GTPulse: Young Couple Brings Handmade Leather Goods to Traverse City and Beyond

Not too long ago Carter and Julia Wheelock were vagabonds. While saving up for a home the young married couple was couch surfing at friends and families, and I commented on how romantic and chic it all sounded.

“It didn’t feel very chic at the time,” Carter said with a laugh.

He and Julia had just decided to put down roots in their native home of Traverse City, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

The couple met while both being homeschooled in high school but didn’t start dating until they were both in college where Carter was studying to be a civil engineer and Julia was taking English classes.

“I was getting prereqs out of the way for a civil engineering degree. We were dating and right at the transition of me finishing up at NMC and getting ready to go to Lawrence Tech.”

He was drawn to civil engineering because he always liked math in school and the idea of a job where a lot of time was spent out of the office was alluring to him.

They fell in love quickly and got engaged on a picturesque day in Empire. Soon after they started discussing what kind of life they wanted.

“I didn’t want to do long-distance,” Julia said. “He was going to move to the Detroit area.”

The lifestyle they envisioned for themselves was one of simplicity and pursuing a life as a civil engineer was going to be anything but.

“Student loans don’t line up with a simple lifestyle,” Carter said.

So they stayed in Traverse City, and the first two years they were married were spent living with other people. I romanticize this on the road kind of lifestyle but Julia and Carter were happy to get into their own place.

“I think moving into this place was the 11th time we had moved in two years,” Julia said. 

The kids came a little while after they moved into their new home, and with it, a new chapter for their love and room for an old dream.

Before the house and the kids, they went to Maine together on a road trip and stayed at a bed and breakfast fit for a Hallmark holiday special.

“They didn’t have great parking so all the guests would block everyone in. You would just hang your key up on a board in the lobby so if they needed to move the cars around they could. Each room had a leather key clip on it.”

He like it tried to find a similar key clip to buy to remind him of the trip. When he couldn’t find one to buy, he bought a few tools and some material to make one. He made his first clip with no background knowledge and no tutorials under his belt, but it turned out.

“It was pretty rough, but it was really fun and exciting.”

They were in Portland, Maine, which has a strong creative community that further inspired Carter, but that wasn’t the catalyst for making leather items as a business.

“You need to tell her about the birthday with the wallet,” Julia said.

The first wallet I bought was neon pink, see-through plastic from Forever 21. I don’t know what Julia’s mall wallet looked like, but it needed replacing and for her birthday she asked Carter for a new wallet and instead of buying a new one, he made it

“I was like, ‘ok.’ I didn’t have super high expectations but when I saw it, it was actually really nice. If I saw it in a store in an unbiased situation I’d still buy it. I still have it,” Julia said.

She wasn’t the only fan of her wallet, others around her were too. She was working at Blk Mrkt at the time and the warehouse district was putting on a holiday market. She signed Carter up to be a vendor.

“He bought his first side of leather to get ready for that and it was like $800 and he didn’t tell me how much it was going to be. It was like….you spent what on this little side project we’re doing?” she said.

Courtesy of Ben Law Photography

Carter made about 40 pieces in preparation, and to both their relief, made their money back. All of the pieces are handcrafted by him and the old school tools he uses. He makes different size and style wallets, a classic belt, clutches, and the key holder that inspired it all. The leather he works with is from Pennsylvania and becomes more beautiful and characterized with age. The stitching is wax polyester, with the wax being used to create a stiffer and more water-resistant thread for longevity.

By the time they went to sell the leather goods at the market they had already come up with the name LMBR + HIDE (Lumber and Hide). The hide is the symbol for the leather goods, and lumber being the symbol for the wood tools he uses, as well as the furniture he plans on introducing to the brand.

“I really like hand tool only carpentry and woodworking. I haven’t done much of it yet but that’s the future extension of the brand.”

Carter has had a great support system in Julia while making this creative journey. She built the business’s website and updates it as needed. He also hopes to be able to pass down the knowledge and skills he’s developed to his sons, Owen and Asher. At two and six months old they’re too young to hang out in his downstairs shop now, but he looks forward to the day when they’re old enough.

“When the time is right it’d be really cool to teach something to someone, person-to-person,” Carter said.

Carter and Julia have created life and creativity out of their love, and what they’ve built together only gets better with age.

Categories: GTPulse