Aria Vega [00:00:00] This podcast contains explicit content, listeners discretion is advised.
Aria Vega [00:00:06] POV by Lustery explores culture, politics and creativity in the sex industry, one point of view at a time. I'm your host, Aria Vega.
Aria Vega [00:00:17] Every October, the sex industry celebrates National Kink Month in the U.S. and beyond. If your social media feeds have seemed a bit dominated by rope and leather lately, that might be why. In fact, the influx of fetish apparel on my own Twitter timeline is why I went looking for one of its many makers, leading me to this one. Matthias Rand is the founder and sole artisan of Rand Leather, a brand creating leather fetish wear since 2011. Matt, who specializes in making custom gear for trans and genderqueer bodies, runs the entire operation out of his home in Atlanta, Georgia. He's felt the connection to leather since long before he ever cut a piece of it.
Matt Rand [00:00:58] [Interview] Obviously, the leather aesthetic is really hot. You know, ever since I was a kid, if I had leather boots or something, I always was really into taking care of them, only to find out in my 20s that bootblacking is like a thing; leathercare and taking care of boots and doing it for other people.
Aria Vega [00:01:14] So it was like a kink that emerged before you had any concept of that. Would you describe it that way?
Matt Rand [00:01:20] Yeah, definitely. And then of my journey into BDSM, just finding all these cool ways that you can explore your body and process emotions and meet new people and deepen the connections with people you already know. And it's just...Man, I haven't done — I haven't been to a play party in like two years. I'm just reminiscing like, "What was it like? It feels so long ago!"
Aria Vega [00:01:42] [Voiceover] I first met Matt in 2018, when he was a vendor at Sex Down South, an annual sexuality conference here in Atlanta. His booth was definitely the most eye-catching, thanks to a display of leather bowtie collars in a full rainbow of colors. I bought a burgundy bondage bracelet, one that can quickly convert into handcuffs.
Matt Rand [00:02:02] If you consider the bondage bracelet as the entry level, affordable small piece that I offer — basically, my website has a range of ready-to-wear bondage gear. So cuffs, collars, belts, things like that. Strap-on harnesses, chest harnesses, and then I also make pants, shirts, dresses. I recently did a custom suspension harness for somebody else, which was... fun! And nervewracking on my part, because it was the first thing I had to make sure I held someone's full weight. And it was a it was a great challenge, I had a lot of fun doing it. Those are the kind of custom products I really like, it's something new that sort of challenges me for, like what I can come up with.
Aria Vega [00:02:48] Wow! So, OK, so you do sell ready to wear items, but your specialty is custom gear. I love to see the range of things that you're able to dream up for people. I want to know, how do those creations come to be? Can you tell me a bit about how a consultation with a client unfolds?
Matt Rand [00:03:05]
Aria Vega [00:03:05] How do you determine how to make what they need?
Matt Rand [00:03:07] So, I mean, especially for the last two years because of the panini [laughs] pretty much all my work, or all of the consultations [are] online through email. There's a spot on my website where you can go to inquire and just tell me what you have in mind, or even if you have just a vague inkling of what you have in mind. Then the initial email is responding with, "Yeah, I think that's something I can do." Or, "No, that's not." And if it's not something I can do, I usually try to recommend some other maker that can do it. I don't always have a source, but I try. And then after that initial "yes I can do it" I get any details you can give me, and then I do it like a sketch, a drawing. And usually I can see the picture pretty clearly in my mind based on what people are asking for. And a lot of times too, people don't really know. They have a vague idea, but they don't know all the details. That's why they came to me. So just kind of over the years, I would kind of piece of things together to have a sketch and then email it over. And if you like it, then we go from there.
Aria Vega [00:04:10] [Voiceover] It's probably not so different from how leather apparel was traditionally bought and sold. I guess, except for the email part. Leather culture first emerged in the 1940s and 50s from communities of gay men in the U.S. The theme was largely made up of soldiers returning to port cities like New York and San Francisco after the Second World War. Back then, stereotypes about gay men being soft and effeminate were still common, and leather culture became an outlet through which they could rebel against it. They formed motorcycle gangs, BDSM clubs and other organizations through which they could celebrate hypermasculinity. Before long, their leather-driven fashion became the subculture's calling card.
