HoneyBird LeatherWorks is a small, artisan, family venture located in the beautiful Anatoki Valley of the Golden Bay.

My name is Maxwell Jones. I descend from a mixed bag of Highland Scots and Norman invaders who fled to the South Eastern, USA in the late 18th century, searching for a ‘better day’ in what was for them, the “New” World.
250 years later I found myself doing a similar thing; leaving the shores of their brave new world, I came to New Zealand with my family searching for our own version of a ‘better day’.
This is a yarn which is quite long. For over 53 years have I been spinning it. So for brevities sake, let it suffice to say that I am son and husband and father of two little rascals. My illustrious wife Nishka and our first born moved here from the verdant (and distinctly fragrant) hills of Northern California ‘round about 11 summers ago. Another son arrived at our door eventually and life kept happening to us here. We are all now citizens of this fine Land of Aotearoa.
We rest our heads out Kotinga-way, along the banks of the Mighty Anatoki. That’s where my workshop sits. I built it last year with the help of lots of gracious mates who are far more skilled than I with a nail gun and speed square. It was a refreshing testament to what can be achieved with many hands, several beers and good ole Kiwi-ingenuity.
The workshop is where I coax and tease that cow’s hide into all sorts of useful things but above and foremost it is a house for my ancestors. I have become an ardent genealogist in recent years and displayed on the walls of my workshop rest the photos of all those people who helped get me where I am today. They live there now and I work for them so that life will keep happening to us here and all their efforts will not be in vain. If there is a goal for me, that’s it. Plain and simple.
As you might have figured out already, I’m an old fashioned sort of guy. I smoke a pipe and let my beard grow, come what may. This attitude towards life is what led me to the leather many winters ago now.
Perhaps every man comes to such a point in his life when he looks around at what he has created for himself and is thus afforded an opportunity to
really consider the authenticity of it all. It seems we can so easily fall into roles and jobs that are not necessarily aligned with our true authentic selves. This was revealed to me way back then and there was no denying the truth of it.
I accepted my fate, and the challenge of following my destiny. Playing the Fool card, I leapt off the proverbial cliff into the relative unknown of becoming a leathercrafter. It has been such a fulfilling journey. It feels authentic; a true and inherent expression of who I am and what I came here to do, among other things.
My love for the smell of leather, the sound it makes when being cut, the “ping” of a solid brass rivet being hammered upon an anvil, the energetic weight of a hand tool forged 135 years ago and the smiles on people’s faces who appreciate the quality they hold in their hands and wear on their feet, are a few of the ways that I measure the authenticity of it all.
Sandals are where it all began. There’s another yarn here but move along I must. Let’s say I was “led” to an old shoemaker way up north, to what was once described as the “Hell Hole of the Pacific”aka Russell in the Bay of Islands.
Over the course of 5 days this kind soul taught me how to make a particular style of sandal. We made two pair. With this information and through the purchase of an old outsole stitching machine I started this wee enterprise. His name is Jeremy Bowen.
Along the curvy road of learning a new craft on my own I stumbled across another old leathersmith on the internet. His name is Davy Rippner and he lives on a tiny island in British Colombia, Canada. We became fast friends and penpals. He has been crafting leather for well over 50 years. To this day I can still send Davy a quick email with some leather-fix I have found myself in and usually within a few minutes he will respond and save the day and often my ass!
So sandals are where I started but it was relatively easy to begin making other things such as belts and sheaths and bags. I do a lot of custom work for people and I really enjoy this aspect of my work. Recently I had the pleasure of making an eye patch for a man who was fed up with the synthetic options available to him. It took us a while to get it right by wet

forming the leather. A small thing in the end but a fun and rewarding project. I also do a fair bit of repair work.
I do everything by hand. All the stitching is done this way using the good ole saddle stitch and waxed Irish linen. Cutting, dying, beveling burnishing, fixing, stitching, all by hand. I like it this way. My work is slow. Leather does not invite speed. It demands that you are attentive and calculated with your movements. It’s a good teacher that way. It affords me a lot of time to contemplate the fact that life has gotten too fast for most of us. I don’t look for short cuts along the way. It’s those little, and often time consuming details, that make such a difference in the end. I enjoy the work. I am not rushed by the world around me.
My favourite material is the vegetable tanned leather that I use for my work. Prior to becoming a leatherworker, I was unaware that there were different ways to tan leather. In fact, 95% of the leather products on the market today are made from leather tanned using Chromium Sulfate. This is a rather “dirty” i.e. toxic way to go about it. I don’t want my children, or my customers, absorbing this “salt” into their bloodstreams by wearing my sandals. For this, and other reasons, I use veg-tanned leather exclusively.
I recently obtained some deer hides that were tanned locally by someone who had, by all accounts, mastered the process. This is the first time I have worked with something other than cow hide and I am enjoying it so far. It behaves very differently than its bovine counterpart but its softness and colour are exceptional.
As far as challenges go, well, they are many. The world has become a place rather defined by challenge. Everyone seems intent on winning and beating it into some form of human-centric submission. Prevailing, succeeding and “being all we can be” is in itself a challenging proposition.
I live with the questions. I wonder what the hell is going on here? Is this a good way to behave and be in the world? I’m speaking culturally now for the collective of which I am a part. I am not afraid to ask the hard questions. Moral cowardice has no place in my world. And I face these challenges for my children and their children’s children as if there will one day be such descendants of mine. And so does such existential ruminations

lead us back to the wall in my workshop where hang those pictures of my ancestors.
I sell my wares at the Takaka and Motueka markets in the warmer months. I really enjoy connecting with the people on this level and selling directly to them. I remember a story from a few years ago when a young boy of maybe 11 years really wanted to buy a pair of sandals that were way too big for him. He tried them on and I said nothing of the empty space around his wee foot. Something compelled me to just let this boy have his moment. His parents did the same and they bought them for him. We did the exchange and we were saying our goodbyes after what was a most enjoyable 20 minutes together. Then arrived this rather awkward moment of social quietude between us after which he rushed towards me with his arms outstretched and embraced me with a hug. I was blown away and just this side of tears. Something had passed between us. Something precious, which neither of us fully understood happened that day. And those plastic bills were nothing compared to this "knowing".