Crafting for a Lifetime. Or Maybe Two.
Nathan Martin turned a fleeting idea – make durable leather goods – into a full-time business in a little over a year, always focusing on “doing good.”
Story and photos by Emma Sarappo
Go Forth Goods began with a simple inconvenience.
In 2014, Nathan Martin was heading to Disney World with his wife and children for a family vacation. As he was packing up, his bag broke, and he and his wife spent the trip looking for a replacement. He was looking for quality, something that would last, unlike the broken bag, which had only survived a few years.
“I couldn’t find something that I really liked, that was made with quality materials, made in America, that had the simplistic, rugged but modern design I was looking for,” he said. “So I had the idea, ‘What if I made my own?’”
He started with key fobs and wallets. He wanted to test himself: “Do I even like it? Am I good at it? Can this go somewhere?”
But even as he practiced, Martin said, “from day one, I was looking for an exit strategy from marketing. I was looking for something I could do that would allow me to work with my hands and be more creative.” Martin’s marketing and construction experienced combined with his design expertise and interest in architecture; leather working “just came naturally,” he said.
Six months after he started tinkering with leather, he made his first bag. Three months later, there were three bags, which started selling well in the holiday season. He invested in materials, hired other people, and 14 months after he decided to make his own bag, Martin left the marketing firm he owned to run Go Forth full time.
Left: Nathan Martin sits in his Marietta studio, surrounded by wood work benches he built himself. Right: Scrap leather waits to be turned into wallets, bags, and more. Go Forth sources its leather from Horween Leather Co. in Chicago, one of the oldest tanneries in the U.S.
As for the name, it’s not just about taking the goods along on trips – although he is invested in making sure they won’t break before a Disney trip. Instead, it’s a summation of Martin’s personal ethos.
“I wanted to come up with a name that had more meaning than ‘Nathan Martin Leather Goods,’ you know?” he said. “So as I was brainstorming, I was thinking of what makes me tick, what makes me who I am, and what I landed on is that I’ve always been passionate about inspiring others to go forth and do good. Like, no matter who you are, you can change the world around you.”
Following that thinking, Go Forth works to give back. The company donates 10 percent of its profits to various charitable organizations that are, in Martin’s words, “going forth and doing good.” Currently, the company is partnered withMUST Ministries of Marietta.
“They do a lot of good stuff, but the main thing they work with is the homeless – they have a shelter and food pantry,” Martin said. “They also help a women’s shelter, for women who have been abused or in a bad relationship, and help them to get back on their feet. We also donate a lot of our scrap leather to another company that hires women from the women’s shelter and gives them a job teaching them to make smaller leather goods.”
Left: Sam Buhler, one of Martin’s employees, finishes attaching a strap to the Bitter Southerner canvas bag with hand-hammered rivets. Right: The canvas bag straps are stamped with the Go Forth and Bitter Southerner logos.
Aside from focusing on philanthropy, Martin is obsessed with quality. “From the very beginning, we wanted to give a lifetime guarantee. I mean, the company was founded out of a frustration of not being able to find a product that was quality, so I wanted to make sure that whatever we did, we could stand behind it,” he said. All Go Forth goods come with a lifetime warranty for the original purchaser. “We basically went back to the way things were made 100 years ago, and that’s why we can guarantee it for life,” he said. This attention to detail can be seen even in the backstitching of the canvas totes – Go Forth makes a point to reinforce the stitching eight or more times and then seal the stitch with a lighter. “We kind of feel like, to only do two backstitches, that’s your weak point; that’s where things are going to start unraveling,” he said.
Martin points to the sealed backstitching on the Bitter Southerner canvas bag.
The goods Martin makes in Marietta are built from materials sourced in America. Why? “Obviously, pride in America. Wanting to take things back to the local economy,” he said immediately. But like the rest of Go Forth’s process, it all loops back to quality. “I think that by being able to focus here on American-made, we’re able to control every aspect of the quality.”
Sam’s brother, Simeon Buhler, sands a wallet after stitching the leather together in the back of the workshop.
Go Forth is an intensely personal brand. For its first two years of existence, the team just created products they wanted to see in their own lives. Martin renovated Go Forth’s retail space himself: He built the front desk and workbenches, painted the ceiling, installed the walls, and did the floor. The space is just a mile from his house, where the company started. The investments Martin has made are individually significant – as are their rewards.
“The guy like me who has six kids, when you buy a product from me, you’re not supporting a large company that’s going to make another millions of dollars in profit and buy another house or whatever,” he said. “You’re supporting each and every one of us actually living and eating.”
Martin stands in front of his retail store’s desk and centerpiece. Martin built it, along with all the other wooden features in the shop, himself.