Plenty of entrepreneurial dreams have been hatched in a college dorm room, but few actually end up maturing into fully fledged businesses. Clayton & Crume, however, is one of the success stories.
Western Kentucky University graduates Clay Simpson and Tyler Jury started out making belts for friends and fraternity brothers in a makeshift dorm studio. Now they run a thriving leather goods company in the heart of bourbon country: Louisville, Kentucky.
“We just kept seeing deficits on the market: wallets that quickly fell apart, belts that broke,” Simpson says. “We knew we could do it better, and since then have been in pursuit of making better quality goods.”
To start, the pair focused mainly on collegiate and Greek designs, born out of a desire to find the perfect belt to wear tailgating. They believe that belts are one of the few ways that men can make a fashion statement, so when they couldn’t find the right design, they decided to make it themselves. From there, Clayton & Crume was born.
Today, from their workshop in the Butchertown neighborhood, the duo uses only the finest full-grain leather to handmake pretty much everything, including wallets, key fobs, luggage tags, pet gear, messenger bags, ladies clutches and totes, and, of course, belts. Bigger aspirations such as furniture looming are on the horizon.
Ultimately, their goal is to create items that, “like a barrel of good Kentucky bourbon, only get better with time.”
“When you start a business, everyone looks at you like you’re crazy,” Simpson says. “You have to be patient and wait for your audience to find you. We knew if we just kept our heads down and kept making things with the best materials and the best construction, eventually it would catch on.”
As they’ve grown, so have their collections, which now include plenty of custom orders for corporations, weddings, and other special events. The Kentucky Derby is a popular theme (goods are stamped with detailed prints of jockey silks and racing thoroughbreds), as is America’s Native Spirit. And when a coaster instructs, “Drink more bourbon, y’all,” who are we to argue?
“We have every advantage here in Kentucky, where the people are so supportive of anything local,” Simpson says. “We’ve seen so much encouragement — not just from our local community, but also from the state as a whole. Honestly, the drive that the bourbon industry has begun here means that anytime you get something local going, people get behind it. I don’t know if we would have that experience in another state.”
Though Simpson and Jury welcome scheduled visitors to their workshop, you can also pick up some of those aforementioned Clayton & Crume leather coasters in the Lux Row Distillers gift shop. Oh, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take a tour of the property while you’re at it.