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AN INTERVIEW WITH THE LEATHER CRAFTSMAN XIAOWEI YU

Over last summer, I went back to my hometown Nanjing, China. During the time I spent there, my mom took me to this leather workshop was given by a leather studio located in the center of my city. She knew that I am always down to make crafts and seeking to learn from the best.

The leather studio is called Yan Wu She, which means the house of the study of objects in English. During the workshop, I met the owner of the studio Xiaowei Yu who was also my teacher. 

fter contacted him over the phone, he gave me the chance to interview him about his path and business. I am very happy to share the interview here and show you some insights from him as a craftsman and business owner. 

The interview was taken over messages. 

EL: I am going to start, and you can reply me whenever you have free time. So what is your business about?

XY: I own a leather work studio. The purpose of having this studio is to let people experience the process of making leather works by themselves. The main part what I am doing during this experience is teaching.  

EL: In this case, do you have a philosophy of your business? If you do, what's that?

XY: Yes, I only use the leather and the hardware accessories of the best quality, so that my customers are able to earn the best experience. Also, everything made here are absolutely made by hands.

EL: I did experience that.  Now I am curious how do you get into this field? And start your business?

XY: It's a long story. I love vintage motorcycle, and I have a group of friends that always host meet ups. Every time we hang out together, I can't stop noticing the leather goods they have with them. So I want to buy some as well, but the prices are always too high for the handmade leather goods. In that case, I start to think maybe I can buy the tools and make them myself. Once I have the idea, I start to research and to buy books about handmade leather goods, even ask friend to bring books from foreign countries. After I get the books, I study them, and try to figure out how everything works. It took me a while to finally get things to work. I practice a lot, at the same time, I am getting better and better. At the first, I was doing it as a part time thing, later on, I realized there is not enough time for me to do this only as part time, so I quit my job to do this as my full time job. 

EL: Was it hard to make the decision of quitting your job? Was that something you think about for a while or it was just that one moment, you realize you need to just do it?

XY: It was not easy to make the decision at first. Because this market was only just started at that moment in China, so I guess I do know the path I choose will be a difficult path. But I just love it so much that I am willing to give it a try. Eventually I quit, and my family was not supporting me by that moment. 

EL: When was the time you first start doing handmade leather?

XY: It was around 2012 that I first started doing leather work. 

EL: Do you have any partner? 

XY: I do have a partner! I was doing everything myself and it was a lot of work, I wanted to get aa partner at the time I met my current partner. I got to know her through a friend, we get along, and now we running the studio together. 

EL: How does this partnership work? Can you tell me more about it?

XY: My partner was doing design back in the days, she also knows how to do leather work, but she was not good enough to be honest, but I do like being her partner because she is really reliably. Now we run this studio in the way she is in charge of designing, and I am in charge of crafting. We both teach!

EL: Can you tell me your favorite part of your business?

XY: I get to make a lot of friends through workshops and events, get to know people from different backgrounds everyday. I like seeing people having a good time in my studio, and making leather good can calm them down, those are the best parts. 

EL: I do feel calm down when I was making. Is there anything you realized after you got into the field? 

XY: I do realize that it is really hard to keep running this business in China, not to even mention about earning money. We use good leather and accessories, so the cost is high and it cause the higher prince for the customers. The ability to accept the prince is limited here. I believe the market in the U.S. is bigger. 

EL: Did you change your attitude to leather working than before?

XY: My attitude to leather working will never change in forever. I will keep doing what I am doing because I like it that much. 

EL: Like you said, this business is hard to run, then what motivated/inspire you the most doing what you are doing?

XY: I would say passion is the only reason I am still doing and going to keep doing it. I love what I am doing and spend so much time and effort on it. I know it is going to be difficult but I won't give up. 

EL: I admire that. What's the plan for the next chapter of your business?

XY: I want to form a group and running the business, expand the crew. My goal is to have a team with 3 to 5 people, including people who can do design, craft and promotion.

EL: How do you engage with your community in general? I know you posts something about doing events in other cities, can you tell me more about it?

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XY: I would say people in our city who is in this field do not communicate with each other often enough, so we have almost zero chance to communicate. I do communicate with people in other cities through online chatting groups. 

EL: Communicate is the key tho. I hope you find more people like you want to share experiences with others. Do you have any tip for startups?

XY: Passion is the key, if you want to step into this field, make sure you know it is what you want because there are lots of problems for you to face. Otherwise, I know lots of people quit through half way. 

EL: Thank you for your time! It was great get to know your business better. I hope you achieve your next goal soon! One more question, what is your favorite movie?

XY: You are welcome! I would say The Shawshank Redemption is my favorite. 

Passion, passion, passion. That is the first wold I can think of from this interview, Xiaowei really showed me how important is for us to love what we are doing, it is the key to solve any problems that we will face in the path of success. 

Effy Liu