Signature leatherwork puts Craft & Lore on the map in Northern Idaho
By Lynn Ascrizzi
In the mountainous region of northwestern Idaho, nestled near a 25-mile-long lake, is the small city of Coeur d’Alene. That’s French for “heart of an awl,” a term used by 19th-century fur trappers to describe the business savvy of the Native peoples they traded with — as sharp as the tool used to punch leather.
As it turns out, that urban area has proven to be a fitting place to run the leatherwork enterprise, Craft & Lore, a happy coincidence not missed by its proprietor, Chad Von Lind.
“I work with a lot with awls,” Von Lind, 37, acknowledged, just one of the many tools used in his workshop to handcraft small leather goods — wallets, belts, Apple watch bands, Nato watch straps, key kedges, totes, briefcases, weekender bags, packs and more.
The company’s 2,000-square-foot workshop is located in an industrial park, in the northern part of the city. The workspace also hosts a showroom. “We get a number of walk-ins. Our business workshop is a destination. People who come in, know who we are and have the intent to buy, not just browse,” he said. “Not all shoppers are from the area. Last month, a gentleman from Canada hopped on his motorcycle and came to our shop to buy stuff.”
He and his full-time, two-man team aim to create a work atmosphere that fosters creative freedom and responsibility. “We don’t push, like a typical workplace. Everybody works on their own schedule. We’re not punching a clock. We want the right attitude and mentality, so that we’re very much looking out for the brand. The guys are passionate about making the products. I don’t have to look over anyone’s shoulder,” he said.
Everyone in the small, close-knit workforce lives in Coeur d’Alene. They spend their days hand sewing products and building stock. Tyler Cole, 32, is the shop’s main sewing machine operator.
“He’s the pro at working on the Juki Pro 2000 in the shop’s sewing room. I do a lot of hand stitching and don’t use the Juki, but I love it. It’s an amazing machine.” A Mitsubishi tabletop sewing machine is also set up in the room.
The workshop’s right-hand man is Michael Miles,31. “He runs a lot of the show. He keeps me on track, if I get creative and wander off doing different projects. He keeps Tyler’s work in front of him, does emails, handles shipping and builds a lot of projects.”
Ryan Stephenson, 22, joined the shop last year. “We pull him in to make products part-time. He’s new blood from Cincinnati and plays a limited role. We do photography to put up on social media. I do all the online stuff, but every now and then, I send Ryan out on an assignment with the products and a model. He sets up his own shoots,” Von Lind said.
For him, finding an exceptional leather tool is a thrill. “I’ve got a really ‘rad,’ custom round knife made by Cary Thomas, who lives north of Coeur d’Alene in Chilco, Idaho. He’s an online retailer and does some of the best knives I’ve ever seen. He has grown and grown. His price point is rising. He does all his knife sheaths,” he said. (ctknives.com)
Time has transformed Coeur D’Alene, from its rough and tumble Wild West days into a popular, year-round, five-star tourist destination.Surrounded by lakes and forests that are home to deer, elk and mountain lion, the municipality attracts folks from all over. They come to soak up the region’s natural beauty, to go hiking, camping, boating, fishing, bird watching and golfing, and to enjoy skiing and other winter sports.
“We spend a lot of time in the mountains,” Von Lind said, of his wife Carrie, their six children and other family members and friends. “We go hunting and camping. The town is only 30 minutes from rugged terrain and trails. It’s a nice end of the state. You can go back to the old mining towns and get down to the real roots of Idaho.”
Area visitors include celebrities like Bruce Willis (Die Hard, Pulp Fiction), Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings) and Canadian ice hockey great, Wayne Gretzky.
Whether well-known or little known, most visitors come to the area with a lot more than loose change in their pockets. They seek to relax in the alpine surroundings and to eat and shop in the small business friendly environment.
All of the above is good news for small outfits like Craft & Lore, whose handcrafted leather goods appeal to those who want a practical, handsomely built item and are willing to pay for quality. Two Coeur d’Alene retail shops carry Craft & Lore goods. And, its products are also sold at amen’s clothing store in Santa Barbara, California, and at a select goods store in Boston.
Store sales, however, are not their main focus, Von Lind pointed out. “The majority of our sales are online. We do online retail sales across the U.S. and around the world. About 7 percent of our products are shipped internationally.”
Besides hand sewn, artisan leather goods sold under the Craft & Lore label is a machine-sewn line sold under the brand, Folkland USA(https://folk.land). “By hand sewn, we mean products on which we used the hand saddle stitch. About 90 percent of our wallets, for instance, are hand sewn. About 10 percent of our leather goods are made under the Folkland brand. Craft & Lore products have a much bigger following and demand,” he said.
