Black Point Mercantile – Resurrecting the Materials of Maine’s Past
Jeremy Bennett is a man of many talents and even more occupations. After cutting his teeth at Portland, Maine’s Rogue’s Gallery, where he was Lead Designer of Bags & Accessories, Jeremy decided to try his hand as an entrepreneur in early 2011.
That same year he founded Black Point Mercantile, an atelier of sorts for his vintage and Americana inspired creations, which is now in its fourth year and is carried by a number of stockists and notable retailers across the globe, including: East Dane, John Derian & Co., Sharktooth, Barney’s New York, Levi’s Made & Crafted, and Portland Dry Goods.
In addition to carrying seasonal and basic stock, Bennett does a lot of custom work. His roster of clients has grown to include the likes of Nike, L.L. Bean, and Levi’s. When we called to talk with him, he was working on an enormous floor rug for the Uber offices in San Francisco.
Everything Bennett produces is made-by-hand at his studio in Portland, Maine to his exacting standards. Part of the reason he left the nine-to-five circuit was to have the freedom to pursue his craft on his own terms. “It was a incredible run while it lasted,” he says of his time at Rogue’s Gallery, “but it was time to move on.” Inspired by vintage Americana and military paraphernalia, a love of American heritage is quite literally woven into his products.
His tote bag patterns are inspired by the “dazzle camouflage” that emblazoned the sides of planes and warships during WWI. A recent collection of clutches references nautical signal flags. His waxed floorcloths, one of his best-selling items, are hand painted with latex paint before being naturally distressed.
Bennett does his light work done on a 1950’s Singer sewing machine gifted from his father-in-law’s mother and refurbished himself (although he’s quick to note that it didn’t require all that much work). The floorcloths and bags are a bit more heavy duty and require his industrial Juki machine.
Unlike most designers, Bennett doesn’t source the majority of his raw materials from fabric merchants. Instead, he spends a lot his time treasure hunting worn, torn, and forgotten scraps from military tents, bags, duffles, coveralls, whatever’s the most interesting. “The bigger, the better,” he says of the ideal cut of fabric, but he’ll make do with whatever he can find (he’s been experimenting with old varsity jackets as of late).
Salvation Army, Goodwill, yard sales, and pick houses in New Jersey and Canada are among his primary hunting grounds. Once he’s saved these bolts of fabric from an otherwise uncertain fate, Bennett sets about putting together, handling them like puzzle pieces. “The joy comes from figuring it out on the fly,” he says of his mix-and-match approach.
Of all the different scraps and materials he uses to create, denim is one of his favorites, “I love denim because there’s such a wide array of colors and fabrics, and the breakdown of the materials and the thread is just fantastic.” He just finished a patchwork denim weekender made from old coveralls and raw vegetable tanner leather from Herman Oaks.
Locating the intersection between fashion and function is among his primary objectives when devising his collections. The products themselves aren’t beholden to their history since Bennett conceives of them as not only having a past life, but a future one as well.
One of his more recent projects was collaborative effort with the founder of Rogue’s Gallery and former creative director of L.L. Bean’s Signature label, Alex Carleton. They wanted to revive two wingback chairs using an odd assortment of materials. Bennett conceived of a pair of armchairs, one reupholstered with denim one and another with camouflage.
The resulting pattern stitched together aprons, coveralls, jeans, webbing, oxidized buttons, salvaged grommets, and re-appropriated handles. The pockets from the front of the aprons became side-storage pouches, a fading pin-up girl poses seductively on the back of the chair, and silk-screened text–perhaps describing former contents or destinations–sit front and center on the cushions.
As he moves forward, Jeremy hopes to bring more of these old pieces back to life using the techniques of the past while staying true to the identity of his home state. In his own words, “drawing on the trades of old, Black Point Mercantile constructs classic and durable products that embody the definition of Maine—beautiful, rugged, and proud.”
If you’re interested in seeing more of Jeremy Bennett’s work, head over to Black Point Mercantile’s website.
You can also look out for Jeremy’s touch on new pieces at Filson, as he’s recently taken on a position managing product development for the bags and accessories department.