Fount of Wisdom

Fount of Wisdom
by Stephanie Finnegan

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Drawing from their backgrounds and playing to their strengths, Phillip and Jackie Wachter launched their part-time venture into a full-time, full-on success.

Married couple Phillip and Jaclyn ''Jackie'' Wachter spend a great deal of time together--in fact, their shared calendar of business appointments, work schedule, travel dates, and occasional weekend downtime would be mutually filled in as ''24/7.'' The Wachters live together, work together, plan together, and--most significantly--dream together. It was during a ''what-if'' conversation that the seeds for a handcrafted, high-quality leather business were sown.

''In the spring of 2013, we were talking about the past Christmas,'' Phillip recalls. ''We both had made handmade gifts for one another--mittens, cutting boards, notebooks, and that sort of thing. Jackie had made a really handsome pencil case out of wool cloth. The talk of these gifts steered the conversation down a rabbit hole leading us to the idea of trying to re-create that design out of leather, as well as some other wallet ideas we had sketched up.''

While free-associating out loud, Phillip and Jackie acknowledged there was a certain allure to leather--it was a texture that elicited a lot of emotions and connections for them: ''Whether it's boots, bags, or jackets, we loved the look and idea of romance and adventure that goods made from brown leather evoke.''

Caught up in that Indiana Jones escapism--the stalwart hero who is decked out in battered but durable leather--Phillip and Jackie sprang up from the front porch and dove into their car. They wended their way through their hometown's streets in search of a cobbler or a leather shop that could offer them some advice and basic training. ''We found ourselves in a storefront where the owner mostly repaired leather bags but did some custom work. He taught us our first lesson in hand-stitching and that was all we needed in order to spend the next few days prototyping what would become our very first wallet design,'' Jackie reveals.

The newbie leather makers unveiled their handiwork to friends and family members, and the response was overwhelmingly positive: ''They wanted to buy our wallets and encouraged us to design some bags. We were excited to accept the challenge, so we purchased an industrial sewing machine and learned quickly that sewing with leather is like learning to play poker with real money! From there, as they say, the rest is history!''

And what a history, indeed--in 2014, the Wachters formally founded their company, FOUNT, in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Phillip utilized his insights into marketing and branding from his years of working in the video industry, and Jackie drew upon her background in styling and designing to formulate a creative direction for their merchandise and product images. While being employed as a teacher, Jackie also immersed herself in selling vintage clothing on the side and offering her talents as a personal stylist. The two burgeoning entrepreneurs and artisans balanced one another with their abilities and their visions. To borrow a line from the romantic comedy Jerry Maguire, they completed one another. Their raw talent and innate taste blended together to attract local press coverage, national media attention, mentions on television shows, and invitations to lead workshops and hands-on seminars.
Team of Artisans and Designers for FOUNT

The team of artisans and designers that band together to create FOUNT's handcrafted, made-in America goods.


The ''Americana wallet'' is classic and time-tested.

The Wachters sat down with Handmade Business to discuss how they rose from fledgling hobbyists to a nationally recognized brand in one year's time.

Handmade Business (HB): How can you explain the tremendous success you've been having seemingly ''overnight''? Have you been very disciplined about media outreach or marketing your company, your story, your designs? Is it a series of happy accidents or good karma?

Phillip and Jackie Wachter (P and JW): God has been really good to us. When we were first talking about launching the brand, we knew we really wanted to push our visuals, the look of the brand, and also the quality of our products. We felt the key to having initial success would be to quickly establish a presence and a following on Instagram and on Facebook. Also, we went out and attended every
flea market we could. We wanted to get out and show our products to the world in person. Cleveland and its artistic community have been so supportive of our endeavor. So, with all of that said, we have worked hard to get where we are. But, really, we just created FOUNT and threw it out into the world. Once we did, we were so thankful people liked what we were offering.

HB: How did you feel being selected by Martha Stewart as a style finalist in her ''American Made'' contest?

P and JW: We were thrilled! Honestly, someone suggested we apply and we kind of laughed at the idea of being chosen because we were such a new company. We didn't give it much more thought. Then one day we got an unexpected email from a woman who worked at Martha's headquarters in New York. She encouraged us to apply. As you can imagine, we were beyond excited! We quickly filled out our application and submitted it. Our fans were so supportive of us, and our local Cleveland news station had us on to rally the city in support of us. We were overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement

HB: What has surprised you the most as you've both become entrepreneurs and designers? Has something leapt out about the business angle or the creative angle that you never would have imagined?
Bellfield Totes

An array of hair-on-hide "Bellfield" totes is eye-catching

Adventure Pouch

The "Adventure Pouch" for kids is lovingly showcased in this lifestyle photo.

