This is part of our Wander South Georgia Week. Be sure to see our full list of our favorite recommendations, places, and trip itineraries from our recent Wander South Georgia road trip. While we spend most of our time wandering mountain peaks and chasing waterfalls, we have been itching to take our wandering spirit on a tour of South Georgia for a hot minute. Recently we got the chance to head south and explore the southern part of our great state. So we hopped in our car and headed south towards Thomasville with the goal of making it to Savannah in a week. We made stops in the Okefenokee Swamp, Saint Simons, Jekyll Island, Cumberland Island, and finally . . . Savannah. So buckle up and follow along. Be sure to check out our full Wander South Georgia Road Trip over on the Explore Georgia blog.
We recently sat down with Ben Young, Co-Owner of Sturdy Brothers in Thomasville. If you need some quality handmade goods, these are the guys to look to.
Our new Meet The Maker series is a deeper dive into some of our favorite artists, creatives, small business owners, and makers in and around Georgia. So for this interview, our goal was to learn a little bit more about the person behind the business!
During our road trip through Thomasville, we got a chance to stop by and get a peek at the craftsmanship that goes into their products, talked about their hobbies and backgrounds, and even wrangled a chicken or two.
WANDER: Let’s start with the name. Who are the Sturdy Brothers and how did you stumble into leatherworking?
BEN: We are Ben and Spencer Young. Our original goal for Sturdy Brothers was to make aprons for coffee shops. I worked in a coffee shop in Raleigh, NC, and my brother owns Grassroots Coffee Co. here in Thomasville, GA. Long story short, we were getting filthy working shifts at the coffee shops, and looking for a super durable apron that was nearly coffee proof. My brother decided to make one. We had been spitballing ideas for an online men’s store and thought the waxed canvas apron Spencer made for the coffee shop would be an awesome starting place. Over the next few months, we developed several other products including; the tool roll, tote bag, and duffle bag. Once we had some solidified designs, we launched our Kickstarter. Here we are 6 years later still making.
WANDER: American craftsmanship, locally made products, and manufacturing have obviously changed a lot over the past 20-30 years. Why is it important for you to make what you make and make it how you make it?
BEN: Our initial goal was to, “Rekindle a standard of American Craftsmanship.” In our personal journeys, we were both tired of junk products that tear up in a year or so. We wanted to make things that were built well and really lasted. That recipe really takes two things, quality materials, and skilled work.
I think over the last 20-30 years we have seen a terrible exodus of the American manufacturing sector. I’ve talked with factory owners in the garment industry who have gone out of business, and one who used to have 175 employees, and is now down to 11 or 12. Truly, it is a sad thing that the backbone that made the country great was prostituted off to the cheapest labor offshores. I am not sure that we will ever see a full return to this industry as a society. It will truly take a change in the American mindset. Is more cheap stuff more better? Or, are less things, that are truly built with quality to withstand the test of time?We are a small company trying to do our part in answering that question.
WANDER: I’d imagine being in South Georgia informs a lot of what you do versus being in a bustling metro. How has it shaped what y’all do at Sturdy Brothers? Any potential surprising ways it’s impacted your business? Any potential downsides?
BEN: There have been ups and downs to being in a small town. We are super thankful to be in Thomasville. Thomasville has a truly unique community that supports the arts, and somehow us makers have jumped into that category. We no longer have a store in historic downtown, but it was really great to see all the support of downtown and fellow business owners during that season. I think that being in a small town also means we have to get creative. We live in a day and age where anyone can do anything online, which has been such a benefit to our business. We do try to be intentional about sharing our story online to folks interested in American-made. I guess that the biggest hurdle to a small town is we don’t have the masses of people, there are not hundreds of thousands of locals to hear about us. But, I think we do make it work. The locals here are more than supportive, and we have an awesome online family following along as well.
WANDER: As a small business owner, it’s tough to find free time and hobbies as the business usually soaks most of that up. But in a best case scenario, what do you like to do when you’re away from work? And how did you get into it?
BEN: I’ve always been a tinkerer. I like taking things apart and putting them back together. I’m not necessarily good at it, but I like it. Normally it’s cars, I’ve got an 80’s Nissan truck, an old motorcycle, and an international scout. Those three normally keep my hands full with things to fix. My brother and I also imported some old Land Rovers a year or so back which ended up breaking a lot. I’m not sure if you count them as a hobby, obsession, or a mediocre investment though. If I’m not making, I’m probably tinkering on something or doing a project around the house.
WANDER: Do you have a favorite music or podcast that you listen to regularly? That is your go to when you’re in the car? What do you like about it?
BEN: I love listening to How I Built This, by Guy Raz. It’s an amazing podcast about how the big guys built their companies and all the hiccups they hit along the way. Really inspiring stuff. Car Talk is another classic. If you’ve ever heard the click and clack brothers chat about cars, you know. It’s hilarious. On music, I’m normally into anything with banjos, some good old Bela Fleck, or Noam Pikelny, or Old Crow does the trick. I feel like the banjo is such a beautiful stand-alone instrument. I wouldn’t necessarily want to listen to the piano, or guitar, or bass just on their own, but banjo sounds so full just by itself. If I’m cruising, I’m listening to the picking.
WANDER: What is your favorite TV show or movie? And why.
BEN: That’s a tough one, but I would have to say, Gangs of New York is probably my favorite. It gives a really raw view into 1800’s New York. Immigration, life on the streets, social struggles, racism, it’s addressing a lot of the issues early America was dealing with, a lot of the issues we are still dealing with. It’s a super gritty epic movie, with a love story, a lot of fighting, and the struggle between good and evil.
WANDER: 3 biggest pet peeves.
BEN: I’m a bit of a slow driver, and people that tailgate absolutely drive me bonkers. It’s seriously so dangerous. Making the same mistake over and over. Either with myself, or others, I’m a fan of learning from mistakes and improving. If you keep making the same mistake, learn from it, put a system in place, it’s not that hard. Loud rooms, loud things, loud music. Excessive noise in general just bothers me.
WANDER: What is the one thing that instantly makes your day better?
BEN: Coffee. Pretty self-explanatory. It just does.
WANDER: What inspires you the most as a creative?
BEN: I think hearing story. Story enables us to embody, or learn from someone else’s experience or struggle. When we hear someone’s story we can begin to relate to the struggle they faced and overcame. It connects us to others. It helps us overcome.
WANDER: What are your favorite places to eat in Thomasville? Your favorite places to shop?
BEN: Jonah’s is a must for me. Literally everything is so so good! Sweet Grass dairy has a killer burger, and Liams Cheese Shop is the best spot for drinks and hanging. Firefly is probably my favorite place to buy gifts. They have such an eye for whimsical, unique things! I also love checking out Big Adventure Outfitters, they’re always the go-to spot for camping gear before a big trip.
WANDER: What’s one thing that you absolutely have to do if you visit Thomasville?
BEN: I highly recommend the tour of Pebble Hill Plantation. I lived on Pebble Hill for 2 years, and love hearing all the history. It really gives an incredible view into the history of Thomasville, and Pebble Hill. The campus is beautiful, and it’s really wonderful to hear about how the people lived when it was active. They also have a beautiful collection of art in the main house.
We have a special appreciation for local-made goods, and the team at Sturdy Brothers is nothing short of some of the best craftsmen around. Please take a moment to check out their website and see if they have something that suits your needs.
Keep an eye out over the next few weeks as we roll out more content from our trip to South Georgia!