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"Small but Mighty"

  • By Brittany Davis
  • 22 Jan, 2017

Featured in this Month's Rodale's Organic Life Magazine

I was approached a few months ago by a lovely editor from Rodale's Organic Life Magazine , asking to feature my Las Pampas purse in the March issue of their magazine.  All press is good press and I was thrilled to take part. 

She asked me a series of questions that really got me thinking about my business- mostly how I started, and why I do what I do the way that I do it. 

When the magazine went to print she wrote me and said that my bag was featured in their "Top 100" section and her exact words were "find attached the small but mighty! blurb on Brass + Blade." She was unable to include a longer piece (I got 8 words!) but the interview questions prompted me to put into writing the more personal and in depth story behind Brass + Blade. 
So here, I share with you the unwritten story behind those 8 powerful, published words!

What was your inspiration to start Brass+Blade? Was there any “aha” moment in founding it? What was your biggest goal?

The story of how I came to start Brass + Blade is not totally linear, but I'll do my best. What I started deer hunting in Northern CA I immediately knew that I wasn't going to let one piece of the animal go to waste. In order to fully honor the animal, I didn't only want to use all of it's meat, but also it's incredible hide. A good friend introduced me to the process of turning a deer hide into buckskin- a process that includes using the animal's brain and can take up to three days of work. While it is very labor intensive, it is also an unbelievably rewarding process to watch a "throw away" piece of an incredible animal turn into something so beautiful and valuable.

Since making a buckskin takes so long I didn't want to mess up the next step- turning it into a useful bag or garment. So, a friend of mine in the interior design business gave me a cow hide to start practicing my hand stitching on. Her only request was that I make her a tote bag....and so the seed for Brass + Blade was planted! More friends and family asked for bags, and as I got better I started charging to cover the cost of material. When the tech company I was working for downsized, my fiancee at the time encouraged me to put my energy into my creative outlet and make it my full time focus. He is now my husband, and I now have a business! My biggest goal is simply to create with my hands something useful and beautiful. 

How did you first start hunting? Can you tell us a little bit about what hunting means to you?

Growing up in rural Mendocino County in Northern CA, my brothers and I would often accompany my dad on hunts. Whether it was deer season or he was hunting wild boar, our family ate almost entirely wild hunted meat. Only when we moved away from there did I realize how special and unique that was, and began learning how to hunt myself. I'm fortunate that my dad was and still is the most enthusiastic and encouraging hunting mentor I could ask for. Senior year of high school I shot my first wild boar and three seasons ago I had my first successful solo black tail deer hunt. You'll never know how loud and uncoordinated you are in your everyday life until you hunt a black tail deer which requires you to be silent and invisible. Hunting is my way of inserting myself into the natural circle- the food chain if you will. When I hunt, I notice everything, appreciate everything and it makes me so intensely protective of the health and well being of natural, wild spaces. When you get your food from the wild, it matters so much more that The Wild remain a thriving and healthy place.

Do you produce all of the bags? Are they all from deer hides you hunt and tan?

I produce each of my bags one at a time, but hand, by myself.

I make most of my bags from cowhides that I pick out by hand. I do custom buckskin bags and pouches for those who understand the intense amount of work that goes into making them, but the cost is rather higher than the cost of a bag made from a tannery cow hide. I don't ever use commercially produced buckskin, as it is an entirely different end product than naturally tanned buckskin. 

What are you most proud of about your products? About your company?
I am most proud of the integrity of my products. I love knowing that in 20 years, someone with a Brass + Blade bag will still be getting  joy out of using it.

How long does it take to make each bag?

The time it takes to make each bag varies. If you are asking about a custom bag with a new design it can take up to a week to understand what exactly the customer wants, whether or not it's physically possible, and then deciding how to make it look good! I take most of my inspiration on new styles of bags from the hides I get! Like the Las Pampas bag, I love to let the raw edge of the hide dictate what I will do with it. And since that is the case, most of Brass + Blade bags are uniquely one of a kind. Once I have a design down as one that I will replicate, it takes anywhere from 6 to 12 hours to cut, hammer the holes, and stitch together. Sometimes I will come up with the idea for a bag in a split second and be able to make it, sometimes I will think about a a bag for months before I attempt a prototype. I probably have 5 bag designs floating around in my brain....waiting for their moment of cohesion. But I would say that design and prototyping is by far the most time consuming and exhausting part of this business- unless you count making buckskin.

By Brittany Davis 11 May, 2017
To begin, here is a real life sample pack list for our typical weekend away:
By Brittany Davis 22 Jan, 2017
I was approached a few months ago by a lovely editor from Rodale's Organic Life Magazine , asking to feature my Las Pampas purse in the March issue of their magazine.  All press is good press and I was thrilled to take part. 

