When does a piece of leather become a piece of functional, personal art? When it is a Jeri Hart guitar strap. Spotted on such celebs as Jake Owen, Taylor Swift, and Toby Keith (just to name a few!) Jeri has taken the guitar strap from merely functional to true designer status. So how did a simple shopping trip turn into a lucrative and rewarding career? Jeri granted Spotlight Country an exclusive interview, and we found the answer to that and so much more!
When asked about her start, Jeri relays a story that we all can relate to!
“About 12 years ago, I came across a belt online I adored. It was really expensive, more expensive than I was willing to pay. Unable to help myself, the next day, I went back online to buy it (ok, I REALLY liked it) but it was sold out. It was hard to believe a belt that expensive was sold out! I looked for one everywhere and couldn’t find another one. Finally, I decided to make my own. That belt was going to be mine one way or the other!”
“I liked what I made, and loved making it! I had ideas of how to make more interesting belts, but the elements I wanted to use were not available. Oxidized hardware, thick but supple leather in bright colors, those things and more turned out to be hard to find. So, I learned to make stiff leather supple, and trashed my kitchen trying to figure out how to oxidize hardware. When my friend Johnny Henry saw the belts I was making, he suggested I make a guitar strap. A guitar strap is a bigger “canvas” than a belt and making that first strap was about the most fun I’d ever had. I was hooked!”
With her supportive but skeptical husband, Jeri started churning out designs and got noticed. Her first client? None other than one of the founders of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards. After that other artists started taking notice. But her husband still wondered if it was a little nuts. Until that one Monday night.
“On the opening night of Monday Night Football, Hank Williams Jr. introduced the game wearing one of my guitar straps. My husband is a football fanatic, so seeing my work on Monday Night Football was a huge success in his mind!”
While Jeri still doesn’t have a definitive “I’ve made it moment”, her wall of celebrities with their “Hart On” continues to grow. And with that, Jeri has added to her team.
Taking on help with a creative project can be tricky. But Jeri seems to have found the greatest assets in her additions to her staff. We asked her about her team.
Bruk Longbottom– Bruk is my right hand man, and she is wildly talented. We became acquainted when she purchased one of my guitar straps and wanted to have the length adjusted. Not only is she a talented musician, but she is an amazing seamstress and designer.
David Karns– He and I also met when he ordered one of my guitar straps. David has become one of my dearest friends and my favorite “guest artist”. He’s a world class bassist, and an incredible artist. He can rock an airbrush like nobody’s business, and has an amazing sense of style. He’s currently touring with recording artist Craig Campbell, but I lock him in my studio with an airbrush every time he’s in town!
Alix Johnston– I met Alix when she was working at a local fabric store. I knew the minute I met her that I wanted her to come to work for me. She has an amazing “can do” attitude, and she really can do anything she puts her mind to! Alix is legally blind. We made some changes in our methods at the studio with Alix in mind, and it improved the efficiency of work for all of us! She’s been a wonderful asset to the company, and she’s a truly inspirational young woman.”
With her talented team, Jeri has continued to create guitar straps that appeal to everyone. Part of this appeal is the detailed process involved in a custom strap.
“I take the images I ‘see’ and start laying them out on paper. The entire design is put together and rearranged through a “mock-up” on paper, until both my client and I love the way it looks. So far, I’ve never been at a loss for ideas, which is why our custom straps are filled with images from the front to the back.”
“Most of our custom straps are created using elements that are of a sentimental nature to each client. Belief systems, favorite quotes, favorite images, everything and anything are all blended into the design. We often incorporate birthstones of loved ones, or items having meaning only to the wearer.”
The artistic element never stops changing, which means when you have your “Hart On,” you can be guaranteed its a one of a kind. Also, by employing guitarists, you can be assured that your strap is as functional as it is unique. Continuing to improve her art and workmanship has led to many interesting opportunities, one of which stands out for Jeri.
“Creating custom guitar straps often presents us with the opportunity to invent an entirely new technique.”
“We found a new technique that allowed us to paint leather with liquid metal, and oxidize it to create the Statue of Liberty on a strap commissioned by the Ellis Island Museum.”
Even after all the amazing clients and the exposure, Jeri continues to be humbled and thankful for that fateful moment in the store.
“We’ve been extremely blessed to work with some of the world’s most well-known musicians. Time and again, they show us they are some of the most down to earth people we’ve known. In past years, Keith Richards, Hank Williams Jr., and Elton John were amazing clients! This past summer we’ve had a blast, having had the opportunity to work with celebrities like Penn Jillette, Kristin Chenoweth, and Terry Bradshaw. Though they’re not famous for playing guitar, they were delightful to work with and as “normal” as the guy who jams in the basement with his beloved guitar! Jake Owen is about the sweetest guy we know, and the list goes on with great artists as well as hobby guitarists! We are thankful for everyone’s support and are honored to be asked to create such personal items!”
Be sure to get your “Hart On” by visiting jeridesigns.com and the next time you see a custom guitar strap, I bet its a Jeri Hart original.