February 26, 2018

Emil Erwin’s handcrafted leather products are set apart from the pack. With painstaking attention to detail, the boutique’s work is something that only comes from years of experience.

Emil Congdon, founder of Emil Erwin in Nashville, was first introduced to sewing in college after he ripped a pair of pants. Money was tight, so he took matters into his own hands. While it wasn’t his best work, the patch job was the beginning of something much bigger.

“Instead of buying new pants, I went to Walmart and bought some really awful, Old Glory American flag quilting fabric or something. It was awful,” Congdon said. “[I] patched my pants by hand, and then I thought, ‘Well, I could do this easier if I had a sewing machine. . . I could just make my own clothes.’”

At the age of 20, he asked his mother for a sewing machine for Christmas and began to make his own clothes. This led to crafting bags and upholstery. As the projects advanced, his intrigue for leatherwork grew. Its scarcity notwithstanding, he discovered some leather at a local woodworking shop and began his leatherwork experiment.

“I spent years and years trying to figure out what kind of machines to use, what type of leather to use,” Congdon said. “It’s definitely harder to work with leather, because most home sewing machines can’t handle the thickness.”

Emil Erwin’s bags won in the style category of Garden & Gun’s 2010 Best in the South awards. The award gave well-deserved recognition to the work he had been perfecting for years. Now he focuses his expertise on more practical products that keep business thriving in the Music City—like furniture.

“I like the idea of creating practical items that are also beautiful,” Congdon said. “I always wanted to make a chair because everybody sits. Not everybody carries a bag. I don’t carry a bag, but I sit a lot.”

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