Folkland products include the Folkland Rolltop Ruck, made with water-resistant canvas duck and leather, or all leather, the Weekender, a canvas-leather or all-leather bag, and a canvas-leather Sling Pack.Depending upon materials used and style, prices for these bags and packs range from $310 to $600. The brand also offers smaller items, like leather notebooks and bifold wallets.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Craft & Lore leather goods embody an old world spirit that Von Lind admires — products made “with heritage quality and heirloom durability,” he said, of what has become a company mantra. But their signature distinction is design simplicity — sleek, contemporary and minimalist.
For example, their most popular product is the hand stitched, ultra-minimal Port Wallet. The U.S. steer hides used to make the wallet are sourced from Wickett & Craig, Hermann Oak, Tasman Leather Group and premium leather from Horween.Color choices are buck brown, dark brown, russet, natural, black and gray. The wallet, priced at $50, ships in about two business days.
“The Port Wallet put us on the map. It’s our number-one seller wallet. The design is original — a beautiful piece of leather that wraps around itself. It forces you to carry only what you need — your debit, insurance, ID and business cards, and a couple of bills of cash.
“We don’t need to carry cash. We’re coaching people away from the billfold concept,” he noted, referring to that traditional, bulky item jammed with stuff and shoved in a back pocket, where it could impact the user’s spine.
Yet, the workshop does not rule out the ubiquitous billfold. Their slim, compactly-designed Insider Wallet fits a front, back or jacket pocket. It “holds 12 cards comfortably,” according to the company website, and makes room for bills and biz cards.
That keep-it-simple concept extends to the shop’s basic design philosophy for other leather goods, like its rugged belts built from a single piece of thick cowhide.
The belts, offered in buck brown, russet and black, come in two basic styles: the Craft Belt ($95), made with thick, full-grain leather, and their best-selling Mountain Belt ($130), built with sturdier (13-ounce, ¼-inch) Hermann Oak Old World Harnessleather, hot stuffed with tallow for weather resistance and durability. A Craft & Lore customer, impressed with the Mountain Belt’s rugged construction, left the following website review, “. . . you could probably use it to tow a car.”
Belts come with a choice of brass or nickel belt buckles and hardware, sourced from Buckle Guy, an online, wholesale supplier of high-end accessories for the leathercraft market, based in Newburyport, Massachusetts (buckleguy.com). “We’re a fan of their designs. We like their rugged, antique finish on solid brass,” Von Lind said.
The only decorative element on the belts is a small maker’s mark embossed with an arbor press — a silhouette of a Swedish carving ax, with the company name discreetly placed beneath. For customer convenience, a belt-measuring guide is posted at the website.
Customer wait time for handmade products varies, depending upon the item. Wallets typically ship within three to five days; orders for a leather tote will be received in about two weeks. “Wait time for our briefcase, made English style with a flap, so it looks like a messenger bag, takes two months,” he said.
Product prices range from $45 for wallets to $1,500 for a hand-stitched, built-to-last, briefcase that take 16 hours to make. Small items, like their brass key hook and key chain, are under $25.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
Craft & Lore leather goods occupy a distinct niche. “We’re mostly a masculine brand. Our analytics say that 80 percent of our customers are men. There are not a lot of businesses dedicated to men,” Von Lind pointed out. “Men have a hard time dropping a hundred bucks for a belt. We do trade shows and oftentimes, a gal comes in dragging her partner and convinces him why he needs to buy a heavy-duty belt that lasts.”
Since most sales are made online, the company website is a major sales platform. On that score, Von Lind’s 10 years of professional, graphic and website design has been put to good use. The site, with its user-friendly layouts, personable descriptions, first-rate imagery and understated, earth-tone hues, aptly communicates the natural simplicity of Craft & Lore products.
For a tour of first-rate graphic design and fluent writing, the website is well worth a visit. Especially noteworthy is the Leather Options section, which details the characteristics of each kind of leather used in company products, including where the leather is sourced, how to care for it and photos. All in all, the leather reference is a great customer service and should help folks, not well versed in leather lore, to make better purchase choices.
Finding positive ways to get the word out has become more important now than ever, Von Lind noted. “Competition is growing. In the last few years, the handmade leather market flooded with people. It’s over-congested. A lot of guys (leatherwork businesses) disappeared. It’s not easy.”
Trade shows help supplement sales, but he selects events that fit his product line and customer profiles. For him, one rewarding venue is BAMARTfair: an arts and crafts festival hosted by the Bellevue Art Museum in Bellevue, Washington. “It’s in a wealthy location in the Seattle area. At that show, we do well with wallets, belts and bags, our canvas-leather back packs, duffle bags and totes.”
