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Tarlach de Blacam and the Beginning of Inis Meáin Knitting Co.

To the islanders of Inis Meáin, Tarlach de Blacam is not just a regular local on their small roster of 200 inhabitants. He is the kind of visionary who breathes life into the things he touches. His insight comes from a deep veneration for the way things were, for the true and the timeless, as well for the way things could be –- restored and refined.


As a student at Trinity College in Dublin, Tarlach was sent to the island of Inis Meáin on several study trips to learn Irish Gaelic. In 1972, he graduated in Celtic Languages from Trinity and went on to work in an academic institute called The Place Names Commission. After working there for a year, Tarlach decided that academia was not for him. In 1973, he married Áine Ní Chonghaile, an Inis Meáin native, while she was working as a teacher in Dublin. Together they decided to move to the Aran Islands to start a new life.

Initially planning to write, Tarlach soon became involved in numerous development projects to try and stem the tide of emigration and to build a living, self-sufficient community on the island. These projects included the installation of electricity and water and the provision of new harbor and airstrip facilities. In 1976, he founded Inis Meáin Knitting Co., formally launching in 1978. Establishing permanent employment for residents of Inis Meáin was essential for the sustainability of the island. Tarlach wanted to foster a community that would grow organically from its roots. Starting in a small factory with only six domestic knitting machines, Inis Meáin Knitting Co. employed mostly young islanders who had learned knitting skills from their parents. They were young people who were not prepared to work from home for the tourist industry. They were people who would have emigrated if the company was not there.


From the beginning, Tarlach was aware of the huge wealth of Aran tradition in knitting. The older knitters (mothers of employees) drew from the past to provide inspiration. Tarlach found new stitches, patterns and shapes that were all part of the Aran repertoire. After the first five to ten years, Tarlach found that to survive, they had to do a tremendous amount of research to develop new products for the international markets. They focused on high-quality, design-oriented knitwear in the finest materials available, investing in machinery and fancy yarns. Out of this has grown a company that is constantly producing new, individual pieces which are replaced or updated with more unique garments. The company specializes in doing very small runs of new styles, constantly evading the pull of mass production and offering an enormous variety of styles in a single season. They are incessantly (several times per day) setting up and taking down patterns on their machinery. And there is a huge amount of skilled hand sewing and finishing going on.

Tarlach de Blacam has grown a very modern company, using modern methods and employing a highly educated and trained workforce. They design, develop, craft, market and sell an extremely sophisticated product that can now be found in the best stores around the world. From Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman in New York to Drake’s and Grey Flannel in London, Isetan in Tokyo, and Hollington in Paris, the Inis Meáin Knitting Co. brand speaks of remarkable quality and luxury.


History of Inis Meáin Knitting Co.

Inis Meáin Knitting Co. is as much a story about a small island’s rich tradition in knitwear as it is about one man’s resolve to save an island.


The middle island of the Aran chain, Inis Meáin is often overlooked, receiving just a small fraction of the Arans’ tourism. Herein lies its charm. So undiscovered over the past century, the island and its customary way of life are incredibly well preserved. The islanders, unable to rely on tourism, must still support themselves by farming the island’s rich soil, raising lamb and cattle that graze the island’s abundant grassy fields, and fishing the treacherous seas that buffet the island’s ancient limestone walls.

Channeling his love for and advocacy of their fading culture, founder and creative head of Inis Meáin Knitting Co., Tarlach de Blacam, set out to support the local economy and share the island’s rich tradition of impeccable knitwear with the world. In every way, the sweaters of Inis Meáin Knitting Co. are a representation of the island. Every collection is inspired by Inis Meáin itself, its natural colors and unique topography. Contemporary styles are born from traditional knitting methods and designs. Each sweater is meticulously looked after and hand finished by the very women-many quite old and whom only speak Gaelic-that learned the tradition of hand knitting from their mothers as small girls in the 1950s and ‘60s.



