Noah Marion Brings His Craftmanship to South Congress
Handmade, heirloom-quality home goods and apparel with a dose of nostalgia are the hallmarks of this eponymous brand
Noah Marion prefers it if you don’t refer to him as a maker, nor a designer. “It’s just not me,” says the native Austinite and founder of his eponymous brand, which includes handmade, heirloom-quality untreated leather goods and beaver hats. “I’m Noah. Call me that.”
Marion’s penchant for self-deprecation and his down-to-earth mien are refreshing, but they don’t distract from the quality of his classic, mid-century-inspired wares. He’s also an in-demand designer of homes and office spaces, including two-namesake brick-and-mortar locations. He opened his South Lamar studio/retail space in 2014; and the serene, beautifully curated South Congress shop, which opened two days before the Snowpocalypse, features Marion’s new, collaborative lines and exquisite, handcrafted housewares trinkets from Morocco, Japan and other locales.
When Marion left Austin to study French and politics at a New Orleans liberal arts college, his goal was to “wear a suit and be a diplomat or something.” He’d taken ceramics as a child, so he also signed up for a pottery elective, a fateful decision that spun his life in a different direction. “The only thing that challenged me in school was art and design, and I ended up graduating with an honors degree in sculpture and 3D art.”
In 2006, after Marion had returned to Austin, his father gifted him a Pfaff 130, a vintage, semi-industrial sewing machine used for sailcloth. “He made teepees with it in the 70s and 80s,” says Marion (creativity is in his DNA; his brothers are all artists). He decided to make a leather wallet, despite never having worked with the medium. “I had one my brother had given me, and while I loved the material and its durability, I’d never liked the design.”
When Marion discovered the sewing machine was unable to penetrate leather, he found a screwdriver in his parents’ garage and ground it to a sharp point. “It never occurred to me to read a book or Google ‘leatherworking’ or watch YouTube,” says Marion. “Design wasn’t as prevalent then – the word ‘maker’ didn’t exist. I later learned there are actual tools for leather, and what I had made was an awl.”
After stitching the wallet by hand using synthetic sinew, Marion an epiphany. “I realized that I’d always done this exact thing – reconfigure items like messenger bags, to make them better suited to my needs. I’d never really recognized that what I was doing was design.” He established his brand and began selling products online and at local markets and retailers.
Marion is inspired by the craftsmanship of everyday objects from what he calls “my grandpa’s time.” He finds pleasure in small things, like a mid-century-styled Japanese pen by OHTO, sold at his South Congress store. As a designer, “It’s less about the medium than the intended use, he says. “Leather spoke to me. It’s tangible, interactive. We carry a leather key chain or wear a belt for years or remember the feel or smell of our grandfather’s wallet. We imprint on leather in a way unlike any other medium. I feel good about bringing these items into the world because they can become part of a daily ritual that makes people happy. Creating a sculpture that just sits in a house doesn’t do it for me.”
Collaboration is increasingly what drives Marion. “My passion is for the people who work for and with me, and my customers,” he says. “The satisfaction that comes from working with them and finding ways to sustainably grow a small business that supports all of us is why I keep at it.”
The South Congress store has allowed Marion to collaborate with local artisans, some of whom were previously under the radar. For his apothecary line, he created the prototypes, including beard and lip balms, and partnered with his friend, herbalist and forager Lauren Peterson of Austin’s White Deer Apothecary, to produce the products for him.
Other in-house collaborations include a dairy stool made by East Austin woodworker Michael Maximo and custom fragrances formulated by Marion and Krista Lacey. The For Francis collection – which includes gossamer antique blouses, dresses and other apparel – is a partnership with “a dear friend who’s been in the vintage business for 30 years,” says Marion.
“I love having people who are great at what they do, and who I care about, work with me,” says Marion. “I see the joy their work brings people, and I want everyone to be able to experience that magic, as well as create more jobs.”
The business that started in his parents’ garage now includes a small shop on Austin’s most coveted retail throughfare. While it’s one of a small number of homegrown brands now located on this prime section of South Congress, Marion doesn’t begrudge the ongoing development and influx of mainstream brands. “Just because you’re a local business doesn’t give you a pass,” he says. “You just have to learn to work harder and smarter. To have a store on the same street and playing field as Nike and Hermès ? I’m pretty f—– stoked about it.”