The canvas and cotton duck used in packs and bags are sourced from Fairfield Textile, based in Bridgeton, New Jersey (www.fairfieldtextile.com). “We’re slowly expanding into their lighter weight, waxed canvas to offer more products. It’s popular, so we want to dip into that product,” he said.
“We’ve been using water-resistant, ultra-thick, 24-ounce duck canvas – one of the thickest canvases that Fairfield sells. It’s a bear to work with, but for us the durability is amazing. You just know when you pick up a bag, it’s going to last a lifetime. The product sells itself. People are tired of our disposable culture, or plastics that end up in the ocean.”
Another show he enjoys is the Coeur d’Alene Annual Downtown Street Fair, held the first week in August. And, he does Issaquah Salmon Days, held on the first full weekend in October, in Issaquah, Washington. “It’s an hour outside Seattle — far up into the mountains. We do well there,” he said.
The shows, however, represent only a small portion of his business. “We’re always refining the trade shows we go to. Our focus is online selling. Trade shows are hard work and make for long weekends and sleeping in the car. We do it, if we know we make a certain amount of dollars.”
Craft & Lore products are also marketed via its online newsletter. “We send out email alerts about limited releases, new products and coupons. If you sign up for a newsletter, you get an immediate 10 percent discount on a product — a price incentive,” he said. To request a newsletter, browsers can subscribe to the newsletter at the footer of the website.
Overall, his biggest promotional tool is Instagram. “And, it’s our biggest surprise. We never expected it to be such a large part of our marketing,” he said. “On average we get 20,000 people, per image, posted at our Instagram profile. We have 75,200 followers. I take different photos of different products in different situations, to keep it fresh. I post at least once a day.”
Another positive way to promote products is with good branding, he advised. “Branding is how a business presents itself — how people perceive your brand. It’s all about establishing a vibe or ethos on what your brand is, and what it stands for.”
Customer satisfaction, however, is the foundation of all promotional efforts, he added. “Our reputation is important. We get a lot of online reviews. We want to convey an immediate sense of trust — that customers are getting something good and what they want. We bend over backwards and send a new product if there is ever a quality control issue.”
To encourage feedback, customers are sent an automatic email request to review their just-purchased product. “People want to read a review before they buy anything. About 50 percent of customers fill out the review form, within a couple of weeks after they bought the product.We get a lot of good feedback. That encourages us in what we do, and it helps discerning buyers make a decision.
“I’m certainly grateful for the success of Craft & Lore and still amazed that our brand is so well received,” he added. “We’re successful. The business completely supports me and my big family, and the two guys in the shop, full time.”
JOB-TESTED AT THE OIL FIELDS
Chad Von Lind, proprietor of Craft & Lore, a small leather goods company in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, spent his formative years in central California. In 2002,he graduated from Platt College San Diego, where he studied graphic design. Upon graduation, he moved to Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho, where he workedfor a small web design firm and also as a freelancer.
“I was looking for more open spaces and an alpine environment. I fell in love with northern Idaho,” he recalled. “I had family coming up with me. Mywife Carrie’s family trickled up here too. It was a group effort. My parents and four siblings live here.”
He continued working at web design for about 10 years. But by 2011, business was slow, and he felt that sitting in front of a computer was getting tiresome and lacked soul. “I wanted to work with my hands. I had looked at woodcarving and whittling.”
His leatherwork began soon after he bought an old German hunting knife. “It needed a sheath. I started talking to leatherworkers online. Next thing you know, I picked up a tool set from a hobbyist leatherworker. It clicked. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my hands. I got feedback from my family about quality. They all loved it, which added to the encouragement.”
In 2013, to boost his income, he took a job in a pump station at the booming Bakkenoil fields in Williston, North Dakota. “Our job was to separate salt water, a byproduct of fracking, from oil,” he explained. Then, in a decision that turned out to be a game-changer, he took his leather tools with him.
“I started making these tough leather belts. I ended up with a reputation. Drivers of oil and salt water trucks, who came through our pump station, saw the belts and began to order them. An oil field is like the Wild West. The work is full of stress — mud, salt, rain, freezing cold, winters. It’s so crazy,” he said, of the dangerous, harsh conditions that wore out work belts, boots and men.
“Next thing I knew, I had a whole month’s worth of orders.” He quit his job in November, came home to Coeur d’Alene and launched Craft & Lore. He started out by making leather goods on his kitchen table.
“I figured out the products, and was open for business by January 1, 2014. I never planned to do leatherwork as a livelihood. I figured it would be supplemental income — an outlet to be creative. By the first year, I didn’t have to do side work anymore. I was just doing Craft & Lore.”
FOR MORE INFO
Craft & Lore
Chad Von Lind, proprietor
3909 North Schreiber Way
North Coeur d’Alene, Idaho 83815
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com >craftnlore