Spencer and Ben Young are the Sturdy Brothers. Both grew up in South Georgia, and Spencer relocated to Thomasville with his wife to open up Grassroots Coffee in the summer of 2009. After college, Ben worked in a coffee shop in Raleigh, North Carolina. The brothers both saw and felt the need for a sturdy, heavy-duty apron in their roles as baristas, so they started making their own. Almost immediately, they sponsored the 2014 Big Eastern Barista Competition by donating their aprons as prizes. They were a huge hit with the baristas and requests for more aprons began to roll in.
In order to get the funds to get their apron business off the ground, Spencer and Ben launched a Kickstarter campaign. It was successful beyond their wildest dreams, and they hit the ground running with 226 backers from Thomasville and beyond, plus over $14,000 in the pockets.
The thick, sturdy (for lack of a better word) canvas Ben and Spencer use for Sturdy Brothers products comes from Filson cuts. They hand cut the high quality leather for straps and tags, then hand stamp those, too.
They sew their heavy-duty bags and aprons, then wax them with beeswax, then dry them in a dryer. It’s a lengthy process with sweet-smelling, water-resistant results.
Their leather tags and handles and straps are all attached by hand using metal rivets. Straps are reinforced with more leather on the backside of the canvas.
Finally, when they ship out a Sturdy Brothers apron, tote, or duffle, they wrap it up into brown paper packages tied up with string and hand-stamped cards and a thank you note!
I was lucky enough to find this Snow Tote in my brown paper package, and sure enough, it’s become one of my favorite things.
STURDY BROTHERS SHOP
If you’re itching to get your hands on these awesome goods, you’re in luck. The Kickstarter campaign is over and the Sturdy Brothers website is open for business! Check their online shop for purchasing all their sturdy merch.
Or if you’re local, the Sturdy Brothers are participating in Thomasville Center for the Arts’ FLAUNT! Their popup shop on Jackson Street will be opening TODAY and will continue to be open for an entire month!
The opening party is tonight, September 5th, from 6:00 to 8:00 pm, and the popup shops will remain open until September 27th. Purchase tickets to any of the events online at www.thomasvillearts.org.
In addition to being Ben’s workshop to create more Sturdy Brothers goods, he will have some additional items for sale for the month as well, including a handful of beautiful knives from O&P favorite Heartwood Forge!
Only a barista would have an espresso machine this awesome in their workshop.
Be sure to stop by and visit all the amazing pop up shops in Thomasville this month. It’s worth the trip for you out-of-towners!
And if you make it by to see Ben, be sure to tell him I sent ya!
As you may have already gathered from social media, I have an exciting announcement to finally officially make: my friend Jessica Grace and I are opening a shop together in downtown Bainbridge!
It’s called Maiden South (say it out loud… get it?) and as the tag line states, we will feature quality crafted goods, along with some of our favorite vintage items. We just launched our brand-spanking new website this week, and I am so excited I could burst. I suppose I have it in my blood. My grandfather started his own little shop in Bristol, Florida after he got back from World War II.
Conveniently, his last name was also Bristol. And although we won’t be selling the same things he did, it will still be a shop full of novelties of sorts.
We had a little picnic to celebrate our venture together, and my sister Anna Jo took some really great pictures. I thought I would share a few of them with you today, then continue to shamelessly plug ask you to head on over to our new Maiden South website and check out the rest.
Cheers to new adventures, friends, the handmade economy, shopping locally and shopping at small businesses, Maiden South, and the weekend!
The 16 ounce candles created at The Refinery are high end, selling for $20 each. The candles are made of pure white soy wax, organic cotton wicks and twine, and aluminum tags. The scents are clean and fresh. The supplies are purchased with a focus on eco-friendly and regionally or locally sourced products. The tags are made from recycled aluminum cans and hand stamped. All of these things make a purchase from The Refinery a worthy one. But I wanted the whole story.
So I went to The Refinery, met the ladies, and saw the process. And it’s a story I want to share with you all.
