by Eric Ginsburg
Sometimes, William Cheek tips his tattoo artist in handmade leatherwork. He’d probably pay for a whole piece that way if he could.
Cheek, a heavily tattooed Greensboro native with the letters S-I-N-K and S-W-I-M written on his knuckles, has always been alternative, he said. He was picked on in school and dropped out his junior year, later finishing at home and spending several semesters at GTCC studying physical therapy. He doesn’t care about the priorities most of our society clings to, he says, and part of the reason that two nautical themed tattoos cover the backs of his hands is to intentionally prevent him from working the kind of desk job that would judge him by his looks.
“People forget that we’re rugged animals,” he said, adding that working with his hands and alongside people he trusts has been rewarding for him.
He managed to find several jobs in the city that has grown to feel like his own, including a shoe-repair gig, an occasional beer merchandising job and a he works a few shifts at Hudson’s Hill clothing store downtown.
It makes sense that someone who began leatherworking because he couldn’t afford the products he wanted would believe in keeping his handiwork accessible. Since taking up the trade two years ago, right before his 25th birthday, Cheek has tried to embody that ethos. He sells the wallets, sheaths and other containers he makes from scrap material for less than he could probably fetch, but then charging more would defeat the purpose. And he frequents the businesses of other tattooed entrepreneurs who support him, like Nick Benshoff of Bandito Burrito food truck and Crafted owner Kristina Fuller, in whose hands he placed a wallet one day.
Cheek recently gave someone one of his creations after they talked to him about it long enough and seemed genuinely interested in his process. That’s what matters most, he adds: honest communication and interpersonal relationships.
His approach hasn’t led to any sort of meteoric rise or widespread buzz for his Fourth Winter Mfg. Co. — those aren’t his goals, and he seemed somewhat surprised that anyone would want to read about him in a newspaper.
But other people have shared Cheek’s attitude, and it propels him forward. A friend who makes knives crafted one for him to cut leather with. And after Hudson’s Hill began carrying Cheek’s work, one of the store’s proprietors set him up with a custom order for glasses cases for the View.
During a recent shift at the hip downtown clothing store, dressed in ripped black jeans with a Nausea band patch near his left knee and a T-shirt repping a friend’s skateboarding documentary project, he spread a few of his pieces out on a coffee table that is covered in old denim. There were valet trays made from several kinds of leather, wallets of various kinds of stitching and small, triangular pouches that could hold coins or guitar picks inside a pocket. In the back of the shop, somebody was hammering loudly and working on a pair of jeans.
Cheek first came into Hudson’s Hill looking for moustache wax, and proprietor Evan Morrison stopped him to talk about his leatherwork. After making wholesale billfolds for the South Elm Street store, Cheek began consigning his craftsmanship there in January. Working with Hudson’s Hill gave him access to more space and tools, but Cheek is just as inclined to talk about the friends he’s made at the store, describing excursions together after a long day on the job.
The leatherwork is still a side gig, an enjoyable hustle on top of his three jobs. He’s busiest as the winter holidays approach, cranking out custom orders. Before then Cheek plans to draw up some standard designs — right now each one is different, and the process takes longer, he said.
Even while he finds small ways to streamline his labor, he still cuts and punches the leather by hand, without the aid of machines, though he generally doesn’t hand-stain anymore. But no matter what, his leatherwork will maintain a handmade look and Cheek’s almost non-commercial approach. That’s just who he is.
Find Fourth Winter Mfg. Co. on Instagram or at Hudson’s Hill in downtown Greensboro.