“I have always been a guy who journals and writes,” said Rustico founder Isaac Childs. “I wrote more for myself than anything else. It probably goes back to when I was six years old. I think writing in a journal is just something I’ve been inclined to do. And that passion of mine is kind of how the whole story of Rustico really started.”
Rustico, which is headquartered in Lindon, Utah, has a product lineup that includes leather binders, notebooks, hand-sewn journals, handmade stationery, writing gear, home decor, and other leather accessories. Rustico also recently added washable and reusable cotton fabric face masks to its offerings.
Where It All Began
“I was pretty big into mountaineers and rock climbing and I traveled quite a bit in the western U.S, Canada and down to South America,” he said. Childs also volunteered as a missionary for his church and lived in Russia and learned the Russian language.”I was traveling a lot, and most of the time, I was traveling just with a backpack. The notebooks I was writing in would get beat up in my backpack and I remember one day I pulled out my notebook to write and the pages just kind of fell out,” he said. “I was frustrated by the quality of that notebook, and I decided to do something about it.”
“I took a couple of bookbinding classes at Brigham Young University with a friend, and I fell in love with the process of binding a book together using waxed linen thread, leather, and a rough-edge thick cotton rag paper,” said the long-time Utah resident.
Excited to make a travel journal for himself, he began to source the raw materials and discovered he had to order a minimum of 1000 sheets of paper from a supplier in Italy — which was enough to make about 50 journals.
“I made one for myself and was using it, when the buyer at the Sundance general store, Denise, saw my journal and said ‘Hey, where did you get that journal? I have been looking for something like that to put in the shop.’ With my leftover supplies, I made her 30 or so journals. She was sold out of them by the time I got back from a trip to South America a few weeks later. She also told me that they placed my journal as an item for sale in their Sundance catalog and that I already had pre-orders for 500 journals. I am forever grateful for Denise for being willing to try out my design. It was a really good blessing. I then had several other accounts call us because they had seen my journal in the Sundance catalog,” said Childs, who was in college at the time.
Starting the Business
Childs, and a couple of fellow students, Jeff Moss and Court Griffin, were in a higher-level marketing class at Utah Valley University when they got the assignment to build a website and try to sell $20,000 of product. “If you were successful, you got an instant ‘A’ in the class. So we built the site and used the journals as our product. We got the ‘A,’ ” said Childs.
Soon after, the three friends decided to start Rustico. In the early days, they received a large custom order from Disney and several other bigger companies who ordered custom products. “Raising capital money to launch a small business was hard to do 18 years ago,” he said. “We used a lot of credit cards and mostly just bootstrapped our way through it.”
The team took their product line to wholesale and trade shows, sometimes doing 30-40 shows a year. “We went through the recession, and some of our retail business fell off pretty fast, but at the same time, we also started doing more custom orders,” he said. “As partners, the three of us had a good ‘trifecta’ going, with Moss being the marketing guru, Griffin over operations and financials, and I was doing the product development and design,” he said.
By 2005, the timing felt right and we all sat down and decided it was time for us to move on and we decided to sell the business. The buyer changed the name of the business and within a year rescinded the deal. “The business came back to us, which was another blessing in disguise,” he said.
“At that time, my partners had moved on to other things, and I was able to buy them out,” he said. “I jumped back in, reestablished the business as Rustico, and spent the next couple years rebuilding and repairing the damage done by the buyer. I consider 2007 as kind of the rebirth and building era.”
“I decided to go in a little bit of a different direction and start focusing on our ‘somewhat neglected’ website and our direct-to-consumer business. I also sat down with some of my long-term employees and we came up with our purpose statement which stems back to the original reason why I started the company, which is ‘to help others step outside, really explore yourself, reach within, to live intentionally and leave their own mark,’ ” he said.
Childs, who is married with three children, said there was a point in running the business when he was working 90-hour weeks, traveling, doing trade shows and at the time lost the balance in his personal life. “My wife was pregnant with our third child, and I was coming home from a trade show when I decided to make an appointment with my doctor when I didn’t feel well. Within an hour, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and the doctor suggested I get into surgery immediately. “And I was like, well, wait a second, I have another trade show in two days, I can’t have surgery. I see now how out of balance my life was at that time. It is crazy, but I did do that trade show because I guess I was really just in denial and thought the trade show was more important.”
Childs ended up having surgery and six months of chemo treatments. “My viewpoint on life changed and I am grateful for the lessons I have learned when going through challenging times. In hindsight, having cancer was another amazing blessing in a lot of ways. I learned to rely on my team and it required me to basically back off,” he said.
Last year, Rustico moved into a new workshop, showroom and retail space where dozens of artisans handcraft Rustico’s goods from raw solid leather, environmentally friendly post-consumer paper, and the same waxed-linen thread that Childs used to bind that very first travel journal he made so many years ago
Childs, who is healthy, eventually wants to only work part-time at the day-to-day business and “spend more time being creative and continue to develop his vision to inspire others to live intentionally,” he said with a grin. It could be that the mountain is calling him again. And he may have many more adventures to live and stories to write down.
Looking for a little inspiration to prompt your own personal journal writing?
On their website or through email, Rustico posts a daily prompt or quote to inspire writers, artists and planners. Here is a link to one of the pages where people can opt-in. For example, one posted prompt asks, “What is something that made you smile today?” Another prompt asks, “What is something you love about your state?”
One of the newest Rustico products is a five-year journal. “There is no more wondering what to write; each day has a prompt to inspire your entries and track your growth. We are really excited about this journal,” Childs said.
► You’ll also like: The Value of Potential: Zak Nugent on Understanding Your Worth