No stranger to carrying a camera in the field, Northwest native Gary Tyler McLeod has spent a good deal of his life in the outdoors. More specifically, he's spent the past decade shooting photographs and producing video content for some of the industry's most influential companies including Oakley, Nike, Shwood, Snowboarder Magazine and more. With this unique experience, an eye for branding and a persistent drive to do something different McLeod founded Great State Strap Co. Operating as both designer and maker, McLeod runs the one man leather goods company with an open mind and a single vision—to create the ideal camera strap using only organic materials.
After admiring his handiwork for quite some time we recently caught up with McLeod to learn more about how Great State came to be and where it's headed.
Let's start with the basics. When did it all officially begin?
I don't really know, I made a camera strap for myself almost two years ago—I guess that's obviously how something like this would start. Then I made one for my neighbor, then I made some for friends. It was obviously an "idea" but it took a while before I made it a company because I wasn't interested in going to a craft fair or anything, I was interested in the concept as an actual opportunity to express myself and really make it how I wanted it to be.
Portland is a real hotbed for the handmade movement right now. With so many creative companies out there, why take the leap with Great State?
I could give so many reasons as to why, for me, though, I found it to be a really interesting opportunity for design.Yeah, there are a lot of other people that make camera straps out of leather, and there are some really cool ones, but I just wanted to do it how I would do it. It was just so simple that I could really work with what was there. I had fun just thinking about the philosophy behind it— making camera straps out of natural materials. People could argue that using an organic material isn't the best thing to use, but not to me, to me it definitely is.
And it just sounded really fun to do something that was so much different than everything else that I do. Everything else I do is on a computer, and it was so fun to just sit down and actually make something with my hands, which I haven't done in years—like, a lot of years. Then I started thinking about how much fun that would be do that more and how healthy it would be for me to be off the computer. So it made sense.
Tell us about the branding.
I've always been interested in branding and I've been involved in a lot of branding, so I thought it would be fun to make my own brand and do it in a way that I wanted to do it. But it's all about the product really. The brand definitely was second to the product, entirely. I mean it took me a really long time to get the product how I wanted it to be. I really spent so much time just wearing camera straps around because it takes a while for everything to break in and that's just the best way to get leather to work well for you. I'd change something and just go out and enjoy my day, hang out with friends and just always wear it and see what's practical. I just wanted them to be real comfortable—to make the most practical, best-looking thing. I wanted it to look good on my friends.
What's your favorite strap and camera combo?
My favorite camera is definitely a Contax G2 and just the regular Boot Strap. To me it's the ideal strap. But a lot of times I carry two cameras with me in a bag, and the Frank Strap—which is a non adjustable one—is pretty nice in a bag just because there's no buckle on it and it packs up easy. If you use a camera bag with multiple cameras that's a nice strap to have because it's just one perfect length. Other than that the boot strap is definitely the ideal camera strap.
What's on the horizon for Great State?
I've been working on some video ideas that I think will help communicate what we're doing with the brand. As far as products, I'm still designing stuff, and I'm going to keep testing to make sure everything is perfect. So I have no idea when it'll be done but hopefully this summer sometime. I want to release a different strap that's for really heavy cameras too. And after that will be the first bag. I'm really excited about that one. That's definitely going to be a lot of work to get me happy with it. I'm really particular in the product design, I won't be rushing anything. There will be a bag… one day.
For more information on Great State Strap Co. visit them directly online. Images by Gary Tyler McLeod