P and JW: It's so much more work than we ever anticipated. Maybe having this ignorance about the workload and responsibility of starting a company when we first jumped in was good. We fearlessly just went for it. At the beginning, we were both working our full-time jobs and then staying up, sewing, until the wee hours of the morning. We didn't know how long that season of life would last, but we were just running on sheer adrenaline and excitement about the future. We often reflect and find it hard to believe we had enough energy to keep going during that time when it was just the two of us working on FOUNT.

HB: Your business has expanded now beyond just the two of you. Whom have you hired to work alongside you now? Are you treating it now like a ''job,'' with set hours and days for labor?

P and JW: We are so thankful for our team, which is made up of a handful of folks who have degrees in fashion design and fashion merchandising, as well as some people who are just really creative and skilled with their hands. No one had any background in leather working, but everyone quickly picked up the craft and they have all become exceptional artisans. Our team is made up of hard workers who have contributed so much to the brand. Also, Jackie's mother has been a huge blessing. She helps us with a lot of administrative tasks, decisions, and implementing systems, because she has a background in business and this is all so new to us.

We have gotten to a place where we have separated work and home life. We open up the studio Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. We have the occasional weekend show, but we have been able to take weekends off now.

HB: Your creations are made in the U.S., in Cleveland. The leather has been imported from Italy, though. Will that continue to be the case?

P and JW:It feels really rewarding and is something to take pride in that these pieces are made by our hands and are supplying jobs to our friends in our city. We are very passionate about the revival of the garment and accessories industries and are super excited to do our part in this movement. By being so hands-on in the process from start to finish, we can ensure the quality of every piece that we send out to a customer.

Currently, we use Italian leather due to its incredible quality. We have been on the hunt for a while for great American leather, and we think we have found some really strong options. Our newest design is in the works to be constructed out of American tanned leather, so we are pretty excited about that! We want to use only the best resources-so whether the leather is from Italy or from America, we want to always choose the hides that are of the best quality and best suited for our designs.
Tanned Leather

HB: If you had to explain what you make, or what you are trying to say with your work, what words would you utilize to describe your brand?

P and JW: Our great hope would be to grow into an established American leather bag label people can be proud to wear. We aspire that our products can be admired and respected for their quality, design, and American manufacturing origins. We strive to have very clean designs that are functional. Some people have described our brand as ''a bit rustic but refined.''

It is hard to describe one's own brand, but here are some adjectives we would use: classic, clean, functional, rustic, refined, timeless, versatile, and built to last.

Warrior Yoga Sling

The "Warrior" yoga sling is a durable and attractive way to tote one's yoga gear. It embodies the FOUNT company's desire to be "classic, clean, and functional."

HB: Do you use your own products? Do you think they reflect your own personalities and lifestyles? They look natural on you in your press photos.

P and JW: We try to design things we personally find attractive and think would pair well and complement our wardrobe styles, also that they would be something we think we would carry 30 years from now. We do use our own products. Pretty much everyone at the studio has at least one or two of our products and uses them regularly. We all like to use the samples we work through in the prototyping process and test them out to make sure they are tried-and-true before we introduce them to the world.

We have a men's line in the works, and Phillip and the guys on our team are really excited about that. We also both love dogs, so we were so excited to design collars and leashes for dapper doggies. We are hoping to reintroduce several of our pet products in the coming months.

HB: Finally, if you had to envision a company motto, what would it be? What would reflect your company's attitude and your products' looks?

P and JW: Hmmm, great question. The definition of FOUNT is ''an abundant source of desirable quality or commodity.'' Since we started the brand, we felt the definition of the word ''fount'' really encompasses much of what we hope people find in our brand.

The Secret Behind Easy Peasy

The creation of FOUNT's products involves hands-on measuring, cutting, sewing, and various other stages of actualizing the designs from prototypes to finished merchandise.

Many of FOUNT's creations look inviting and welcoming. The bags, the pouches, the jewelry, the headwear--all of it has a comforting and comfortable aura about it. How the Wachters achieve this relaxed, lived-in look is anything but effortless and easy.

According to Jackie: ''We generally make at least five to fifteen prototypes of a design before arriving at the final design. We begin with a concept and a sketch and then lots of collaboration between ourselves (and now our team of designers) about what would make this the best product possible. What are all of the features we want it to have? What is the ideal size? How can we make it as functional as possible? What kind of leather do we need? These are some of the questions we hash out before we actually start creating the design. Often the design will morph into something different than our original sketch once our entire team shares what would make this product the best it can be.''

Husband Phillip continues: ''Next we draft the pattern out of paper. We then sew the design out of felt to check the dimensions and see what changes need to be made. We continue to make the design out of felt until we are more certain that the design is close to what we are aiming for it to be. Next we will make the design out of leather, to check how the leather behaves with the design. Then we continue to tweak each prototype until we feel we have developed a product that we are extremely excited about sharing with the world. It is a pretty lengthy process, but it is worth every step to ensure we can provide our customers with a product that will stand the test of time!''
Coventry Style

The "Coventry" style is dramatically posed against a windswept background.