Written by Amy Sung | Photography by Robin Stein
Teppei Teranishi, the soft-spoken, seemingly gentle, and clean-cut founder and master crafter of Teranishi, works leather pieces and cuts of canvas into beautiful wallets, bags, clocks, and other functional essentials out of his spacious studio on Vashon Island, just a twenty minute boat ride from Seattle, Washington. From playing guitar and keyboard in a rock band to crafting leather, Teranishi sat down with Atlas to discuss where his inspiration comes from and how music influences his craft now.
ATLAS: Why leather? What drew you to the craft of leather-making?
TERANISHI: I’ve always been into making things and working with my hands. I started getting into sewing at home: totes and small items, and I even tried my hand at some clothes. Since I was still touring a lot, it wasn’t necessarily something I could take on the road with me. Around the same time, I started getting interested in shoemaking and, as a result, became more aware of leathercrafting. I was on tour and found a leather shop so I bought a handful of tools and some leather and started going at it. It worked out great because it was all manual and didn’t require any machines so I was able to do it on the tour bus, backstage, etc. It’s just been a slow progression from there.
ATLAS: How did you learn the craft of working with leather?
TERANISHI: I’m self-taught for the most part. Just lots of trial and error. I did an intern stint at Esquivel, a handmade shoe company in L.A., before I moved here. I received zero instruction though and just learned through immersion. I didn’t get too much time there before I moved, but I definitely learned some fundamentals of hand-cutting and so forth just from watching the guys work.
ATLAS: How would you describe your creative process? How do you get ideas and then translate those ideas into the final products?
TERANISHI: For the most part, I see a need for something—usually something I just personally want to see come to fruition—and the seed is planted. From there it’s just a lot of brainstorming...laying awake in bed thinking when I should be sleeping...about how to execute, some rough sketches, maybe some team discussion, then onto prototyping.
ATLAS: What specifically about Vashon Island inspires you and your work?
TERANISHI: I think it’s mostly the pace of life and space. There’s so much less input here that I feel like it clears my brain. I love that there’s space to just be, without the constant bombardment of stuff vying for your attention in today's society. Sort of a safe haven I guess, or…well, an island.
ATLAS: Would you say music plays/played a part at all in what you're doing now?
TERANISHI: Yeah, definitely. Everything I do with design and craft always harkens back to either music or skateboarding, or both. It’s funny because whenever I’m trying to explain something craft- or design-related, I always end up drawing some kind of parallel between music or skateboarding to try to explicate my thoughts. Those two things were so instrumental to me growing up and they really shaped my perception of creativity, integrity within creativity, and even work ethic.