Brian and Kelli Rowley are the owners and proprietors of Growley Leather Co., my favourite leather company. I discovered them through Instagram but learned to become attached to them through their work and through the notes I received from Kelli with the packages and in follow up email. A friend posted an image and a description about her Chesterton notebook from Growley Leather and I went hunting on their website to discover a whole spread of finely crafted products, made with care and shipped with love. I have loved everything I have received from them and it does live up to its billing. These designs are made and guaranteed to last for a lifetime. This is craftsmanship worth buying.
However, I am more compelled by who Brian and Kelli are personally and the way they live their life – modeling what it is to believe Christ and follow Him, to make home a real refuge for themselves and their amazing daughters, to teach craft with Christ-walking, and make lasting beauty in place of fleeting sales. In every way, the Rowley’s inspire me and I am privileged to share their interview with you. Read all the way through and you’ll find a generous surprise at the end.
LES: Brian and Kelli, your product line covers such a wide range! Totes, satchels, wallets, moleskine and notebook covers, guitar straps …. Do you have a product you especially love to make or have a history with?
BR: Out of all the products we have, I would say that I like making our guitar straps the most, which is a good thing because we sell a lot of them! First of all, I love the leather we use for these! This 9 oz. distressed water buffalo is absolutely beautiful. Also, there’s something about going through the processes of making these that is almost therapeutic – the long pull cut of taking the strap off of the hide, the smooth stitch all along the edge, following the lines and curves with the edger and, at the very end of the process, weaving it all together. All of it is very enjoyable and relaxing to me.
LES: Brian, what is the story behind your guitar straps and work with Guitars for Glory?
B&KR: Guitar straps weren’t a part of Growley Leather’s initial product launch. The very first one was made to fill a custom order request from a friend. A number of our new products come from custom requests like these. It’s a great way to try new concepts and add new products. The initial strap had such a great public response that we added it to our product catalogue. Our work with GFG is a direct result of God bringing our two companies together. We are constantly praying about ministries to partner with in some capacity. GFG found our guitar straps through an internet search; we connected and began growing our relationship almost immediately.
LES: When you started this, Brian, did you and Kelli both envision it being something that would include her also, or did that take place as a natural occurrence with the flow of your work?
BR: Yes, when Kelli and I started Growley Leather Co., we knew at the beginning that it would not only be something for her and I but for the whole family to have a role in. What seemed to occur naturally was how we each fell into our roles.
LES: Kelli, how have you navigated the growth of the business and how it has required more from you Kelli and the kids? How do you manage to keep your own identity in this and keep pace with your other responsibilities as a mom and teacher?
KR: We have four daughters – ages 16, 14, 9 and 8. I homeschool all four of them. Since we learn at home and our workshop is in our home, I am able to incorporate learning, living and working in the same environment. This is helpful, but it also takes discipline. I have to purposefully set aside certain times of each day to focus solely on specific tasks (which I don’t always do well!). Rhythm and routine is pretty important in our home, and I find that when maintain our daily rhythm, everything runs more smoothly.
Growley Leather Co. allows me to offer beauty to others through photography, our website, meaningful quotes, conversations through our shops and handwritten notes tucked into boxes. It has been refreshing to have a space to do this that isn’t focused on being a mom or schooling. I love being a mom, and I love learning with my girls, but I also need to explore who I am in this season of life. I also try to carve out little moments throughout the day to read, listen to an audiobook or podcast, meditate on a verse, pray or just to be still. Those moments don’t come too often when surrounded by four girls and a growing business, but they are still needed and treasured.
LES: You run a series of great quotes on Instagram related to faith and arts as a practice. Who is responsible for those? (I love those, by the way!) How do you work in social media into your business practice and how do you see its role in your calling as believers and as a business?
BR: Kelli handles all of our social media. When we started our business, we were very purposeful about not abusing or flaunting God’s name. We’ve seen this done too frequently, and it’s not a direction we wanted to go. We long to invite people to experience Jesus, not by forcing our beliefs on them, but by loving them through beauty, kindness, quality and truth. This is done through social media, through making our products with excellence, and through our interactions with our customers. This quote by Jonathan Bailey echoes our philosophy, “Careful and persistent work is a form of loving…When we provide well, work hard, and serve others, we love. When we create a quality product, we’re loving our customers. This is why we shouldn’t separate love from diligence, and diligence from work. If we do, we’ll have very few places to practice, share, and grow into love.”
