Behind the counter in Earl Harley’s booth at the Malcolm Shabazz Harlem Market, the walls are packed with framed photographs and documents, covering nearly every inch of wall space. Displayed inside the frames are photos of hip-hop stars and thank-you letters from Rep. Charles Rangel and Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
For the last nine years, Harley the Buckleman, 74, has been a custom buckle-maker in upper Manhattan. Having taught himself the craft, he also repairs broken buckles and other jewelry. A custom buckle starts at $60 for adults, and $45 for children.
“I can make a buckle in two hours,” he said. “The most I make in a day is three.”
After retiring 15 years ago as a postal worker in Long Island City, he reached his peak at the height of the hip-hop big buckle trend in the early part of the millennium. Through word of mouth among stylists, he made buckles for Ja Rule, Alicia Keys, Lil’ Mo, Lebron James and others.
Listen to the Buckleman as he describes his trade.