Inspiration: Profiles

Vintage passions burn bright

Meet the artisan moto couple

Artisans Derek Keller and Jessie Williams share a passion for vintage motorcycle gear and accessories, discovers For the Ride contributor and author of Asphalt & Dirt, Aaron Heinrich.

Derek specialises in limited-batch production of leather goods and sells lovingly restored moto clothing, while his partner Jessie runs a ride-inspired clothing and jewellery boutique. Their joy at finding each other through the thriving ‘maker’ community in Raleigh, North Carolina, has been sealed by another, enduring love and appreciation of the Triumph Bonneville.

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Derek’s storyDerek Keller hard at work crafting his leather bike accessories

“My dad always had motorcycles – different makes and types. I rode dirt bikes occasionally as a kid but about eight years ago I finally got my own bike. It was a 1974 Honda CB450 that I worked on and cafe’d out. It got me started until I finally got the 2004 Triumph T100 I have now. It used to be my dad’s and now has over 98,000 miles on it.

“My interest in leatherwork and ability to refurbish old motorcycle gear definitely come from my mom and dad. My dad made leather goods when I was growing up and my mom was a skilled seamstress. I started making items for family and friends and it became a natural progression of making them to sell to others. “I started my business in 2013 and am finally at a point where I can quit my full-time job and concentrate on growing my business.”

Derek Keller at his workbench working on a strip of leatherDerek doesn’t make your typical tooled belts and billfolds. His items run from cardholders to a moustache comb and sheath to roll-top totes and backpacks. It’s all handmade, hand-cut, hand-stitched quality leather, designed and constructed by him.

“The vintage jackets are hard to source,” he says. “A lot of the cool ones aren’t in the US, so I have to look really hard overseas. Knowing how to fix the vintage stuff helps.”

Head over to his 440 Moto site and related 440 Gentleman Supply site for his collection of contemporary and one-off handmade pieces.

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“I didn’t have any motorcycle influences in my family, but I had been working really hard with my business for nearly 15 years and then decided I needed to do something exciting for myself outside of work. I loved Mad Max and Easy Rider, and thought it would be badass to learn to ride.

“So I took the course, got my licence, then bought a Honda Dream 150. It wasn’t much bigger than a moped and was a pain to own: I ended up pushing it more than riding it. I started asking around about other bikes and the one that most people kept recommending was Triumph.”

Jessie now owns a 2010 Triumph Bonneville and when she’s not riding out around the hills, coastline and back roads of North Carolina alongside Derek, she’s busy making art and design-led items to sell on her edgeofurge.com website.

She admits that while she has been running her business longer than Derek, getting there was an accident. “I was an audio engineering major at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was making hand-knit items for friends and, like Derek, people kept encouraging me to start selling what I was making. I tried the retail route, but almost quit.”

Jessie’s mom, Lea Williams, an accomplished photographer, encouraged her to open her own store. Doing that in Chicago where she lived was too expensive, so Jessie made her way to Wilmington, North Carolina, where she had spent a lot of time when growing up. She opened a store in what was essentially a storage closet – all 400 square feet of it!

“I started selling the work of other artists along with my own,” she says. “Within a year, I moved into a space that was nearly four times bigger. Now I have two different locations and the Edge of Urge website, where I carry the work of independent makers along with brand-name items. The latter helps validate the quality of the other.”

Derek and Jessie

When it comes to riding, they prefer the independence of just riding together rather than in big groups. For them, it’s about trusting the other’s style and ability, which is probably the key to their success in their respective maker spaces and as a couple of almost two years.

Derek says: “I think we mesh creatively. We’re always asking, ‘what can we do together?’.” Jessie’s a little more pointed: “We both have the same drive, hustle and work ethic. I’ve dated people that didn’t have that. It’s hard to find people who are passionate about their work and supportive of what the other person is doing. But Derek and I both have that and, of course, our Bonnies.”

Soulmates? Yes. Business, life and riding partners? Definitely.