Tarlach was driven to the island in University by a professor to study Gaelic. At that time, being groomed for academia, Tarlach encountered Inis Meáin as the mecca of old world Ireland — the most well-preserved Gaelic community and traditional Irish way of life. The mosaic of fields divided by hand-built rock walls were still worked. Islanders lived by the natural rhythm of sunrise and sunset. And the entire island continued to speak its traditional language of Gaelic, creating one of the most valuable and well-preserved Gaelic communities in the world. Determining that academia was not his destiny, yet yielding to his love of the language and the island culture, Tarlach committed to settling on Inis Meáin with his wife Ana in the 1970s. At first he took odd jobs around the community. But after experiencing first-hand the struggle of islanders to support themselves economically and to preserve their unique heritage in the 20th Century, Tarlach knew that something had to be done to provide additional employment and keep the locals from leaving.

Leveraging their strong and very deep tradition in knitwear, Tarlach organized with others to establish Inis Meáin Knitting Co. Since the very beginning, the company was purely an employment scheme, a way to make the island sustainable. Tarlach set out learning the craft and the business of trade and export. The beginning of the company is more about Tarlach’s desire to preserve the island’s way of life and provide the global ground for their rich tradition of knitting to survive the 20th Century. Tarlach knew they could never compete with low quality and pricing, as was common amongst others in the area supplying the local tourist shops. He knew they had to focus on the highest-quality, hand-made, design-oriented knitwear that could be exported to the finest stores around the world. Competing on price or scale against large factories that could turn out in a day what they produced in an entire year was inconceivable.

Inis Meáin Knitting Co. began with just four hand knitters and Tarlach as the traveling salesman. As Tarlach journeyed meeting with menswear buyers, the Inis Meáin product and story were well received. It was not long before Inis Meáin purchased its first industrial knitting machine and began to distribute all over the world.

After forty years of business, the brand is thriving in a world that is now experiencing a “rebound to quality” because of the internet’s ability to bring the best products to light. So, when you purchase a sweater from Inis Meáin Knitting Co., not only are you acquiring one of the finest, hand-finished sweaters obtainable, you are supporting a fading but treasured way of life and one of the most culturally-rich Gaelic communities in Ireland. You are providing employment that is able to attract young people back to the island, to prevent their emigration, and allow this now-rare way of life to survive the 21st Century.



Handmade Excellence Out Of Naples

Mario Talarico is an eighty-two year old craftsman who represents the fourth generation in his family to make handcrafted umbrellas. Down a small cobblestone alley in Naples’ Spanish Quarter, you’ll find Talarico working from an old wooden bench, surrounded by gnarled sticks, metal ribs, and beautiful sheets of fabrics.

These are what he uses to make some of the most beautiful umbrellas in the world. The sticks form the “backbone” of each umbrella, and their woods are chosen for their specific qualities.

Ribbed Whangee and old-growth Malacca, two beautiful choices for umbrella handles, are valued for their fine textures and subtle mottling. Eastern Ash is heavy, but has a shimmering green grain when the bark has been left on. Canadian Hickory is a robust wood that’s often used to make baseball bats, and Tuscan Hazel is a handsome material with a golden sheen.

At the end of each of these sticks is an oxhorn cap, which protects the wood from being marred by the ground. Just below that sit eight or ten metal ribs, which are used to hold the canopy. Talarico sources these from Germany, as that’s where he believes they are best made. His nephew (also named Mario Talarico) took great pride in showing me how these ribs never invert, even as he whipped an umbrella through the air.

Finally, there are of course the canopies, which come in solid colored, striped, or dotted twills. Some of these are conservatively patterned, some fun, but all are very tasteful. At one side of the canopy is an iridescent mother-of-pearl button, upon which a metal ring and fastening band will hook on, in order to secure the canopy when it’s furled.

There are few companies that make umbrellas like these anymore. Most are cheaply produced in China, even if they carry fancy brand names. Of the ones that still make umbrellas with this kind of artisanal quality, a few are located in London, a couple in Japan, and one is in this small alleyway in the Spanish Quarter of Naples.

Shop our line of beautiful umbrellas made by Mario Talarico.






