Eric Heins, owner of the successful Corter Leather & Cloth, uses traditional methods to create beautiful wallets, purses and belts.Text by Kelly Chase | Photographs courtesy of Corter Leather & Cloth
For Eric Heins, starting Corter Leather & Cloth, a leather goods company based in Orleans, was happenstance. He was a junior at New England School of Art and Design and he needed a wallet.
“I didn’t have any money and I was super into this American fashion movement that was happening in Japan, but it was really expensive and there were no stores in the U.S. selling this stuff,” says Heins. With $35 worth of leather and tools, he got to work on the stoop of his Allston apartment. After posting a photograph of his finished product online, he started receiving requests from friends—and suddenly had a three-month waiting list.
Nearly four years later, he’s running a successful business in Orleans. Heins moved his operation from Boston to Cape Cod mainly because of lower housing costs, but he also had a connection to the area, too. His family, who lived in Connecticut, spent a week each summer on the Cape. “I have spent a lot of time skiing and snowboarding in New Hampshire, but this was the place that I fell in love with and it was the place that I compared every other place to.”
Corter Leather’s products are made using traditional methods; each leather accessory is hand-stitched and hand-punched. Heins works with American tanneries, and a few tanneries in Mexico for the Albatross Brand products.
Heins pulls out a new purse design that’s a smooth beige hue and he places it next to his bag—a stained canvas of amber and burnt sienna. “This is the same leather two years later,” he says. Genuine leather tans in the sun and fades and darkens from the oils in your skin. “Everyone’s bag looks different because the oils in your hands are different, so your bag will turn the leather slightly different hues.”
Heins fidgets with a bit of leather at his large drafting table. It’s the middle of February and winter’s chill has set in, yet he stands comfortably in shorts and bare feet. “I can’t speak to other people’s values, but my values are very simple: I just don’t want to have to wear shoes when I work,” he says. Around him, old signs are nailed to the walls and collectibles like World War II trench art and Vietnam ditty bags rest on shelves. It is obvious he is an admirer of artifacts. While exploring a local antique store in Dennis, he discovered a piece of recent Cape Cod history—a purse from a former Provincetown leatherworker. “I didn’t move here knowing there was a history of leatherwork on the Cape, but there is,” says Heins. Inspired by the leatherwork and lacing, he designed a purse of his own, which will soon be available for purchase.
After the initial post on social media that kick-started his business, Heins’ digital following now thrives with more than 25,000 followers on Instagram. Most of Corter Leather’s sales are online, but Heins’ products are available on the Cape at Adorn in Orleans and around the world in Boston, New York, Chicago, Seattle, California, London, Australia and Japan.
The real estate and fond memories that brought Heins to the Cape have turned into a deep affection for the area. He’s also discovered a group of dedicated makers and entrepreneurs. He explains his lack of footwear for him is synonymous with abundant living. He prefers to live a life “where shoes are not required, not in a beach bum sense, but rather I don’t have to work somewhere that I have to dress a particular way.” Says Heins, “It seems like most people who work for themselves or who make stuff around here do it for the same reason—not to just start a business, but to live a fulfilling life.”