Culture + Style

Made in Orlando: How Hellbrand Leatherworks Makes Everyday Objects Luxe

Ed Ratanun of Hellbrand Leatherworks (Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Ed Ratanun stands beside a work table covered with thick strips of chestnut leather. Behind him, steel shelving is stacked with rectangles in shades from deep brown to sunny tan, spools of waxy thread and boxes of buckles. A burly assistant sits on a stool, slowly sliding a strip of hide through a tool that seems to consist of a T-square, a binder clip and a razorblade.

This is the storefront, manufacturing plant and business office of Orlando’s Hellbrand Leatherworks, and Ratanun is the creator of Hellbrand’s homegrown and handcrafted aesthetic. His designs have become stylish fetish objects for young Orlandoans, from bearded craft-brewing hipsters to fashion-conscious corporate professionals.

“I got tired of being a stockbroker,” says Ratanun, who began working with leather eight years ago as a hobby, and hired an experienced leatherworker named Jarvis Hellbrand to teach him the old way of doing things. (He named the brand in homage to his instructor.)

made-in-orlando-ed-ratanun-hellbrand-leatherworks-handcrafted-leather-2.jpg(Photo: Rafael Tongol)

His hobby outgrew his brokerage career as his operation outgrew his apartment, and Ratanun moved into this shoebox of a workspace in Orlando’s vibrant College Park neighborhood. The storefront is unmarked, save for a half-dozen items sitting on shelves in the front window. People from the neighborhood sometimes peek hesitantly in, but most who visit have been led here by an in-the-know friend, or by a local watch dealer with a recommendation for the prefect band for an antique chronograph.

“I make stuff that I like to use,” says Ratanun, showing off his own watchband and a slim card holder in his front pocket. His biggest sellers are covers for Field Notes books ($45), which have become something of a fetish object among gear-obsessed pen and paper geeks. Further up the line, card holders (from $75) and wallets (from $120), give way to iPad cases, purses and $675 briefcases that scream “heirloom.”

made-in-orlando-ed-ratanun-hellbrand-leatherworks-handcrafted-leather-4.jpg(Photo: Rafael Tongol)

Ratanun works primarily in American leathers, with the occasional batch of British cordovan thrown into the mix, as well as a bit of shark and denim. For a taste of Florida, Ratanun uses alligator hide, locally (and legally) harvested for use in wallets, cardholders and belts. His stitching is bold and his leathers sturdy in a way that conveys both luxury and lifetime durability. His designs bear his iconic stamp — two needles crossed, the letters HBLW in the spaces between.

But “Hellbrand” won’t be the brand much longer; Ratanun is working with a local branding agency for a new name and logo. The original name is a bit more aggressive than the products Ratanun turns out. “Bikers keep calling me up wanting motorcycle stuff,” he laughs, “and that’s not really what I do.”

made-in-orlando-ed-ratanun-hellbrand-leatherworks-handcrafted-leather-3.jpg(Photo: Rafael Tongol)

About the time of that new branding, Ratanun will expand into the former nail salon next door. There, he’ll introduce new product categories — including an expanded line of bags and purses, as well as furniture made in collaboration with a local woodworker — and give the store a more consumer-friendly feel.

Keep an eye on the website for updates, or just wait to hear about it from your cooler friends.