Aria Vega [00:04:56] [Interview] Upon your entry into the leather community, I read that you were struggling to find gear that fit you and that felt sexy and and affirming, and just all the things that you want leather to be. How did that wall that you came up against lead to you undertaking an entire trade?
Matt Rand [00:05:16] I went to school in Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine, and at the time I was majoring in metalsmithing and jewelry, which sounds completely unrelated to leather, but it's not really. A lot of what I was learning was about how to work with the body, how to make jewelry and things, interact with the body, how to work with different materials. I always say too that, sure, I learned technical metalsmithing skills, but the real lessons that we were taught was how to problem solve, how to come up with an idea and how to troubleshoot it and see it through to the final product. At the beginning of when I started majoring in my junior year, I come into leather and kink and I'm trans, I'm a small guy. All of the ideal leather man is like this huge, beefy, muscular dude. All the harnesses started, like at the smallest is probably a medium, and I needed like an extra small at the time. Plus, you know, I'm trans haven't had top surgery, haven't been on T, so the usual harnesses and stuff aren't really going to work for me. And I learned how to sew when I was a kid. My mom taught me how to sew, and I just was really curious about working with leather. I was in the type of school environment where I could switch materials and try it out. And then I just got really lucky in that there was a somewhat local luxury leather shoe and bag — Cole Haan — brand headquarters or something was like an hour away from my school, and they had emailed saying "We have scraps, come get the scraps! They're free!" They're just like, OK...
Aria Vega [00:06:48] Art school kid's dream!
Matt Rand [00:06:50] Right? And I showed up expecting scraps, small pieces. What I ended up with was whole hides.Leather comes in a hide size, which is either a whole cow or a half a cow. And so that's like twenty-five square feet, it's huge. Cows are huge animals when you get the leather, and there were some lamb skins and things like that which are a little smaller. But basically what they meant by scraps was we got these sample pieces, we cut one spot out of them to see if it was going to work for what we needed, and then we threw it in a pile. So I took all of it. It was like, fill the whole car!
Aria Vega [00:07:27] Gold mine!
[00:07:28] That was one of the huge barriers for me wanting to get into leather, that the material is so expensive. Then I need all these tools and I'm just learning, so it's like, how much money can I... Can I afford it? I'm a poor student, how can I afford to invest in this experiment, basically? So that was a very awesome, lucky moment to be like "We have this free leather, come get it," and I went and I went and got it.
Aria Vega [00:07:58] And so when did this experiment evolve into a business? When did you start taking it that seriously?
Matt Rand [00:08:06] Pretty much immediately. Honestly, I got the leather, I had some ideas for some chest binders, which were my first product. I wasn't selling them at the time, but that was my first concept. The product was the chest binder that looked like a sexy chest harness, but also, you know, cover your chest, gave you the right coverage and made me feel confident in my body. I started with three people. Me and two friends try to do some different body dives. And I was like, OK, I experimented with them, made them. It came out pretty good and it had some issues, but for the most part, they came out pretty good.They did their job. And then I started thinking, What if I make this like the brand? What if I start focusing on queer and trans people who aren't being covered by the typical leather brands? And this is in 2011. I feel like it's a whole new world out to be trans today.
Aria Vega [00:09:06] In what way?
[00:09:06] I feel like back in late 2011, 201, the early 2010s, there was one place to get a chest binder like Undeworks. Now I feel like there's many places and they're like... you know, Underwear X isnt' —The whole point wasn't for trans people, it was like for some other medical condition, and it just sort of worked for us. But now there's like trans and non-binary owned businesses making just binders and making like transitional clothing items and things like that. I feel like it's just. With I mean, we had social media in 2010, but there's even more social media platforms.
Aria Vega [00:09:43] No, it wasn't the same, and it wasn't as geared toward commerce as it is today. For better or worse, it is a very different landscape.
Matt Rand [00:09:51] Different. Yeah. And it's just there's just more visibility. I guess it's easier to find people. I remember coming in, being younger, coming out as trans, even discovering what being trans was is like. There was a couple of videos on YouTube and people would chronicle their transitions and like, that was the information I had, and it was like maybe one or two websites. And now it's just it's everywhere. You can find it everywhere. This is awesome. I guess a little over 10 years ago, really not that long ago, but it feels like a lifetime ago.
