and a light bulb for it. The check-out girl at the cash register asked us what we were working on. We told her a Singer 66. Even though the bobbin package was labeled ‘Singer 66′, the check-out girl seemed surprised. Apparently, this machine has been the benchmark for many machines in the last century. As I continued working with it, I found that it was skipping stitches. The hook is damaged. I can get a new hook for about $20.00, and replacement doesn’t look fun, but certainly more straight-forward than the timing belt on the Adler.

I started thinking that I needed to get a zig-zag machine going for some of my finer work. My mom has a Bernina 830 record that her mom bought for her in 1978. That has always been a fine, well-used machine. In fact, her mom purchased five copies of this machine at the same time in 1978. They were gifts to her daughters and daughters-in-law. Since this machine has a bit of a track record in my family, I decided to see what I could get one for. They seem to be selling on ebay for between $500 and $800. I found one that had been dropped and had some cosmetic damage for $200. I had just brought in some money for a job that I’d just completed, so after thorough investigation and research, I purchased the machine.

The Bernina 830 is a great machine, and will serve me well when I need a zig-zag. But, the model is really not capable of running some of the thread materials and weights that I want to with a light machine. So, although not exactly what I was hoping it would be, it promises to have a place in the industry that I’m currently setting up. Plus, it has a damaged hook, so it skips some stitches. The hook costs $70 and takes two seconds to install. I have used it on several of my projects, and will continue to use it, but I’m honestly looking forward to replacing it with better equipment.

I went back to the Kenmore for my light-heavy-duty (if that makes any sense at all.. medium duty?) work. Now, I’ve discovered that it stitches perfectly straight if you work with it instead of fighting it like you have to with a true industrial walking foot. The feed dogs are nice and sharp, but I was pulling the fabric and fighting the feed without realizing it. Frankly, I can see a place for all three – the Singer, Kenmore/White, and the Bernina. I still want to get my Adler fixed and Jenni will keep her Pfaff. Basically we have six goram sewing machines in this house that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. I’d really like to find one machine that will do what all three of these will. Until I can afford that, I’m stuck with the three. *Sigh…*

Part 2 – Goods

Alright! Here are the goodies! After fighting and cursing with my first few prototype bags, I got pissed off and made a realization. I get too elaborate. The first couple of concepts were simply too complicated for me to do right the first time around. After much cussing and throwing and hating the world, I decided to go back to basics. What’s more basic than anything else in the realm of a hand bag? How about a checkbook cover?

This one is made of red upholstery leather and lined in black pig skin. It is stitched together in Kevlar thread. We are actually using it for our checking account.

It’s possible that both of you have seen the picture of my trifold wallet on MyFace.

This one is lined in pigskin with pigskin pockets. But, the shell is in a carbon fiber/Kevlar twill cloth.

The entire thing is stitched together in Kevlar thread. This one is a promo piece for one of my buddies to take to his auto clubs. I’m sure they will want it badly.

Of course, I had to do a little testing on the concept for myself. Here’s a pic of the wallet that I’ve been carrying in the same materials:

I don’t carry a billfold. Here’s the interior of the wallet:

Behind the cards, there is a bill pocket on the left and another long pocket on the right. I have done a couple of hat bands as well. Here’s one that I did for a Marine friend of mine:

The hat is mine, and here’s the hat-band that’s normally on it. (Also made by me):

But, I know Falnfenix didn’t come here to read all about the sewing machines I’ve accumulated, or to look at pics of wallets and hat bands. She wants to see purses! Here is the first bag that I will reluctantly let see the light of day:

This one is lined in matching red wool under the red leather and red zipper (going for a theme):

The closed-end braided strap attaches to the bag with beautiful, round, nickel buckles:

Overall the bag is about 13-inches wide.

Next, I decided to design and sew a mini-messenger satchel. This is what Jenni is currently carrying, and it is incidentally my second prototype:

Much like the first, I attached the strap with nickle buckles.

The robin’s egg blue exterior is nicely balanced by the genuine silk fuchsia lining. Load-bearing side seams are stitched in heavy Kevlar thread and all the black top stitching is in top-quality, bonded nylon.

I attached pockets that hang from the top in the same leather as the shell.

There are three of them in there in different sizes.

This is the foreshadowing of what I’ve got up my sleeves. I can say with absolute certainty that these things will greatly improve quickly, but this is what I’ve got to offer right now. If there is anything that you specifically want in a top-of-the-line leather product, feel free to contact me.

I’ve made a commitment

To both my readers, I’m sorry. I’ve been a terrible blogger over the last few months. Towards the end of 2009 and even into the beginning of 2010 I got to the point that I was posting a new blog entry almost every day. Somewhere in the mess of life, I fell off and now you’re lucky to hear from me on a monthly basis. But, that’s all going to change.

I’ve made a personal commitment to update my personal blog at least once a week, and my business website at least twice a week.. Once I can get into that habit, I’d like to do even better than that. I’ve been busy, life has been a whirlwind, but that’s still no excuse. I know that both of you depend on my wit for your entertainment (or something like that), and I will let you down no longer!

Quick update –

1 – I’m finally beginning to learn how to really use the new sewing machine. She’s a brutal beast with a mind of her own, but I’m starting to actually feel comfortable!

2 – Not counting the above mentioned machine, I think that I’ve actually made more money than I’ve spent on my current self-employment venture over the last two weeks!

3 – I promised new and exciting products that push the envelope, and those products are coming together.

4 – Kevlar is a tough material to cut – even with the mightiest of shears!

5 – When I initially lost my job at the beginning of the year, at two weeks in I was freaking out. I gave up a good job opportunity two weeks ago and I’m feeling calm and confident. Making the choice makes a big difference.

So, thank you for your continued support. If you need leather goods, I need work to do. Give me a shout. You won’t be disappointed!

Purses? YHGTBKM!

Nope. I’ve decided to branch out into ladies’ handbags. This weekend, we worked out the details on the purchase of an industrial sewing machine, started clearing a spot for it to live, and registered domain names for the new website. Ladies, I desperately want to hear from you. My comment section is yours for the taking. Whether or not you ever intend to purchase from me, I want to hear exactly what you love or hate about any bag that you have carried. I want to do this once and do it right. I don’t carry a purse, so I will take any and all input I can get.

All that being said, I am not – repeat NOT giving up the holster work. If anything, this new sewing machine will allow me to produce my great holsters faster and possibly more economically – if all goes well. Keep your eyes peeled. This thing is going to get real big real fast.

To that end, if you are a woman who would like to have a truly custom, hand-made purse, beautiful enough for the runway, tough enough for extended daily use and artistically made to your exacting specifications, I suggest you contact me immediately.

I have started production on several prototypes that will go into testing (and modeling) when ready. If all goes well, I’ll have pictures and durability reports very soon. I want this to be a shock to the industry, and I believe that even I’ll be shocked by my final results. You have undoubtedly seen my holsters. My handbags will be more bold and dramatic if anything. These beauties will make a statement, and yet be built plenty tough enough for the demanding stresses of real life.

I’m very much looking forward to showing you what I can do. Until later…