Aging leather pieces tell a story through discolorations, creases, and scratches, but sometimes new leather accessories come with a narrative built in. That's the case with handcrafted bags from Orox, the Portland, Oregon, business run by the Martinez family, which has been in the leather industry for four generations. The name is a compression of the "Or" from Oregon, where the Martinez clan has spent the last 40 years, and "Ox" for Oaxaca, the Mexican region, where the family has its roots.
"When my father was a kid in 1969, he wanted a pair of Converse tennis shoes," says COO Martin Martinez. "My grandfather handed him a bolt of canvas and pointed him to the sewing machine. 'Go make them yourself, I'm not buying them.'" Orox began when young Jose got creative, beginning to create new designs inspired by American pop culture.
Jose Martinez slowly grew the brand. He trained in leather craftsmanship in Japan for several years, learning a minimalist style, then mixed that with the rugged aesthetic popular in the Pacific Northwest, where he moved. About seven years ago, Jose Martinez and his sons, who learned the trade in the family workshop, began selling goods at Portland's weekly outdoor market and growing a cult following. Finally, last December, they stepped up the program by opening their first brick and mortar store in Portland's Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood. Walk-ins can watch the Martinez family craft everything that's in the store.
"We draw on napkins at the dinner table, and even literally dream of leather crafting at night," says Martin. "Our business is our work, our hobby, and our passion."
Martin designs are sleek, classic, and functional. The best of the breed? A handsome, mixed-waxed canvas and leather pannier (bike cargo) bag (shown) that easily converts to a shoulder bag refined enough to take to work meetings; a sturdy tool roll up that easily attaches to bikes; and four-card, contrast-stitch wallets. Some other great options are the rucksacks, key chains, dopp kits, belts, and, for women, sandals.
Checking out the actual shop is worth your while if you happen to be in Portland, but if not, Orox has also launched an online store that ships across the country. [$350 for a pannier bag; oroxleather.com]