She asked me a series of questions that really got me thinking about my business- mostly how I started, and why I do what I do the way that I do it. 

When the magazine went to print she wrote me and said that my bag was featured in their "Top 100" section and her exact words were "find attached the small but mighty! blurb on Brass + Blade." She was unable to include a longer piece (I got 8 words!) but the interview questions prompted me to put into writing the more personal and in depth story behind Brass + Blade. 
By Brittany Davis 21 Mar, 2016

Just like it’s impossible to pick a favorite child (or so they say…) I have a hard time picking a favorite Brass + Blade bag. They’re all so different, and each with its own qualities and use cases that picking a favorite wouldn’t just be an act in futility, it simply doesn’t make sense because it always begs the question, “favorite for what?”

However! (of course there’s a “however,” otherwise this post would have stopped right there) However, every so often I find that I have made a bag, usually just a first attempt at a new concept, that I absolutely will not part with.

This backpack design came together quickly and I decided just as quickly (before I was even finished) that it was my new go-to bag….for test purposes! That’s what prototypes are for, right?

While testing for strap length and comfort, weight limit suitability, magnetic snap strength, interior pocket position, and all around easy and joy of use, I traipsed around the East Bay for a week collecting compliments on my new bag!

The most recent and final test came on a two-hour waterfall hike in the Hawaiian mountain rainforest (poor me) when half way through the hike it started to rain enormous Hawaii rain drops. Both the backpack and I got very wet while the contents of the bag stayed surprisingly dry.

By Brittany Davis 20 Feb, 2016
I've heard that there is no such thing as an original idea- and I accept that that may be the case. So what does the creative process look like for designing a new bag that I've never seen before and never made before? I'll see if I can break down the making of my most recent bag into the many influences, requests, stolen ideas, inspirations, bits of acquired knowledge, and other non-original ideas that go into making one very original bag. 

First, I had a return customer who requested a woven lanyard made out of bison the day I left on a road trip to Montana. I had made him a bison leather bag and he needed a holder for his dog whistle. The problem was (and still is) that nobody makes bison "lace" for weaving...it's all kangaroo and cow leather lace. But as I was on my way to Montana, I let him know I'd look around while I was there. 

In Montana I stopped by saddle makers, tack shops, antique horse equipment stores, and even a custom hat maker (check him out- most incredible hats I've seen  http://www.rockymountainhatcompany.com/  ) where I leaned so much about the beauty of braided leather and about Deer Lodge State Prison where the inmates make incredibly beautiful horsehair hitched hat bands.
By Brittany Davis 02 Feb, 2016
Looking for The West? If you're in California then you've gone too far. You've passed it, it was back there surrounding that expansive, triangular state that people hate driving through so much that they think its best use would be to dump nuclear waste in it. 

When you stand on the West Coast, and you see the Pacific Ocean, maybe you think that you're as far West as you will go (at least in the lower 48). By geographical measurements you might be right. But this winter I traveled East, across Nevada covered in a sheet of snow (a state that I personally love driving through) and then North, and into country that embodies a history, a culture, and a kind of wild beauty that until now was somehow never fully impressed upon me. The West, with a capital W, the one that I hold in my mind as being distinctly different from the rest of this country, is hundreds of miles to the East of where I live on the west coast. 

Soon after driving out of Reno, NV, the ground was covered with snow every day of the trip. The open rolling fields of Southern Idaho waiting for spring potato planting were blanketed with thick, perfectly smooth white snow. Driving over Pine Creek Pass into Teton valley the full moon rose behind the Grand Teton mountains and the valley and the mountains glowed blue-white in the bright moonlight. Snow fell in tiny, perfect snowflake shapes in Big Sky, Montana. 
 Somehow, I wasn't expecting that the whole of the 4 states we drove through would be totally covered in snow, but covered they are.

I stood on the edge of the river where the Oregon Trail forked South West to California, and North West to Oregon. I stood overlooking the stunning Shields Valley, named and crossed by Lewis and Clark in 1804. I stood on peaks of the Rocky Mountains with 360 degree views of an endless, craggy  expanse of rock and ice. 

In The West, snow boots have fur because they need the warmth, men and women wear cowboy boots because they're good for riding horses, and if you slide into a snow-filled ditch on a back road while looking at a heard of elk, the first four people (including a semi truck driver) will stop to help get you out. 

East of California, the gas prices are consistently hovering under $2 per gallon so far this year. That should be more than enough of a reason to jump in your (all wheel drive) car and drive East to get to The West...even if you hate driving through Nevada. 

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