Guitar straps made in Buchanan found worldwide
Published 9:30 am Friday, March 1, 2019
To everything in life, there are always the unnoticed components and overlooked items. Tablecloths are overlooked for the food on top of them, bookshelves ignored for the literature they hold, and toy boxes forgotten for the play things within them.
But when Jen Tabor goes to a concert or a show, she is not only admiring and listening to the music, but she is looking past the guitars and long hair to check out the strips of fabric that keep the whole thing going.
Tabor is the owner and founder of Souldier, a guitar strap designer and manufacturing business she started in Chicago in 2004. For 12 years Souldier operated out of the Windy City until Tabor decided to move closer to family and a smaller community in need of a stable employer.
Souldier landed in the back corner of a warehouse in Buchanan, where strips of leather and felt of ornate designs hang from racks and shelves, human hands and sewing machines run in a low humming rhythm and rock and roll plays in the background to remind the staff where their hard work could end up.
Tabor’s guitar straps can be seen all over the world on stages big and small. Names as big as Neil Young, Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Wilco and countless others have not only used her guitar straps, but sought her out for designs, fabrics and a specialized esthetic.
During a performance at the celebration of Queen Elizabeth’s birthday, Shawn Mendes used a Souldier guitar strap to carry his Gibson ES-355 ebony Bigsby. Tabor may be used to seeing her straps on all types of people and stages, but occasionally she is still surprised.
“I’m very grateful (customers) like the product. I’m still shocked in the places it ends up, and very humbled by it,” Tabor said.
Tabor started her guitar strap business simply. She made a small collection of her products and brought them to one music store in the greater Chicagoland area at a time. Her connections from her own years of performing and working at various music stores served her well. For the first few years she hardly saw Souldier straps, but after some time, and lots of selling at music festivals and craft shows, Souldier straps were everywhere.
“I got here with hard work, with passion and by supporting the people who supported me,” Tabor said.
Although she leaned hard into her work and self-promotion, Tabor made it far by the investment and recommendation of specific customers like Wilco, Stone Temple Pilots and others who purposefully passed her straps along. Those artists, she knows, would not have passed her creations on if it were not for her perseverance and risk taking. Encouragement to hard work, self-promotion and taking risks is the core of any advice Tabor gives to other crafters and creatives.
“If you know what your path is, always be looking for an opportunity, the slightest opening, and just go down that path,” she said. “The willingness to take risks is what’s paid off — the willingness to take risks and willingness to fail.”
Moving Souldier to Buchanan was something of a risk for Tabor, but one that was worthwhile and eye opening. Tabor sees Buchanan as a more relatable place, and one that is more centrally located for her travels and work.
“Most of America is closer to Buchanan than it is to Chicago. It helps me understand all perspectives to reach more people,” she said.
Operating out of Buchanan has made it easier for Tabor to get to different hubs of music and concerts. Being between Chicago and Detroit makes for shorter trips but allows her family to stay in the quiet of the rural Midwest. Tabor’s employees from the Buchanan area, as well as the people she has met locally, made the move all the more worthwhile.
Buchanan has also become a creative parameter for Tabor. She believes creating parameters and guidelines in any line of creative work brings artists and crafters to their most authentic work. As Tabor has strived to stay true to her original vision, Buchanan fits her familial, locational and creative needs.
“The more you define the character of what you’re making, the more branding you can pass along to your customer,” Tabor said.
So, Jen Tabor might be looking around at a concert or show and noticing the guitar straps because it is possible she designed or made them, but also because they represent the intersection of creativities and the journey of her art from a hidden corner of a warehouse in Buchanan to stages in front of thousands of people.
Guitar, bass and mandolin straps may be commonly overlooked by the layman’s eye, but they keep the rockers standing and
the music playing.
Photography by Emily Sobecki