Aria Vega [00:10:23] You said that your mom taught you how to sew when you were young and that you went to school for metalsmithing. Do you have any formal fashion training? How did you learn to marry the design aspect with the leatherworking to make the fetish gear?
Matt Rand [00:10:39] I don't have any formal fashion training. Basically, my entire leatherworking skill set was taught on the internet, on YouTube, actually. So I've always been somebody who likes to make things. Like I said, my mom taught me how to sew when I was a kid. I know Home Ec class where we had to learn how to sew, and I made some pajama pants like and got a pattern, did that and... You know, working in metal and all that, I had it in all my foundation's glasses had a general sense of like... how bodies work, I guess. I don't know. There was no specific training for that. I just sort of practice, practice, practice, practice.
[00:11:27] That's so impressive. I just think that both aspects of it, the fashion and design aspect and also the leather working aspect, I think of those as being skills and trades that are almost always like done under someone's direct tutelage, where you have like a really hands-on sort of mentor or guide, like the idea of you teaching yourself how to do this over the internet is incredibly impressive.
Matt Rand [00:11:54] Yeah, I also feel like, about 10 years ago, leatherworking as a skill was not super popular, but it was starting to get attention. And, you know, today if you go on Instagram or something, there's like a million companies that are making like wallets and little leather goods and all handmade stuff and doing traditional leather working techniques, which is unexpected for me, but also very cool. There's just been I think generally our culture is sort of going back to appreciating handmade goods and handmade skills.
Aria Vega [00:12:27] Oh, OK. Yeah, I was going to ask you, would you attribute social media alone and the visibility that it provides to that seemingly expanded field? But I guess, like you're saying, too, we are also kind of in the midst of like a moment of thinking more about what we're consuming, who's making it, how it gets made. Even just like I feel like the past couple of like holiday seasons like the end of your holidays. I see such a big push for like if you're going to buy gifts like buy from, you know, an independent creator by, you know, don't buy from the big box stores, buy from somebody who handmade your thing. Have you seen that sort of culture be a boon to your business as well?
Matt Rand [00:13:17] Yqeah, I mean, I think too, especially with some of my custom pieces, which are more expensive as I constantlyq was sort of grappling with accessibility financially and also being myself when and where to. But usually the people that come to me for a custom item understand that it takes time and it costs money and that they've chosen me for a reason. You know, they like what I do. They like what I stand for and they want something handmade for them.
Aria Vega [00:13:42] So. And I think people like the idea too of knowing that like that extra money, extra the money" that they're, you know, stretching for, you know, whatever it's going to someone's livelihood. It's not just going to shareholders, you know, it is. It is keeping so it was paying for someone's mortgage or whatever it is.
Matt Rand [00:14:01] Yeah. And for me, it definitely like I work in a room in my house. It's just me. I don't have any employees. So you're really like feeding my cats, getting worse for me and my partner, paying my rent, you're funding better equipment so that I can then be more efficient and perhaps pass that savings on to you financially, like the money that you spend here is a very tangible and visible effect on where it goes.
Aria Vega [00:14:26] [Voiceover] The money from Max customers also goes towards supporting a creator who's filling a hole in the market for a marginalized group and building a community around that need. Before the pandemic hit, Matt was a fixture of industry events like the conference where I first met him.
Matt Rand [00:14:41] I have gone to events like Sex Down South that aren't necessarily kink centered, but more sexualities entered one event than I used to attend every year with the New England Leather Alliance had a fetish fair, fetish fair flea market that says, all right, hang on repetitively up in Rhode Island every February. You know, it hasn't happened in two years for obvious reasons, but that event is great because it was like the draw was the vendor market, we have classes and play parties and other things to do, but it was one of the few events where the vendor market was the thing. So yeah, that just helps me get involved helps me meet people. I meet all kinds of people, all kinds of interests, fetishes, things I never had heard of but was like, "Oh, that's pretty cool!"It's really cool to see people out wearing their gear, living their lives and you're in that con space where you don't have to pretend, you don't have to hide. You can wear your collar. You can do whatever you want.
Aria Vega [00:15:47] Yeah! And I guess — it must be really cool to see people wearing your gear in those spaces because so much of what you make isn't something you'd necessarily see in the supermarket, you know. Which is fine! But I'm sure [for] a lot of designers and creators, a big part of what keeps them going is getting to see other people enjoying it. So it must be really fun to be in spaces where people can rock it.
