"My passion is to create vessels that carry the most personal items of our everyday." ~ Lincoln Heller, fiveleft leather
From sewing his own clothes and playing with leather as a child, to photography, Alaskan logging camp and then art school at Emily Carr, Lincoln Heller - the ever evolving creative genius behind fiveleft leather - always knew that he would be working at something meaningful while using his hands.
"At an early age it was apparent that working with my hands would be my future. The five fingers on my left hand have even become the brand fiveleft. The leather I use satisfies the kind of work that my hands and mind love to do."
But it was a lonely abandoned bag found in an alleyway that took him down the path of leather bag making. Giving it new life by stitching it together with two other street-side finds: a weathered belt and a 1960s Canadian Automotive Association badge, the "Junk Bag" received multiple compliments from both men and women.
And the spark caught fire.
“Somehow, that bag was really an attention grabber and kind of a signifier that that was something I had a gift for. Then I kept rolling with it.”
And so fiveleft leather was born.
Community, Inspiration and Awards
Since then, Lincoln has been actively involved in the community and won several awards for his uniquely innovative designs:
"In 2010 I collaborated with some of the west coast’s foremost First Nations artists and craftspeople. John Powell, Robyn Sparrow, and Anthony Hunt, making bags for the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. It was an honour to work with these masters, and see them practice the individual crafts of their people. Also in 2010, I was entrusted to design and create the guitar strap and presentation case for Neil Young during the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Games."
"In November 2011 I was awarded the Circle Craft bronze award for 'excellence in craft.' This was a benchmark award for me. It affirmed my leatherwork as a successful product, and showed it is highly regarded by a 40-year-old craft community."
"In April 2012 I had my first runway fashion show at Eco Fashion Week 04. I incorporated performance art into my show finale. I wore a suit, or harness, made of seatbelts and reclaimed chair leather. As I walked the runway, I pulled massive rope that dragged ten bags that illustrated the development of my career. During this symbolic walk my body was encased and adorned with my creativity. It gave me courage to face an audience of fashion industry and media as I dragged the weight of the past, present, and future of my business."
"I am a creative person, at times I become absorbed with inspiration. It brings passion. It brings challenges. It takes sleep away; I become a factory of imagination."
In 2013 fiveleft produced a conceptual runway show called ‘Factory of Imagination’. The models showcased bags ‘styled’ as cyber factory workers of the creative mind. The performance art element presented a deeper message about sharing the gifts we are given.
"Most of us are ‘gifted’ with something, and I feel these gifts should be shared to better our world. Fear, selfishness, and greed are what keep us from sharing the things that are meant to elevate us all. To illustrate this idea I pushed a 120yr. old sewing machine down the runway stopping to sew bags together and gave them away to those in the audience. This is my hope for heaven, when I can make things for the pure enjoyment of their creation and then give them away."
As the brand has matured over the years, fiveleft leather has achieved a new level of refinement, continuing to fuse craft and fashion, while finding balance between life and business.
"I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with masters that inspire me, and build strong relationships in my community. Aside from business, I am able to make time to care for my two children every other day."
"I think it is the interaction and building of real community that has been so satisfying. We will be introducing some new materials, and collaborations with other gifted people - which are already in the works. Arriving at this level of mastery and getting older is proving to be a place where I can branch out and meet challenges that were unattainable before, and slowing down to look closely at the details is bringing new excitement to the practice I have already developed."
The success of fiveleft’s leather goods is their distinct aesthetic presence. This ‘look’ is a product of three important principles Lincoln adheres to in his daily life, as well as his business endeavours.
“fiveleft was born from the desire to create things where construction, materials, and esthetics follow these principles:"
- Consideration of environmental impact
- Exploration of traditional or archaic techniques and materials
- Innovative style
"We use only vegetable tanned leather, thread, and functional hardware that stand the test of time. The result is a durable product made with less waste. The leather we use is derived from an ancient tanning process of soaking cowhides in a ‘vegetable matter soup.’ This process uses very little toxic chemicals and leaves the leather rigid and ready to be tooled. From conception to production, our bags limit waste by using shapes and sizes that maximize hide use. fiveleft bags use very few parts, some as little as four pieces of leather."
Exploration of Traditional or Archaic Techniques and Materials
Lincoln practices many disappearing handcraft traditions that have been displaced by technology to meet higher production demands.
“There is a tactile richness to something hand-made that cannot be synthesized.”
The surfaces of fiveleft leather goods are fashioned by hand. Originally, impressions were made using found, recycled objects, like bicycle spokes, hood ornaments, hubcaps, bolts, tractor parts, mattress springs, and lately, bubbles. Then, coloured dyes are blended to create unique mottled finishes.
“I don’t necessarily sit down and say, ‘Oh, well, this could be turned into this. I think it’s an aesthetic or a mindset that’s just inherent in me that does this all the time.”
Today, fiveleft leather has been experimenting with brush strokes, different leather material and shapes to create a more minimalistic, refined look.
"Instead of spending endless hours pounding and texturizing the leather, now there is a zen approach to the dyeing process. Colour is applied using broad strokes, leaving just one strip of bare leather."
The fiveleft design practice follows two classic rules; ‘less is more’, and ‘what you see is what you get’. This minimalist approach steers away from glue, synthetic replacements, and unnecessary embellishments.
“The leather I use has rigid characteristics that accentuate my sculptural designs”
Reflecting his minimalist approach to construction, bags are made without any glue, lining, or synthetic replacements, only basic materials such as leather, wood, hardware, and thread.
"I design every piece to showcase what I think are the beautiful, unique, sculptural, and textural properties of leather, using as little 'chemistry' as possible," Heller says. The results boast clean lines that are timeless yet captivating, suitable for all occasions, and each tell a different story."
“If you took a knife and carved the top of the bag, you’d see the leather. It’s the idea of a canvas that we painted on. We are making imagery on a bag. That’s one of the things that makes my process unique. Every two bags are different.” With each new season fiveleft leather’s unconventional look keeps gaining recognition. Each bag piece is individually stamped and numbered."
"I love the containers that carry our lives (bags, wallets, etc.). I watch people and their bags constantly, and this daily digest of style, function and detail becomes the language of fiveleft. In some ways you're buying a canvas or a piece of art that's wrapped into a bag."
That said, he doesn't care if you beat the hell out of his bags - in fact, that is what they are designed for: everyday life.
"When you buy a bag and you walk away with it, and someone else buys a very similar bag, at the end of the year, those two bags look different... the personality of the person really is absorbed into the bag. One person goes outdoors a lot, one person sweats a lot, one person beats on their bag."
The results of Lincoln Heller's inspirations for fiveleft leather is a wide array of one-of-a-kind, ever-changing beautiful leather bags and accessories so you can be sure of always being in style.
Shop fiveleft leather's collections here: