Both of my parents and my relatives dating back hundreds of years were Amsih. After my family left the Amish church, I became the first person in my family to go to college to try something other than working on a farm. After college I got a job working on capital hill. After a few years riding a desk in an office, I realized working with my hands as my family had done before me was far more rewarding. I quit my good paying job and dove into the leather craft headfirst. While not all of my family approves of the internet, they are happy I'm using it to keep the tradition alive. I'd love to answer your questions about Amish or leather working.

Proof: "blackbearleather. 8/14/18 Reddit: IAMA" Inserted underneath my photo 'John Michael Glick'.

Comments: 102 • Responses: 29  • Date: 

original_greaser_bob64 karma

If you, personally, absolutely had to, I mean ab so freekin loot lee had to, do you think you could kick a Hutterites ass?

blackbearleather77 karma

If I absolutely had to, and the Hutterite absolutely had to try and kick my ass? Honestly, if that guy has been working in the fields everyday for all of his life, I'd probably get my ass kicked. I have't worked in a field since I was 16. But I do have a yellow belt in karate, (which is the lowest belt one can achieve) so I might be able to counter a good bit. Plus I'm super scrappy. But in the end, I'm guessing I'd probably lose that fight in a kind of a UFC wrestling match sort of way.

DickPringle40 karma

Awesome Stuff! Where can we purchase your stuff? Any reddit discounts?

blackbearleather114 karma

THANKS!! I have a small retail shop in Lancaster, PA, where I also make everything. I also sell my goods every weekend at an outdoor market in Washington DC. DC is a two and a half hour drive from Lancaster. So, it takes a lot of work, but its worth it to be able to successfully do this full time.

I have an online store. and I just created a 10% off discount code for reddit: IAMAREDDIT

GhostPoopies6 karma

Hey hey my neck of the woods! I go to Millersville!

blackbearleather2 karma

Heyo to Millersville!!! Cheers! :D

Vincent__Vega3 karma

Hello neighbor! From Ephrata.

blackbearleather2 karma

Helloooo Ephrata!!! Cheers :)

lrwxrwxrwx3 karma

Just don't open a leather shop in Arizona...

da913923 karma

He'd be out of business in a week's time!

blackbearleather1 karma

glad i'm not in Arizona! or anywhere other than where I am for that matter ;)

ziian2 karma

What DC outdoor market would that be?

blackbearleather2 karma

Eastern Market, on Capitol Hill :D

Judysza1 karma

Just a quick question - shipping to Europe, is it possible? :)

blackbearleather1 karma

You bet! I can ship to Europe.

Shade0138 karma

I’m a photographer in Lancaster who loves to photograph makers like this! Let me know if you ever need any photo work and I’d be happy to help!

Where in town is your shop?

blackbearleather28 karma

Awesome! If you'd like, go ahead and send me a message on my website. I'm in Lancaster City at Building Character.

rebeccaeh36 karma

Why did your family leave the Amish church?

blackbearleather103 karma

My grandfather and grandmother chose to leave the Amish church to explore their spirituality in a more profound way (I am speaking of my grandparents on my fathers side, I never had the opportunity to discuss this with my mother's parents, who also left the Amish when my mom was still young). There are many nuanced rules and beliefs within Amish life and society. They felt like those beliefs restricted their ability to connect with God and inhibited them from exploring a deeper sense of spirituality.

TransGirlInCharge16 karma

How many of the techniques you use were taught to you as a kid, and how many have you learned since then?

blackbearleather52 karma

Actually, I taught myself everything. My grandfather was a leather worker. But he left the Amish church for spiritual freedom, with his family (including my father) when he was about my age. I am 33. Subsequently he was shunned. And left leather working behind. He started a construction company, called Black Bear Structures, with my father.

Leather crafting in my family goes back to my great great grandpa. Who did leather work with my great grandpa. Who did leather work with my grandpa. But when my grandpa left the Amish, that chain was broken.

I picked up leather work as a hobby. And I instantly fell in love with it. It wasn't until I became very serious about it that my grandfather told me of the legacy of leather crafting in our family.

TransGirlInCharge17 karma

What an amazing coincidence. Were you shocked?

blackbearleather44 karma

I was totally shocked! I honestly was. It was kinda crazy. I have never felt so drawn to something in my life as I am to leather crafting. I was never an artist in the traditional sense. I cant draw for anything. But when I was working with leather, it was just like I had found my form of expression. And then to find out how deep it ran in my family, it was just like, oh wow, this is literally in my blood.

TransGirlInCharge11 karma

It's a hell of a story.

So, what are the part/s of your job harder than most people think they are, and the part/s that are easier than most people think they are?

blackbearleather29 karma

For me the hardest part is the repeated meticulous nature of making a lot of product. it isn't so much that the task itself is hard, the hardest part is allowing myself to slow down enough to focus on each cut, and each hammer, and each stitch. For me, it is a daily labor to allow my mind and my body to relax enough to stay in the moment while working on each aspect of a product. For if I get distracted, I make mistakes. And mistakes can cost hours worth of work and wasted material. So, staying focused is paramount. Staying focused has always been a challenge for me. But with leather work, I can find the motivation to be focused. For me, it is a perfect balance of thinking about your work and utilizing your hands to create.

For me, the best part of my job is creating something new. I just released a new line of bags, and in the creating process, I spent hours just trying to figure out one little aspect of a handle. And while that might seem frustrating, there is simply nothing more rewarding than putting so much thought and time into a new creation, and seeing it come to fruition. And to know that for yourself, the creation is beautiful. And then to have others give you their hard earned money to purchase that creation, it is such a powerful and rewarding experience.

boostman14 karma

Do you have any religious beliefs currently?

blackbearleather39 karma

I spent most of my teenage years and into young adult hood battling with the ideology and beliefs that were taught to me from the beginning. I always had trouble reconciling a benevolent God with the concept of eternal damnation. I never could. No matter how many 'intelligent' books I read on the topic, I could never justify the fundamental logic.

In the end, I chose to acknowledge the absolute uncertainty of our existence, while still having faith in a something greater than ourselves.

cville-z12 karma

How does Amish culture influence your life? What sorts of Amish practices did your family maintain after leaving the church?

blackbearleather48 karma

After my grandparents left the Amish church, they joined the Mennonite church. The Mennonite church is culturally very similar to the Amish. The Mennonite spiritual perspective is much more enlightened and much less regimented than the Amish church, which is what drew my grandparents away from the Amish church.

So, while I was never personally Amish, I grew up in a Mennonite church and attended a Mennonite school. I am no longer a part of the Mennonite church. But in regards to your question, my upbringing was very deeply rooted in the Amish/Mennonite way of life.

My extended family is very tight-nit on both my mother's and father's side. I have been to extended family gatherings, including second cousins and their relatives, that has consisted of over 400 people.

The Amish community is immune from paying social security taxes. This is because they support their own elderly. Any Amish house can and often does have multiple generations living in one expanded structure (they'll build onto a house as the need arises). If a family is not in one structure, you can often find brothers and sisters living on separate houses on the same plot of farm land.

In my experience, I have three brothers. I have a dozen cousins on both sides of my family. And we ALL get together on a regular basis. And my best friends are my brothers and my cousins. While this may be similar to a lot of traditional groups, the Amish still have not lost that sense of familial community. If you think about it, 100 years ago, the Amish were relatively normal to the rest of society. Everyone had horse and buggies. The Amish had a particular way of dressing, but it would not have been all that different from the rest of society.

But today, the Amish are very unique, simply because they have maintained the most traditional standards for themselves. And so, in my life, I have been raised to fully appreciate the value of family and community.

As far as how the Amish culture influences my life, I would say it is more about how the Amish perspective has influenced my life. Take a second and imagine life without a car, life without a television, or a cell phone. Imagine riding in a horse and buggy everytime you needed to go somewhere. If you can put yourself in the mindset that you would need to maintain to stay sane in that environment, you can begin to appreciate the simplicity of the Amish existence. You do not go anywhere quickly. Communication is limited to word of mouth. There is minimal 'noise' from the world around you. For me, that has influenced my state of mind and how I view the world. I often find myself needing to simply stop, slow down, and concentrate on the world around me. And in doing so, I reflect back on imagining how it feels to have none of the modern distractions that we face. And in that, I find peace.

I believe this is also one of the big reasons that I love leather work so much. It forces me to stop, focus on the moment, to focus on the task at hand, and to put the rest of the world aside while I work.

blackbearleather27 karma

Sorry, I realize that this reply was entirely too long winded. But thank you for the question! As you may be able to tell, I'm still working through what it all means to me and who I am. Cheers!

nexusheli4 karma

My extended family is very tight-nit on both my mother's and father's side. I have been to extended family gatherings, including second cousins and their relatives, that has consisted of over 400 people.

Hello from a fellow Lancaster ex-mennonite! I can verify that family gatherings up that way can be pretty big; 400's a bit excessive though! I think our largest was around 125.

blackbearleather4 karma

Cheers! And its true. 400. These gatherings only happen once in a long while. But they are big and yes it is excessive. But that's the way it is.

trai_dep6 karma

Since there are some misconceptions about the Amish, could you explain how the rules work, especially with a time out, where young Amish adults are encouraged to experience the modern world so that if they commit to being Amish adults, it's done on an informed basis? Thanks, and you have a great site!

blackbearleather7 karma

The rules are called the Ordnung. The rules are not written down. And so the Ordnung varies by each church. But they are generally the same throughout the Amish community.

So each church's Rumspringa rules may vary. Rumspringa means 'running around.' Rumspringa is the time when an unmarried Amish person is able to explore 'the world.' He or she is free to drink, drive, party, travel, as they see fit. They are able to do this until they get married. At which point they become a member of the church, and must follow its Ordnung.

But really, if you think about it. The socialization of the Amish is drastically different than socialization of the rest of modern society. They have their own social norms. Their own ways of interacting. So, when a young Amish person goes out 'into the world', to a lively bar for example. They will feel completely out of place. They will not feel comfortable. They will have no idea how to act in that kind of social situation.

And so, they often times end up experiencing Rumspringa with their peers, within their own circles. Which may for most, include lots of fun times and partying. But eventually, they and their peers tire of this lifestyle, and they decide to get married and join the church.

hillbilly_trash6 karma

Does your community have a book? The book that details all the family relationships so that you don't marry your first cousin? I worked ( indirectly) with an Amish community to print a rather large and detailed book and found it amazing the level of notes kept about different unmarried younger people to ensure successful families. It was a pretty small community, so they had to be... careful.

blackbearleather3 karma

Oh yes, we have a book! It is more than 600 pages of names. We call it the Fisher Book.

SwissMyCheeseYet5 karma

Do the Amish around you still technically shun those who left?

I ask because my parents still can't eat at the same table as my aunts and uncles who are still Amish, and the Amish stores won't take money from my parents. It's only been over 20 years, but rules are rules. My siblings and I aren't shunned or excommunicated because it wasn't our choice to leave, so we had to handle the money in the Amish stores, and we could eat with our cousins.

blackbearleather4 karma

They do still practice shunning. I'm not sure on the specifics of the rules at this point though.

Interesting fact. The Amish church and the Mennonite church were once part of the same congregation: Swiss Brethren. But there was a disparity between two sides based on the practice of shunning. So, the church split and from that split the Amish church was formed and the Mennonite Church was formed.

jesterfanatic5 karma

How old school are your tools of the craft?

I'll add that, of all the skills of that ilk, leatherworking is something I know nothing at all about, so I don't know how much the tools have changed over the years if at all.

blackbearleather15 karma

I am very old school. For all my smaller products. I hand stitch everything. That means that after the pieces are cut. I use a six fingered prong and a mallet to punch stitching holes into the leather. Then using two needles and one piece of thread, I hand stitch each piece together. For the larger items, I do use a machine. But the machine itself is a very old machine, called a Union Lockstitch. To finish the edges, I hand paint each edge and then I use a wooden awl to smooth out the edges.

The tools I use are the same tools that wouldve been used 200 years ago. The sewing machine is the same sewing machine that wouldve been used 75 years ago.

Pr1mew1nd3 karma

How much does your Amish heritage influence your work? Do you take inspiration from your ancestors?

What do you make, exactly? Boots, belts, jackets?

blackbearleather15 karma

It is hard to say really. I feel like my Amish heritage is very much ingrained in who I am, that I don't necessarily know how to differentiate. But I can say that the Amish have a very beautiful, simple and pragmatic way of seeing the world. And when I design a new product, I very rarely try to add any kind of embellishment or include something that does not have a practical purpose. I aim to highlight the beauty of the material and to create something that is highly functional and will last for a very long time.

Yes, my ancestors arrived in the United States in the early 1700's. They came here to escape extreme religious persecution in Switzerland and Germany. They came here for freedom of thought, mind and spirit. And in that, I take much inspiration. My grandparents are the hardest working, kindest, most honest and loving people that I have ever known. They of course have a bit of German gristle in them. But they are truly amazing. And I believe that this is the nature of heritage. Peace loving people who love their family and their community.

I make wallets, belts, journals, bags, briefcases and a bunch of accessories. You can find a lot of my work on my website.

anudeep303 karma

How did you get your parents to let you use the internet to sell leather?

Also it should be 8/14/18, not 7/14/18(on your website too)

blackbearleather10 karma

When I went to college, I was able to explore lots of things on my own. I learned a lot of things that no one in my family had ever known, including how to utilize the internet. So, as they've seen the growth of my business, they have also appreciated the ability the internet has to establish a brand name in a community, such as Washington DC, where I sell my goods every weekend.

And ooops :) Thanks for the heads up. I'm gonna change that now :D

Mr_Shad0w3 karma

I'm a leatherworking hobbyist, and I have some friends who make amazing leathercrafts and clothing items semi-professionally.

What's the business side of your profession like these days? What are some of the obstacles you've faced turning your hobby in to a business / since going in to business?

blackbearleather10 karma

I have been fortunate to be located in a place that puts me in the middle of 4 major metro areas: Philly, Balitmore, NYC and DC. And the way that I have been able to survive and grow full time was by finding a great regular outdoor
weekend market in Washington DC. I travel to the other cities as well for events and shows to sell. But my primary driver is the regular DC market.

Also, being located in Lancaster, PA I am in the midst of the Amish community with great family connections to them. The Amish community has all kinds of resources for a leather worker, as they still practice leather crafting for their horse and buggy harnesses and work harnesses for their horses.

So, the biggest obstacle that I faced when working to go full time was A) having the time to put into it B) having a successful retail outlet to create consistent sales

With that said, I know there are shops out there who have gone at it completely online and/or via wholesale sales. But my online sales are minimal, compared to my retail sales. And I do not have any wholesale accounts at this time.

So, I'd say that if you really want to make it happen full time, you need to utilize the advantages that you have in your location and/or team up with people who can help drive an online presence (but that can be very expensive). Find whatever resources and outlets that you can to establish consistent sales. Only with consistent sales can you maintain yourself financially while also building your business.

Hope that helps a little, I'd be happy to answer anymore questions about this. Cheers!

funfu2 karma

I have wanted to try to make something of leather. What is a good wholesale source for good quality leather?

blackbearleather1 karma

I buy my leather from the tannery: Wickett and Craig

McJumbos1 karma

what is the process like to join an amish community? I bet it's not as simple as joining a gym or the YMCA.

blackbearleather3 karma

Haha you are correct. It is not like signing up for the gym. An adult outsider joining the Amish community is a very rare occasion. I have not heard of any stories where this has ever happened. I'm sure it has happened, but I do not know of it.

If it were to happen, I'd imagine the individual would most likely need to marry into the church, and also be accepted by all of the elders of that church. The elders of the church would be extremely skeptical of an outsider.

So, unless one already came from a conservative anabaptist background, such as the Mennonites, it would likely prove extremely difficult to persuade the elders to believe that one is able and willing to join the Amish community and to fully live out the Amish way of life in heart, mind and body.

hadie231 karma

I know that Amish populations have an increased rate of certain genetic diseases (I can't remember the names but they mostly influence toddlers and babies ). Have you or anyone you know suffered from genetic issues and if so, how did they get help?

blackbearleather1 karma

The Amish have and continue to maintain an isolated bloodline. They do not marry outside of the church. Thus, certain genetic diseases have become more prevalent over time. My cousin has Autism for example. I don't know any other specifics though. Their are medical research and other organizations that focus on the Amish, and provide medical assistance to the community in regards to genetic disorders.

McJumbos1 karma

what is the biggest misconception of amish people?

blackbearleather3 karma

What does the modern enlightened individual seek? Healthy sustainable food. Locally made and environmentally conscious products. A strong sense of community and love for those in your community. A happy life.

Many people look at the Amish and see a backwards people. But I believe it is quite the opposite. In a very general way, the rest of society has lost the knowledge on how to connect with the earth (like the actual dirt that you stand on) in an emotional way. The rest of society has become too distracted to truly connect with the people around them.

The Amish have always kept true to the principals of being stewards of the earth and of brotherly love. They are a loving and peaceful society with so much joy and happiness in their hearts. They love the people around them and they love the land from which they grow life.

Just as in any society, there will always be bad apples. But those bad apples cannot and must not be the label that we affix to an entire ethnic group. For this is simply prejudice and ignorance. For example, I have witnessed this prejudice when people talk about puppy mills. They speak of the Amish as if every one of the 250,000+ Amish people in the United States is personally responsible for puppy mills. There are always going to be bad people in any society. The Amish are no different. But the perspective that all Amish are bad because of puppy mills is blatant prejudice against an entire ethnic group. It is ignorant.

The Amish community is a beautiful collection of personalities and stories and wonderful people. If you ever have the chance to build a friendship with an Amish person, do so. It will take some time for them to open up to you, but once they do, you will see the true heart of the Amish people shine through.

coryrenton1 karma

of commercial leather brands, which strikes you as having the shoddiest workmanship?

blackbearleather4 karma

It isn't just about the workmanship. It is about the quality of the material. I only use USA made vegetable tanned leather. Vegetable tanned leather is a much much higher quality than chrome tanned leather. And so, it is much more expensive.

Also, USA tanned leather is much more expensive than imported leather. This is because in the USA we have strict environmental laws. And leather tanning uses ALOT of water. And all of that water needs to be properly treated, which is very expensive. However, in places like India and China, there are no environmental controls or regulators that stops a tanning company from simply dumping polluted water into the closest natural water source. Most of the leather from Commercial Leather Brands is made in developing countries like China and India with little to no environmental controls over the leather tanning industry. Just google "India Leather Pollution" And then that cheap leather is cut and sewn in a sweat factory in Bangladesh.

So it is hard to say which brands have the shoddiest workmanship. But I can tell you that if a company does not reveal where they get there leather, how the leather is tanned or who makes the product. Then that company is trying to hide something. A high quality company should be proud of everything about their product.

You can read more about it on my website.

hellsing10551 karma

Anyone bought his belts? I'm considering snagging a couple if people can vouch.

blackbearleather2 karma

I'll vouch for them ;) Cheers :)