LES: Business is a place that pressure is guaranteed if your business is alive at all. When you are under the pressure, how do you find grace for yourselves as individuals, as a marriage, and as a family?
BR: For me (Brian), I realize that I often put more pressure on myself than others put on me. In the past, I have put too much emphasis on making “good money” and have put too much pressure on myself to achieve that end. Today, it’s still easy to get caught up in the thoughts of other people as they wonder if I’m doing enough or making enough. What I’ve realized in working through this is that Growley Leather Co. is a gift from God. He has given it to us, and He can take it away. He can use it to whatever end He sees fit. Our only responsibility is to work as unto him. Truly leaning on Him in these ways seems to make the pressure evaporate.
LES: Why is the role of craft and spiritual life so tied together? What does it mean to you to be a “maker” and why does it matter so much to you?
BR: God is the creator. Only he can make something out of nothing. Every line, curve, bend, color, and texture has already been made by Him. He invites us to take these things and work with them, creating beautiful and useful things. In doing this, we are not only enjoying his creation, we are imaging him.
LES: There is the craft of leather working and then there is the deeper work that is being done in you and through as you work. What do you see as the deeper work being done in you as individuals, a marriage and as a family? Where do you see each other’s strengths complimenting each other and jointly serving the work?
BKR: Growley Leather has been a tremendous blessing to our marriage. It’s challenged us to work together and experience each other’s gifts and abilities in ways we never have before. It’s forced us to trust God and each other in new ways. From a family perspective, it’s been good for our girls to see us relying on God and working together in this way. It’s also given us the opportunity to teach them about hard work, what it takes to run a business and how to develop as artists.
LES: Kelli, this may not have been your passion and vision to begin with, so where do you see and experience God’s good purposes for you in it, even though it wasn’t necessarily your personal passion?
KR: Well, actually, this was a joint vision that Brian and I shared. As we started talking about what was next for Brian career-wise and what was next for our family, we knew that we wanted a business that would allow Brian to use his skills as a maker while also creating something that could involve our entire family, providing all of our girls a safe place to work while learning the beauty and skills of a trade and the details of running a business (if they so desire).
LES: Brian, your readers to see your commitment to craftsmanship in the products we receive from you and catch glimpses through social media of the processes you use. You have also allowed us some glimpses of the value you place on cultivating apprenticeship with your children. Would you talk with us about that and why it matters?
BR: It’s a great privilege and responsibility to use all that God has given us to produce the absolute best result we can. Made in the image of God, I am also a creator. He has given me the ability to create. When I send a product out I want to know that I did all I could to make it with all that has been given to me. Creating something that is made to last a lifetime or several lifetimes multiplies that responsibility. It means that it has a greater chance to reach and affect more people. I have children that are wonderfully creative, and I want them to understand that their talents are given to them to bring glory back to God, and that they can and should use them to reach people for Him.
Apprenticeships used to be the main method of learning a trade. It gave fathers and mothers a way to pass along knowledge and skills to their children, but beyond knowledge and skills, apprenticeships opened up avenues to pass along life lessons. They create moments of intimate sharing and bonding. People will far sooner forget their manager who only cared about the bottom line than they will the person who spent years investing in them. Apprenticing our older girls in running a business and learning how to be leathersmiths came very naturally for all of us. We gave them choice as to whether or not this was something they wanted, and they both said yes. We don’t know how or if they will use these skills in the future, but we are excited to be able to pour into them in this way.
LES: Businesses, like any living thing, have patterns and seasons of growth. How would you describe the seasons of your business’s growth? What carries you through the dry seasons or rough ones? How do you manage those “seasonal conditions”?
BKR: We are nearing the end of our first full year as a company, so we are still learning the seasons of this business. To date, the slower seasons are both welcomed and scary. They are welcomed because they give us time to breathe, to reevaluate and to create new products. They are scary because this is how we support our family. Fewer sales means less money. It’s during these times that we trust and ask God to remind us that we are still heading down the path he has for us.
LES: When you want to quit, when it seems just too hard to keep going – a season all artists, craftsmen, and business folk face – what brings you through that?