Russian Reindeer Accessories Exclusively from G.J. Cleverley

Anything made from G.J. Cleverley is a masterpiece at the pinnacle of craftsmanship. But their accessories cut from Russian Reindeer Hides are truly exceptional for many reasons. The pre-revolutionary hides of the unique look and resilient durability are so much more than beautiful they are rich in history.

A fierce storm brought down the Danish Brigantine “Christina” carrying leather and hemp December 10, 1786. The ship destined for Genoa sank off the coast of Plymouth, England where the hides would rest until 1973, nearly 200 years later, to be discovered by a group of amateur divers. Extraordinary luck and layers of sand preserved these leathers from deteriorating from salt water.

“The way leather was worked by the Russian tanners was an art form,” Mr. Carnera of G.J. Cleverley said. “They were laid in pits for a long period of time and tanned using only natural vegetable oils.” They had been cured in baths of rye or oat flour and yeast, hand embossed with a varied cross-hatching before being soaked in wood liquor, hand carried and then soaked in seal oil and birch tan oil. The result is a unique finish that cannot be replicated.

Cut from 200-year-old Russian Reindeer leather, these are some of our favorite holiday gifts. Each rare and elegant accessory is handmade in London by G. J. Cleverley.

Shop the G.J. Cleverley Accessories

Russian Reindeer iPhone Case

Russian Reindeer Pocket Wallet

Russian Reindeer Key Case

Russian Reindeer Belt

Source material and additional stories of these exclusive leather hides:

A 200-Year-Old Gift From Under The Sea

Lace-Up a Bit of History


The Mirror Q&A Edition

Over the past year, I’ve received quite a few questions, the overwhelming majority of which relate to the “mirror shine.” So, in lieu of a full-blown polish routine, I’m addressing a few of the most common “mirror shine” questions, as I work on refinishing the toes on a pair of my Saint Crispin’s jodhpurs. Join me by posting before and after photos here of your own polish job today! Without further ado, let’s get to it…

Q. How do I prepare my shoes for a “mirror shine?”

A. Preparation, of course, depends on the condition of the shoes, where a brand-new pair likely doesn’t require much preparation at all, but a well-worn pair would likely require a thorough cleaning with the appropriate agent (e.g., Renovateur, Neutral Cream Polish, Reno’mat, etc.). Ideally, the surface would then be prepared with some initial coats of wax, which have been applied, dried, and then brushed, à la:


Q. Do I use a cloth, a t-shirt, a chamois, or what? And how much polish do I use?

A. I like using cotton pads or cotton balls because I am able to get a better feel for the amount of pressure I’m using when applying the wax polish to the shoe. However, you can use whatever you feel most comfortable with. As for the amount of wax polish per layer:

That’s It, Really

Q. Speaking of pressure, how much pressure do I use?

A. The amount of pressure you use when applying the wax polish will vary throughout the process, as the more wax you apply to the shoe, the less pressure you need to work in the wax polish. By way of example, for each layer I usually apply the wax polish gently at first, increase pressure while I’m working the wax polish from hazy to clear, and then back pressure off to finish each layer with a buff.

Wax Haze

Q. What about using water? Or should I use alcohol? If either, how much?

A. I recommend using both water and rubbing alcohol (90%+), in a 3:1 or 4:1 water: alcohol mixture. Alternatively, you can just use water or, depending on the consistency of the wax polish you’re using, you may not need water or a water: alcohol mixture at all. If you do, then this is really all you need per layer of wax polish:

A Drop Will Do

As you work the wax polish from hazy to clear your cloth/pad/chamois should move freely across the surface of the leather, i.e., you should feel like you are “pushing” the wax polish around easily. If the cloth/pad/chamois feels “sticky” or is dragging on the leather, you either used too much wax polish or you need to add a bit more water or water: alcohol mixture (or both).

