This year marks the 4th we’ve partnered with Charlottesville-based leather craftsman Marcus Wiley of Wiley Brothers. Wiley has a similar origin story as us: His life began in finance as a stockbroker before he headed back to the Virginia horse country where he grew up. Inspired by his equestrian roots, he launched Wiley Brothers in 1999 with a single product: a belt that featured a hoof pick as a buckle. Each belt is handcrafted using bridle leather from a century-old English tannery, making belts you’ll be buckling up for years (if not a lifetime) to come. To commemorate the presidential term-length of working with another great Virginian maker (and our official first Commonwealth Collection way back when), we wanted to reprise an interview we did with Marcus Wiley from a couple years ago.
How did the friendship between Wiley Brothers and Ledbury begin?
Paul Trible was searching for Virginian-made goods to partner with for the Ledbury Commonwealth Collection and selected Wiley Brothers Belts as the first collaboration of the collection. We worked together on the special edition Free Union belt that featured the Quick Release buckle. The Quick Release is so unique and there’s nothing else like it. It is modeled after a nineteenth century design used by England’s National Fire Service and still used by the U.S. Navy to bind fire hoses on aircraft carriers.
Your belts represent a true dedication to craftsmanship. Could you explain your belt making process?
The hides of English bridle leather arrive at my work space in partial form – meaning they are 2-2.5 feet wide and 5 feet long and I take it from there. I strip and cut each to size and then etch, dye, burnish, and stitch them all by hand. It’s a very labor-intensive process, but being hands-on is a good thing because all hides react differently when production is done by hand.
The buckles of your belts are quite unique, where does the design inspiration come from?
I like simple, elegant, and functional buckles. The belts are timeless and this is really the driving force behind any buckle that we design. I don’t want it to be a fleeting fashion because designs come and go but quality speaks for itself. It would be wasteful to come up with new designs every year and toss out the old ones because so much effort goes into making them. When we finish the labor-intensive process that goes into making our belts, we hope that we hit the mark in that we are coming up with something that will remain for years; not in one year and out the next. We source the highest quality metal and the belts are built to last from both a physical standpoint, and also designed to survive the test of time as far as fashion.