San Francisco native Damon San Filippo comes from a long line of makers – “It’s a way of life for my family, that’s how we put food on the table for three generations.” Being from an old school Italian household, a few of his tools are over 100 years old – acquired from his grandfather, who was a leatherworker and cobbler.
“I love old tools, the industrial age of tools. I have leather tools that are stamped and formed out of early rebar from the early 20s and 30s and an old Singer leather stitching machine that my grandmother gave me from 1938,” he says.
Damon got his start in the world of leather at the age of 20 in a small custom design shop on Fillmore Street. The owner hired Damon initially to cut straps, but he quickly moved up to more intricate tasks and even began designing his own items for the shop. After that came a decade at Red Wing shoes, building the iconic boots from the eyelets up. “I was up to my elbows in boots and shoes for a long time,” he jokes.
Damon admits that leather isn’t the easiest material to work with, “you need the knowledge and the background and you need strong hands.” He had the tools and the work ethic passed down from his family – but the rest was pure sweat equity and passion.
He learned intricate leather tooling from a chance meeting with an old saddle maker and perfected his designs, starting his own company, San Filippo Leather with his wife Alana in 2010. Now he spends his days creating hand cut, dyed, tooled and sewn leather wallets, dopp kits, motorcycle accessories and more.
“This company, everything that we make, everything that we cut – it’s touched by hand. There’s very little machinery that’s involved in what we do.”
It’s that care and precision that allows Damon to create wallets and other products that stand the test of time.
“People are finally starting to wake up and realize that you get what you pay for – if you buy a $30 wallet, it’s going to last you a year – are you really saving anything rather than buying a $150 one that can last you a lifetime?”