Q. I’ve heard “heat and friction” are key…but my hands can’t move like an orbital waxer (yet)?

A. True, heat and friction play a significant role, but you don’t need to and shouldn’t rub wax polish into your shoes with wild abandon. You should be able to achieve a “mirror shine” with moderate effort. Again, if the wax polish layer you’re applying isn’t turning from hazy to clear, your cloth/pad/chamois will most likely feel “sticky” or drag on the leather…so…see above.

After a few layers of wax polish properly applied with moderate effort, your shoes should start to gloss up:

Getting There

Getting Closer

Even Closer

Q. How do I know when I’m finished?

A. As with many subjective matters, “you’ll know when you see it.”

Terminé, au moins sur la droite…



The History of Bridle Hide Leather

Bridle Hide leather has been around for more than 200 years and is rightly considered a British institution, held in the same breath as Rolls Royce, Wimbledon and Old School ties. The beautiful, hard-wearing leather has been produced by tanners and manufacturers for everything from horse saddles in the war efforts of the British Empire to striking wallets made by the leading British brands.

The central hub of British Bridle hide leather making has always been Walsall in the heart of England. The ‘bridlecutters’ of the early 19th century were considered the pioneers of the town’s leather goods trade. Working out of small workshops, often in a yard behind the house, these men (and women) were soon doing a roaring trade in Bridle leather as horses became an essential part of Victorian economicand social life.

The building of the South Staffordshire Railway through Walsall in 1847 gave a further boost to the trade and by 1851 there were 75 firms of all sizes making bridles, saddles and harnesses. Towards the end of the century, the industry reached itsGolden Age with more than 6,000 people producing great quality bridle leather, including for tens of thousands of horse saddles used in the Boer Wars.

What made Bridle leather stand out from other leathers, and still does to this day, is the infusion of natural greases, tallows and waxes into the cowhide to give it a hard-wearing, flexible and water-resistant surface, perfect for horse saddles, which have to withstand all weather conditions, including rain.

The skin has also traditionally been steeped in vegetable tanning materials, particularly oak bark in England. This was done for anything up to two years in the 19th century, but now the process is a lot quicker thanks to the addition of mineral salts.

Sadly, the bridle leather industry in the UK steadily declined in the 20th century as the traditional roles of the horse were supplanted by the internal combustion engine in its many forms, including most prominently the motor car.
Some companies tried to adapt by turning to the production of bicycle saddles, upholstery and fancy leatherwork for the cars. But it was the transition in the 1920s and 30s to using bridle leather to make smaller, light goods like wallets, purses and travel items that proved the biggest game changer.

Hugely respected names that are still running today like Ettinger and Daines & Hathaway were formed in this period, producing hand-crafted goods made from bridle and other leathers. The industry was flourishing once more.

Wallets, cases, bags, belts and jewellery boxes made from bridle leather became hugely popular because they were well made, water-resistant, and over time acquire a unique patina as they take in natural oils and are polished by repeated handling.

But sadly again the boom wasn’t to last. Competition from Europe and then the Far East began emerging from the 1950s onwards, putting many of the leather goods manufacturers and tanners in the lower to middle range of the market out of business. “They simply couldn’t compete with the cheaper leather being produced abroad,” explains Robert Ettinger, CEO of Ettinger London. “Those of us who were at the top end managed to continue creating leather goods in this country because we’re not so determined by the price. We are now appreciated and admired for the quality of our British made products.”

Several Walsall based leather goods companies went bust, and there are now believed to be just 30 salaried leather companies left and only six on the small leather goods side. But the quality of their bridle hide leather remains of the same high standard and goods produced in England are loved by people from all over the world, particularly the US and Asia.

Bespoke FAQ's

Lee Miller: The Greatest Living Bootmaker

Bootmaking is one of the greatest artisan traditions unique to the United States that is still alive and thriving today. I often forget that western wear has it’s own subset of richly talented artisans doing custom work. It is truly its own subculture.

It is no surprise that Texas is home to a rich tradition of bootmaking as well as to the greatest living bootmaker, Lee Miller, who lives in Austin, Texas. I had the privilege of an introduction to Lee and his wife Carrlyn by a mutual customer and friend during a trip through Austin a few years back with Simon Crompton from Permanent Style (he wrote about Lee in several posts).


