Michael Todd Moen’s studio is a treasure trove of nautically themed items: old life jackets, sailor dolls, wooden buoys, ropes and flags, signs, and posters. Nestled by the window is his workspace, a table covered with various tools, molds, and scraps of leather. Moen is a leather artist and owner of Sweettrade, an online storefront named after another term for the pirate trade.
Prior to Sweettrade’s creation, Moen worked for Patagonia in California, then as part of the America’s Cup build crew in Washington, before finally settling in Warren seven years ago to be close to the world of salt, sand, and sailing – the perfect setting for his then-new endeavor.
“I like the look and feel [of leather], and the personal changes it takes on for the wearer,” Moen explains, talking about his material of choice. “It’s kind of like an extension of your own skin.” Moen sources his hides from one of the oldest tanneries in the United States, Wickett & Craig. He is proud to say his products are all-American, from the thread (from Maine) to the brassware (cast in Rhode Island).
Moen handcrafts everything from wallets and belts to bracelets, cuffs, and coasters, each with a nautical twist, like hidden whale tails and sailor knots. Each part is carefully designed, cut, handstitched, and finished, including the hardware. His distinctly coastal touch has been appreciated at trade shows around the United States in cities like Los Angeles and Chicago, and also in Japan.
“I’ve always really liked Japanese culture and their way of thinking, and how they hold craftsmen and tradition in high regard,” Moen says. Through an old friend at Patagonia, he was connected to a Japanese business owner interested in his work. The rest quickly followed: a new wholesale account, trade shows, and even a feature in a special edition of Japanese magazine Clutch.
Moen has carved – literally – a successful niche for Sweettrade in the leather market. However, his business is still evolving, especially around an important issue to Moen: sustainability.
“I’m looking into alternative materials,” he divulges. Despite his locally sourced materials and biodegradable packaging, he plans to make Sweettrade even more eco-conscious in the future.