Nine years ago, graphic designer Wan Noorazhardy Wan Ismail purchased a pair of handmade gladiator leather sandals made by a local crafter. The intricate craftsmanship of the sandals sparked the Kelantanese man’s interest in leatherwork, prompting him to try his hand at making leather products.
“I was captivated by the beauty of the handmade leather sandals. I connected with the man who made the sandals and we became friends. Over time, I became interested in learning more about crafting leather. I bought a piece of A4-sized leather hide, and I managed to create a simple phone case using scissors, nails, and a needle and thread. That was my first product,” says Wan Noorazhardy, 41, who lives in Kota Baru.
That first creation – the handphone case – ignited a passion for leatherwork that he never knew he had and led to him starting his modest, but thriving creative endeavour.
“In 2015, I joined a small local community of leather enthusiasts from the East Coast. The community served as a platform for crafters to share ideas, techniques, and also suppliers. The collaborative environment fueled my interest further and I even started receiving orders from friends and acquaintances. To enhance my knowledge, I turned to social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.”
“Before fully committing to leathersmithing, I did leatherwork on a part-time basis while working as a graphic designer in an advertising firm. In 2017, I transitioned to running my home business. It was a big step, but I made the career switch because of my passion for leathersmithing.
“Before working as a graphic designer, I tried other businesses like running a grocery store, cyber cafe, and selling herbs. And I didn’t mind trying out a new profession.
“Pursuing your passion is important because when you do what you love, you become good at it.
“Challenges don’t stop you; they keep you going. The journey hasn’t been easy, but I’m grateful I have the support of my family members.
“So far, business has been good, and I’m grateful I earn enough to pay the bills,” says the father of three.But the transition from a part-time hobbyist to a full-time leather artisan wasn’t without challenges.
Learning along the way
Limited access to knowledge, stitching techniques, leather supplies, and tools required Wan Noorazhardy to rely on fellow crafters. However, his dedication to the craft and willingness to learn helped him overcome these hurdles.
“Another challenge is in figuring out how to sustain the business. Although it is good that there are new leather crafters now, the main challenge for me is maintaining my edge. Some might compete on price but maintaining product quality is crucial. When you prioritise quality, you retain existing customers and attract new ones,” shares Wan Noorazhardy, who specialises in handcrafted wallets, note holders, and handbags. The starting price of his products is at RM30.
To stand apart from his competition, Wan Noorazhardy offers customisation. For handmade goods, enthusiasts often value uniqueness and craftsmanship, he says. So, he offers customisation in the design, size, leather type, and colour as well as the accessories that go into a particular item.
“My custom-made items are unique and will be even more special to my customers. They can even bear the customer’s name.”