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How his interest started Rashad Hamilton, the son of a single mom, grew up in various homes around St. Louis, but one constant in his life was summer camp and classes at the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club. When he was 7 or 8 years old he took a sewing class, taught by an older woman who showed students how to use a sewing machine and gave practical advice on how to sew. He then learned more in a home economics class in middle school. “I played sports and everything, but I figured a lot of people were competing in sports. I figured I needed to compete. Sewing was something I felt like kids weren’t really into at that age. I figured if I knew a little bit now, and I kept learning, at some point I’d learn something somebody didn’t learn.”

Getting serious Hamilton attended high school at Central Visual and Performing Arts, where he took fashion design classes and designed T shirts, jackets and dresses that he entered in some local fashion shows. He created his own line of T shirts called Habari, using a Swahili greeting that he turned into an acronym for Honest Achieving Brave Ambitious Real Individuals. He sold the shirts to friends and “made it a cool thing in high school.” He also made a leather bag in his grandmother’s basement, a bag he eventually took with him on his career path to New York.

Finding his niche Before going to New York, he first applied to and was accepted to go to the London College of Fashion but had to turn down the opportunity because he couldn’t afford it. But he took the acceptance as a good sign. “It was one of the things that did let me know I could take it further, that people believed in what I was doing.”

In New York Hamilton worked in a factory for a manufacturer that made things for Polo and Marc Jacobs. “I was able to live out my dream, and that was to make stuff professionally at a high quality. I was honestly making stuff that was being priced at $750 for a belt. It was being sold on Madison Avenue. They refined my skill level at that point. I had a certain way of creating and making something look worthwhile. They sculpted me into a better creator.”

Deciding to return to St. Louis Hamilton came back home after a few years in New York, knowing he wanted to strike out on his own. “I wanted to fill my creative work zone a little bit better. I was making stuff for other people, not making stuff for myself. I was using their equipment and their products. I built up my courage to say, I had to make this my own for real.”

Establishing himself locally Here, he does upholstery work for local furniture company Mwanzi Co., and he designs and makes embossed wallets, bags, sandals and wristbands. He’s made leather dog leashes, a Bible case, guitar straps, and even designed a dog bite suit made of heavy canvas for a dog trainer.

On the appeal of leather He thought leather helped him get into the next bracket of garment making, something that would be taken more seriously than the T shirts he started out designing. “As far as texture, it’s something as a man I gravitate to; it’s something that’s sturdier. I really like the texture behind leather. It has a lifeline to it. It has a time period it can be worn. It’s not something that can just be thrown away. I’ve created a hat out of fabric, and at some point you sweat that hat out.” But you can get more seasons out a leather product, and you don’t saturate the market with your product that way, he says.

Creating perfection Hamilton says creating a good product requires technical skills and figuring out the needs of your customer. “I feel like this idea of perfect does exist. Problem solving is at some point making perfection. People seek perfection in someone else’s artistry. It takes a lot of understanding of math, technical skills. I feel like it’s all about knowing your customer, having good taste and knowing what someone else can appreciate.”

Future plans One day, Hamilton would like to open his own store and make his name a fashion and lifestyle identity. The store would sell things he makes and things he likes, including vintage clothing and maybe even the type of deodorant he uses. “Maybe bring my taste to the city. I want to sell my identity in some way. People like some of the stuff I like, and maybe they don’t even know it.”
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