The Refinery was started back in November of last year (2013). Jessica Grace Allen, the brains, heart, soul, and marketing guru behind the operation, took me on a tour last week. Pictured above is the first iteration of The Refinery’s candle. The brass tags weren’t meant to be, but the business has flourished.
Jessica explains the mission of The Refinery, “We believe that change is a process, very similar to that of creating a candle. We, like our candles, are imperfect, prone to rough edges and full of potential.”
The Still Waters Shelter provides homeless women and their children with a safe, faith-based space to stay for 90 days. But Jessica couldn’t help but think about what happens after the ninety days were up. In a small, rural town like Bainbridge, job opportunities are limited, to say the least. The cycle of poverty is harsh, and Jessica wanted to help the women staying at Still Waters get a leg up. So Jessica, with the help of Friends Ministries, formed The Refinery as a means to that end – a way to teach the women important life skills and give them a sense of value and self-worth, all while providing income to Still Waters. The women at Still Waters work at The Refinery two days a week, while using the rest of the week to search for employment elsewhere.
Jeremiah 29:11, pictured above, is displayed prominently at The Refinery, and the verse sums up their mission perfectly.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Using a plethora of fragrances and through much trial and error, the women of The Refinery have come up with some amazing candle scents. Their signature “Still Waters” scent burns in my kitchen daily. Front Porch Breeze, a smell that instantly takes me to summer time, is another personal favorite. There are also seasonal scents, like South Georgia favorite, “Pecan Pie,” and their newest scent, “River Days.”
The Refinery’s scents all seem to evoke a memory, as smell so often does, or are named after regional phrases.
The smaller candles pictured are samples for the local retailers carrying The Refinery candles. The diminutive size also makes them a very special wedding favor, for the South Georgia brides out there!
I didn’t want to just see the candles though, I wanted to meet the ladies and watch them work. The candle making process starts with gluing the cotton wicks by hand to the bottom of each glass votive.
Next, high quality white soy wax is melted, fragrance is added, and the scented wax is poured into the votives.
This process involves more math than one might realize. These calculations require skills that translate far beyond candle-making.
The candles are then cooled and checked for imperfections, teaching lessons in quality control.
Once cool, rims are wiped, wicks are trimmed, and the candles are ready for packaging.
Recycled aluminum cans are cut by hand and eight tags are punched from the resulting small sheet of aluminum.
I watched as one of the ladies used a steel brush to remove the paint from the small discs of aluminum. She had almost completely removed all traces of “Sprite,” when Jessica told her that it “looked good.” She continued brushing without looking up. “It has to be pure, like the candles.”
Next, “REFINERY” is painstakingly hand stamped, letter by letter, across the center of each tag.
The woman hand-stamping the tags last Thursday had never done the stamping before that morning. She confessed that she had been very nervous. “I want it to be perfect. I was so scared I would mess them up!”
It’s obvious that these women take great pride in what they are doing and the product they are creating.
After tags are stamped, holes are punched in the top of each one. By hand, of course.
Organic cotton twine is run through each tag and around each candle, and a label is placed around the wick.
The ladies at The Refinery began selling these candles just prior to Christmas 2013. Over their initial holiday season, they sold over 200 candles. Their candles are now available in many local retailers, who cannot keep the candles in stock. The women of The Refinery happily scramble to keep up with the demand.
Although she wants to continue to grow the business, Jessica stresses that she doesn’t want to grow too quickly. “The process of making the candles is so important to these women’s journeys. We don’t want to rush it. These candles are worth the wait.”
I have to agree. I shot Jessica a quick text to thank her for the tour, for introducing me to the ladies of The Refinery, and to let her know how moving it was for me. Her response?
Thank you for coming by, it made the ladies “feel like we’re important.”
If you’re interested in purchasing your own candle from The Refinery, you can find them at:
2) Save your small glass jars! While The Refinery purchases the large 16 ounce candle votives, their sample candles are made with recycled baby food and other similarly sized jars. You can ship them, drop them by, or I can pick them up from you. Just shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange a pickup time and place.