BKR: This is a question we’ll have to answer when we actually get to this point. Growley Leather Co. is still new and exciting. Even though it is probably the hardest work we’ve ever done, it is the most enjoyable and fulfilling as well. In contrast to the careers we’ve had in the past, we view this as more of a lifestyle than a job. It is essential to our family. Because of all of this, it would take a lot for us to want to quit.
LES: Kelli, what have you taken as a sign of confirmation from the Lord that you are on the right track?
KR: Starting a leather company wasn’t really our idea. The seed was planted by a friend. The initial tools were given to us by another friend. Those, along with many other things, painted a pretty clear picture for us as to how God was asking us to move. The process of seeking God’s leading in this in an ongoing one, but we continue to be in awe as he allows our business to thrive and grow. I think that, along with the relationships we are building with our partners and customers, help us know that we are still heading in the right direction.
LES: What brings you joy in the work and in the life you live together? Where does your deep satisfaction come from?
BKR: In work, we find great joy in using the skills and talents God has given us and doing the work He has called us to do. We also find great joy in seeing other people appreciate and even cherish our work. We’ve been asked to make wedding gifts, graduation gifts, birthday gifts and so on. We feel honored to be asked to be a small part of such important moments in people’s lives.
In working together, we find great joy in seeing each other’s strengths and helping fill each other’s weaknesses. We find joy in simply getting to spend more time together and learn each other in new ways. We find joy in seeing progress in work we’ve done together. We find joy in teaching our daughters and including them in as much of our business as we can. We find joy in living this life that God’s given us.
LES: Do you have a favourite quote that shapes your approach to your work and life? A favourite verse?
KR: Picking a favorite quote is tough! Along with the quote shared above, this quote, which is often attributed to Martin Luther, echoes our philosophy,
“The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.”
As for a verse that shapes our philosophy for our work, it’s the commandment that Jesus gives to love God with all of our heart, soul mind, strength to and love others as ourselves.
LES: Where do you hope it grows in the future?
BKR: When we first started thinking about Growley Leather Co., we talked about eventually opening a brick and mortar store. While this may still happen at some point, the excitement for this has dwindled as we realize we love living and working under the same roof. Many others in our line of work frequent trade shows throughout the year. While we know this would benefit us financially, this is not something we have any desire to do at this stage.
We are really enjoying things as they are now. We hope that Growley Leather Co. will continue to grow and support our family and possibly others who might work with us. We would love to be able to provide jobs for those who might not be able to get jobs elsewhere. Our younger two girls are legally blind, and there are many adults with similar conditions who aren’t employed. We would love to provide our of girls and others with a fun, safe place to earn a living while learning a trade and bringing beauty to others.
But really, we don’t know exactly what our hopes are for this business. While we do plan and dream, we also wait and watch as God unfolds his purposes for Growley Leather Co.
LES: How can we best pray for you?
BKR: Prayer is so important for Growley Leather Co., and we appreciate any and all prayers! We feel that God led us to start Growley Leather Co., and it’s so easy to thank God for getting us started and then forget that we still need Him. It is important to us to run Growley Leather Co. to His glory. We want Him to lead us each day. We want to make decisions that are based on His direction. We don’t want to ever claim Growley Leather Co. as “ours” but always be reminded that we are working for God and the good of His Kingdom.
Brian and Kelli Rowley are generously offering a 20% discount to Cultivating readers!
The code is “CULTIVATE” at checkout.
“Choosing to purchase from a small business is choosing connection over commerce. As a buyer, you become part of someone’s passion and livelihood. As makers, our hands thoughtfully shape something that your hands will hold and use for years to come. Whether you decide to buy from us or someone else, we hope you will become a part of some maker’s story.”
It has been my joy and honour to do this interview with Brian and Kelli Rowley.
I hold them in high esteem and love not only the products they are make but the life that they model.
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner based in Colorado. She is editor-in-chief of the online quarterly magazine Cultivating the Good, True, & Beautiful, and is founder of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about the spiritual formation and discipling creative believers. She and her husband Peter run a thriving environmental and engineering firm and try to keep up with their rambling house and gardens called House on the Way. Lancia loves nearly every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis; drinks strong black coffee with whipped coconut oil and cinnamon; and sincerely hopes in her lifetime to reach zero in her inbox!