In the five years he’s been in business, Aykut Ozen has made around 40 leather jackets, each requiring roughly 80 hours of work. Ozen singlehandedly hand-cuts and sometimes hand-stitches, but most often he uses the jukebox-sized industrial sewing machine inside his small Capitol Hill workshop, paying special attention to pockets and collars. An Ozen Company jacket runs in the $3,000 price range.
Ozen pours effort and expertise into each piece; along with a one-of-a-kind, lifelong-lasting piece of clothing, the wearer is buying Ozen’s story. It’s a mutual investment, like any transaction. This one is made on a very personal scale.
“When you live your life to invest into what your emotions are, what you can create, that’s a life better spent than just living and making money and eating and buying your basic needs,” he says, voice drawled by a Turkish accent.
“I like the idea of everyday people buying something a little over their price point, really wanting it and saving up for it,” he continues. “You look at a musician, broke for years making music but they all have a guitar that costs $1,000. A jacket could be like that.”
Ozen’s first love is guitar: Since arriving in Seattle from Turkey 13 years ago, he’s played in a slew of different bands, mostly on the heavy rock side. Rock ’n’ roll led him to leather. He wanted a jacket like the ones he saw on musicians from the 1960s and ’70s, made by a famous but forgotten hippie startup called East West Musical Instruments Company. The likes of Elvis, Springsteen, Iggy Pop and Jimmy Page, he surmised, were regular humans elevated to iconic status by the marriage of rock-star swagger and permanently affixed leather. Because Ozen is a natural tinkerer, he deconstructed a Western-style shirt that fit him particularly well and rebuilt it in cowhide.
In the years since, he’s refined his original design to arrive at a small, richly detailed portfolio: a couple of different men’s and women’s jackets; a selection of hefty, marbled luggage; a vest or pair of pants; a wallet here and there. And most recently, aviator-inspired skullcaps, which Ozen calls rain hats. Quality leather is remarkably waterproof.
Ozen sources his materials in sheets from a 100-year-old store in the Central District called MacPherson Leather Company. One of his favorite jackets is made of rare and expensive horsehide, more durable and patina-prone than cowhide. But Ozen appreciates the sculptural quality of all leather. He’s self-taught, and in its stiffness and resilience, leather allows more trial-and-error than softer materials.
“I love stuff making sense on someone,” he says. “Educated shoppers who buy something who make it their own, in a way it compliments their soul. The biggest motivation and inspiration is not to make people look cooler but to complement what they already have. It’s not, ‘Buy this and you’ll look skinny, buy this and you’ll look like a rock star.’ I see it in a purer standpoint.”
Photo by Eleanor Petry