Matt Rand [00:16:13] It's definitely fun over the years to see in the places that I go more and more people wearing things that I've made, and that's pretty awesome!
Aria Vega [00:16:24] When it comes to leather in particular, what is it about it that you think gives it such an unparalleled sex appeal? Because even on the red carpet, leather often has this connotation of deviance. And is that because of the leather scene? Do you think? Where is that borrowing and exchanging happening?
Matt Rand [00:16:43] Even before the gay male leather scene sort of erupted, people were wearing leather throughout fashion history. It's sort of always kind of appeared in this more either strictly utilitarian or vaguely sexy kind of way. Or a lot of strictly utilitarian items became sort of pervertables. I know a lot of earlier leather fetish gear was brown because people were getting it from people that make the horse harnesses in th South, and things like that. Brown leather was what they were using.
Aria Vega [00:17:20] So interesting. So black being the go-to color connection people make with leather, that's a relatively modern thing?
Matt Rand [00:17:28] That's my understanding of it, yeah. Black leather had been around, but it's relatively new in time in terms of like the how iconic it is. You know, in the 50s, there was lots of movies and things and the cultural shift of the youth rebelling. And one of the sort of like touch points for the leather aesthetic would be, I think, The Wild One with Marlon Brando. He's got this leather jacket, the hat, the denim the boots right around that time, that sort of aesthetic. It was associated with rebellion and strength and things like that. So it's started to become more mainstream.
Aria Vega [00:18:03] And I see I see contemporary parallels with that. Like I'm thinking about seeing Timothée Chalamet in a harness at whatever event, somebody else was wearing it backwards... They're're not doing it right, but they're doing it! [Laughs]
Aria Vega [00:18:22] [Voiceover] Few fabrics are as physically and culturally durable as leather, and just like expression itself, it will never go out of style.
Matt Rand [00:18:31] We express ourselves with what we wear. That was a major reason that I wanted to do what I wanted to do with leather, because I didn't want to wear some harness that was too big for me. I wanted to wear something — or then feel like I wasn't good enough or manly enough. Or, you know, I didn't belong in this community. I can't even get gear that fits me. So I made it for myself, and I made it for everybody else. And that's the thing is, I make things for all genders, all sizes, pretty much all kinks, like whatever you want, I want to find a way to make it because you just can't be dressing for how you feel like expressing what's on the inside, on the outside. That sounds pretty cheesy...
Aria Vega [00:19:11] No, but it's not! It shapes how you move through the world. Everybody feels more confident when they love what they're wearing and they're going about their day. Everybody! You make eye contact, you say hi to people. You, you know, turn on the charm when you're just talking to a bank teller. And it's because you feel fucking good because you know you look fucking good. And I don't think that's trivial at all.
Matt Rand [00:19:34] Yeah, exactly. And like to go back to the bondage bracelet. You know, you can wear that out every day, and most people aren't really going to think twice. You know, leather/fetish fashion and just sort of even like the rocker aesthetic, it's part of our culture. People don't really look twice if you have this leather bracelet, they're like, "Oh, that's pretty cool. That's pretty tuff." But then every once in a while, you'll meet someone who's like, "I know what that is! I know what that does!" And I love making things that can just sort of go under the radar in the day to day and you can wear it all the time and always have it with you.
Aria Vega [00:20:08] [Voiceover] That's Matthias Rand, leatherworker and founder of Rand Leather. You can see his gorgeous work on the website at Randleather.com or on Instagram @RandLeather. Do you make sex toys, fetish gear or any other pleasure paraphernalia? I'd really love to chat with you about the long-awaited regulation that's beginning to enter the industry. Hit me up and ask Aria@lustery.com, or you can find me on Twitter @vegadreamcast. If you're into the show, please leave us a five star rating and a review. POV is brought to you by Lustery, and this episode was hosted by me, Aria Vega. It was edited and produced by Katherine Fischer and Adrienne Teicher, and our showrunner is Paulita Pappel. Lustery is the home of real-life partners filming their sex lives behind closed doors. If you're 18 or older, you can find us at Lustery.com and on Twitter and Instagram at Lustery POV. Have a good week, lovers!