By Liisa Andreassen
What started out as an experiment, evolved into a hobby and ultimately a thriving leather goods business and successful brand.
“Initially, there was nothing intentional about it,” Odin Clack, founder of Odin Leather Goods, explains. “I wanted to see if I could make something out of leather. It took some time before I realized I had something with real potential.”
Clack says that he’s always searched out new creative outlets and loves trying new things. He had a bit of an edge when it came to launching the business in 2012 because his professional background is in marketing and branding, specifically in the online and digital space. So, once he decided it was time for a change – time to make something tangible – he combined all his skills, old and new, to introduce Odin Leather Goods.
“I wanted to make a product that I could see in use years from now – things like saddles and boots. My dream? My kids are sitting in a coffee shop years from now with their kids. They look over and point at a man or woman with a tote bag or satchel and say, ‘Hey kids, you see that bag? Your grandfather made that bag.’ That would never happen with a website or app.”
What’s your background/education? Where did you learn the craft?
“I grew up in Galveston, Texas and went to college at Texas A&M University. Growing up, my father always put emphasis on quality and durability when buying goods. Though he was a pretty conservative and frugal man, he never hesitated to spend ‘good money’ on products that would last. I guess that rubbed off on me. I learned leathercraft by lots of trial and error. I wasn’t able to find anyone in my area who could teach me the trade. It wasn’t part of any family heritage or legacy. I bought books and watched YouTube videos. “
Tell me about your first project.
“It was a laptop sleeve. I couldn’t find what I wanted; I wanted something I could use on my daily commute. I didn’t want to carry a large satchel or briefcase. I just needed something to protect my MacBook Pro and hold a notepad.”
“I stopped by a local leather store, bought a shoulder of leather and a basic tools kit. I didn’t read any of the instructions; I just started cutting and punching holes. That wasn’t exactly the best way to do things. After a few attempts, I finally started to ask questions and figured out how to do a proper saddle stitch. I slowly developed a drive to really understand the difference between leather goods and projects that were just functionally okay (like what a young kid might make in the Scouts), and high-end and heirloom quality leather goods like something made for a brand like Hermès. It’s the leather quality, sometimes the tools they use, but more often than not it’s the tiny details and techniques. I wanted to learn those techniques. The first few versions of this laptop sleeve were tooled and lined. I later realized that tooling and stamping weren’t my sweet spots. The version I sell now has a very straightforward design.”
Do you have any employees?
“It’s just me 90 percent of the time. Earlier this year, I got a shop assistant who helps out a few hours each week with gluing, cleaning, packaging and clicking. I hope to bring on one or two more part-time employees in early 2018 to help with stitching.”
Where is your shop? Describe it to me.
“It’s in Coppell, Texas – just outside of Dallas – in my two-car garage. I have it well organized and can produce products at a rate similar to much larger shops. I’m currently shipping around 15-25 orders per week.”
Where do you get your materials? What types of leather do you use?
“I use a lot of Bridle and Harness leather, mainly from Wicket & Craig and Thoroughbred. I also use a lot of Chromexcel from Horween for my totes and bags. I typically just buy my natural, vegetable-tanned sides and bends from my local Tandy store.”
What are your top sellers?
“It changes seasonally. My Forever Tote bags have been a consistent bestseller over the last few years. Belts always stay at the top of the list too. My Sandlot collection of wallets and accessories also do well; they’re all made out of old repurposed baseball gloves.”
What’s been your greatest challenge since you’ve started the business?
“Finding my own pace and focus. Once I started to be intentional and serious about building a leather goods business it was tough not to get ahead of myself. I saw other crafters who I respected and admired and wanted to have all the same big machines and resources. I was discouraged that I couldn’t produce goods as quickly as they could. Of course, I wasn’t giving credit to the fact that many of them had been in the business for 10, 20 or 30 years. Also, since I love the craft, I appreciate so many styles. For the first few years, I did a lot of stamping and tooling. I made all sorts of products and would take on nearly any custom job that came my way. Since then, I’ve narrowed my focus and concentrate primarily on making my own line of goods and products. I’m down to a line of about 20 items I make repeatedly. I’ve also narrowed the variety of tannages I use. I still buy lots of one-off sides, because I just can’t help myself, but I try to make most of my items out of the same few Bridle tonnages. It’s just more efficient and yields a better margin.”
What’s been your greatest success?
“Leveraging social media and branding. While many other leather crafters are still doing business much the same way they’ve done the last three decades, I’ve tried my best to leverage what I know – web marketing and social media. I’ve built the majority of my business off of building an engaged audience on Instagram. With only a small amount of time and very little budget, I’ve successfully leveraged these new low-cost channels. I’ve also been intentional about building a brand through thought leadership. I’ve been invited and hired at times to talk to other small business owners and marketers about how I’ve built my business with such a small budget and little time. I’m proud to be considered, at any level, a resource.”
Do you do custom orders? Wholesale?
“I’m selective about custom orders. Designing new products can be time consuming and often you can’t or don’t charge what’s needed to make them worthwhile products. The exception is when the design work can be reported and incorporated into other products or a product line. Also, sometimes projects are just too cool to turn down and provide you with great social media content. While the custom project itself may not be profitable, the content that may result along with the potential exposure, can be valuable. As for wholesale, I haven’t found my footing with this sales channel yet. I have found that I can move product through my website pretty quickly.”
It’s a personal thing
So, what started out as an outlet to create something that Clack needed has grown into a business where others can enjoy the products too. His vision is to carry goods and leather products that can journey the world with you.
“What I really love about leather is that it changes based on who the user is and how it’s used. Everyone has a different experience with it – and that affects how it looks and feels. While the leather may come from the exact same hide, steer or tanner, it’s the user that really determines its future. You can look back on a coffee stain and remember when that happened. I love that.”
Every scratch, every dent, every scuff tells a story.
Odin Leather Goods