Lee was trained by the late Texas bootmaker Charlie Dunn (1898-1993). Charlie was a fifth-generation bootmaker and begun making custom boots by the age of 11. He was widely dubbed the “Michelangelo of cowboy boots” and first gained widespread notice after Jerry Jeff Walker’s song “Charlie Dunn” (1972).

Lee began apprenticing with Charlie at around twenty years old and quickly took to the craft (read the full story on Charlie Dunn’s wikipedia page). This means that Lee, who continues Dunn’s legacy, learned how to make custom boots using the same artisan techniques used back at the turn of the century. And if you speak to Lee, little has changed over that time with how the boots are made.

Everything is still done by hand and is completely bespoke. From the creation of the client’s wooden last, to the design, cutting, and stitching of the boot leg, the rich tradition of cowboy craftsmanship is strong at Texas Traditions.

For example, Lee, to this day, still hammers out a 3/8″ steel nail to be used as the boot shank and wooden pegs are used to secure the waist of the sole. You can follow Lee’s work more closely on his Instagram account, which he updates almost daily with the progress of various pairs of boots on which he is working.

Lee’s wife Carrlyn, who manages the business and does all of the polishing, recently began using Saphir Shoe Polish, and couldn’t be happier. Carrlyn and Lee said that they were a little reluctant to try it at first. “We have people who come in here all the time asking us to try something they say ‘is the best,’ so we are always a little reluctant when we hear those words,” the Millers said. However, after Kirby finally sent them some polish, they say, “The Saphir Shoe Polish is truly incredible. There is nothing out there like this. It is really amazing just how much better the polish is than anything else we have ever used.” Of course, such a compliment is truly flattering from such renowned bootmakers – two people that truly known their leather.

Lee and his wife Carrlyn are incredible people, truly passionate about their art and craftsmanship. And in true Texas fashion, they are also two of the nicest people you will ever meet. As you can imagine, they are in very high demand. They are not accepting any new customers and those lucky enough to become one get to look forward to a four-year wait for their first pair of boots.



Updated Shoe Care Guides

Have you checked out our new shoe care guides? We’ve recently updated them to a totally new format. We have updated the descriptions and added fresh new photographs to take our guides to the next level.

Because more knowledge and clarity is always better, we encourage you to ask questions directly on the guide. Kirby answers all questions personally. Learn how to take the best care of your shoes with our extensive range of shoe care guides. Click below to discover the nuances of luxury shoe care!



Elephant Shoe Leather: Customer’s Question

As always at the Hanger Project, we are available to answer any and all questions to assist our customers. Recently we got a great question regarding the care of Elephant leather shoes. We have never before considered how to take care of this rare leather but we found a good solution because after all they are still a form of leather that can be treated by the Saphir line of products. Here is the email exchange we sent back to Richard:

Richard –

I heard back from Avel today and they said that, officially, they have never tested elephant in the laboratory. They said that Nappa seems to be more “riskfree” than the renovateur. Nappa does not contain any waxes, but jojoba oil + wheat protein : it will nourish the leather but should not affect the color.
However, based on your photographs and what I know of elephant, I personally think you’d be safe to use any of the normal calfskin products. Without question, normal cream polishes were used by J. Weston at the factory to finish these shoes, and I do not think you would have any problem with them.
I’d probably recommend the Nappa Leather Balm for conditioning and the Saphir Pommadier Cream Polishes if you need any pigment and for wax. Alternatively, you could use the Saphir Renovateur for conditioning, which does contain waxes. If you went this route, you wouldn’t need to use the Pommadier Cream unless you needed color.

Hope this helps!

Richard decided to use the Nappa Leather Balm to see how they conditioned his great shoes. Here are some photos of the shoes before and after being conditioned. You’ll notice the great texture of this unique leather.

FullSizeRender (1)FullSizeRender


Elephant Leather - After polishing-1 Elephant Leather - After polishing-2

As always keep the questions coming. We love to help!