Erik Holmberg is an American.
Not just like born-in-America American. Like, takes-a-year-off-to-travel-across-the-country-in-his-car American.
“I really like where I’m from,” says Erik. “Where you’re from is in your DNA.”
An Ohioan, Erik moved to Charleston in need of the coast and milder winters. He worked for Progressive Insurance (insert the aforementioned continental expedition), then Blackbaud. But really, he longed to work for himself. To express his creative side. He just lacked the necessary business experience. In 2011, he became the fifth employee at Fuzzco, working to Senior Software Developer. Two months ago, he left.
“It’s really amazing working for myself,” Erik says. “It’s long hours but it’s fun. I delve into my creative passions fully. It’s really rewarding.”
Mostly everything Erik has built in the last ten years has been projects someone else handed to him, usually made up of “ones and zeros.” He wanted to create something people could touch, smell, use and, most importantly, connect with.
And so: J. Stark was born in the U.S.A.
Named after James Dean’s character in Rebel Without A Cause, Erik’s new brand is leather wares, all handmade by him. To begin, he researched and acquired fabrics. He used his experience from one middle school sewing class and started stitching. In a month, he had built an online store and created one-of-a-kind products and photography (with American flags in the backdrop). His mission: to craft high-quality goods that serve a purpose. It’s just a by-product of his passion and talent that they also happen to be beautiful and smell good.
Like the Carnegie Tie Totem, made of Sunflower Horween leather and wool, custom-made for easier tie-bow-tie-bandana-belt choosing. It also comes with a vintage nail. Because nothing says “America” like hammering leather to a wall with an antique nail.
“With well-made goods, you take care of them. There’s a deeper appreciation. Sometimes I’ll spend twelve hours with a hand-stitched bag. You can feel that time and effort,” he says.
Because Erik is anti-crap. Everything he builds—whether a website or tote—emits the precision that went into making it. And everything Erik creates is personal. Like the names of J. Stark’s products, which are streets on which his parents walked, kissed and drove their ’57 Chevy. It’s inventory with a story.
“The whole reason I create is to connect with people,” Erik says. “I’m not afraid to be vulnerable in order to make a connection, because then people connect with what I’m doing.”
In a month, J. Stark will be connecting with other local artisans at a Makers Pop-Up, organized by Erik. Erik’s friends are his celebrities, he says, and he wants to make people aware of what Charleston artists are making. Expect that classic “Americana,” heritage-ness on J. Stark’s table.
James Dean would totally rock a messenger bag.
Words by: Jessica Kenny
Photography by: Olivia Rae James