by Liisa Andreassen
Inspired by the legend of the Lost Dutchman mines in Mesa, Arizona, Nate Walker, founder of Lost Dutchman Leather, named his burgeoning business after this mysterious locale located in the Superstition Mountains. About 15 minutes from his workshop, rumor has it that a man named Joseph Waltz hid a large amount of gold somewhere in the area. People search for it every year and while they may not find hidden treasure, they will find a leather craftsman worth his weight in gold.
Walker is a 21-year-old entrepreneur who started learning about handcrafting leather when he was 13. He saw a man selling handcrafted purses, dog collars, wallets and other accessories at a craft show and was looking for a hobby. He bought a starter kit from Tandy and seven years later has turned that hobby into a career. All of his learning was done via YouTube, leatherworking forums, etc., as well as reaching out to individual craftsmen with questions.
“Also practice. A lot of practice,” he says.
Walker says there are many in the field that he admires and respects, but that he really appreciates the work that Parker has done at Stock & Barrel, Ryan over at Little King Goods and of course, “the godfather of leatherwork, Mr. Clack of Odin Leather Goods.”
In 2017, Walker moved from Toledo, Ohio, to Mesa after his father, a Christian pastor, accepted a leadership position with a church. Walker was just 18 and freshly graduated from high school. He had started an Etsy shop before graduation because he wanted to take a year off before deciding what to do about college. He hoped to occupy his time and make some money doing what he loved – working with leather. During that time, business exploded and he hasn’t looked back.
“Etsy proved to be a great way to get my product line out there,” Walker says. “It was easy to set up.”
Lost Dutchman Leather products include hand-stitched notebook covers, wallets, bi-folds, card holders and key chains. Walker reports he makes about 100-125 products per week and his current lead time for products is about three weeks prior to shipping for made-to-order items. The vast majority of his orders are made-to-order products; ready-to-ship items are typically limited runs of unique leathers or testing new designs. Those releases usually sell out within one day.
Up until a month or so ago, Walker didn’t have a sewing machine and to date, he’s only played around with the new Techsew 4800 Pro and couldn’t be happier. He plans to incorporate machine sewing into a separate collection of goods eventually, namely handbags, but for now, everything is hand sewn. Many of his products are die-cut, which allows him to increase production while not affecting quality. From there until the end of the process, everything is done by hand – gluing, sanding the edges, punching the stitch holes, hand-stitching and applying a final burnish to the edges.
All leather is sourced from Wickett & Craig tannery, in Curwensville, Pennsylvania. It’s all full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather that is sourced and tanned in the USA. Five colors offered include russet, buck brown, olive, burgundy and black. And, he uses Ritza 25 “Tiger” thread to stitch all products. The thread is 100 percent polyester and lightly waxed, making it UV resistant and dependable, and customers can choose from a variety of thread colors – black, brown, caramel, gold, cream, navy, olive, bordeaux and red.
He makes his products in batches of about 30-40 pieces and tries to complete one batch every two days. Thankfully, he really loves what he does, so he says “it never feels like work.” In addition to crafting, Walker also manages all other aspects of the business. He enjoys the diversity and says he never gets bored because it’s like he has several different jobs.
“I’m not just a craftsman. I’m a social media manager, a web designer, a photographer and a business manager. Despite the long hours, it never gets monotonous,” he says.
Lost Dutchman Leather is currently operating as a sole proprietorship and Walker says that he’s still learning the business side of things. He’s relied on online resources and programs like QuickBooks and has learned to balance all aspects of the business.
“If I’ve been at the workbench all day, I’ll get up and shoot some product photos. If I’ve been on the computer for a few hours, I’ll go back to the bench. I like all the facets of running a business – except packing boxes. I can say that with certainty.”
What’s around the bend for Walker? He says he generally does not like to plan too far ahead, but he’s considering a brick-and-mortar shop. Right now, he’s renting workshop space from his parents, but is looking for more space and a more permanent home for the business.
“I absolutely love where I’m at right now and could see myself doing this for the rest of my life, but I also know that the entrepreneur in me loves new opportunities and adventures, whether that’s in the leather industry or a different field,” he says. “For now, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and assess the opportunities as they come. I’ll be needing to hire someone in the near future, but haven’t taken that leap yet. I like to take things one day at a time and see where that leads me.”
So far, so good.
Learn more and watch Walker make a wallet by hand here: lostdutchmanleather.com