John Bianchi: Innovator in Gunleather
John Bianchi’s passion for the West was sparked when he was a young boy. He and his father attended the Madison Square Garden Rodeo, the largest rodeo in the world at the time. It was after the show, that young John spied a belt, a western cowboy belt. His dad purchased it and John wore it all the time.
Read how the purchase of this leather belt turned into a lifelong career in the holster business.
Keeping up with success is their biggest challenge
In Springfield, Missouri, amid a sprawling network of streets, concrete office buildings and asphalt parking lots, is a long strip mall that might seem, at first glance, to be just a nondescript part of the urbanscape.
This site, however, happens to be the bustling, creative hub that is Springfield Leather Co. (SLC). Their eye-catching sign stretches above a long string of mall storefronts that make up its roughly 30,000-square-foot commercial space; a business quite distinct from the usual mix of boutiques, coffee shops and hair salons that you’d expect to find there.
And, displayed below that sign is the name of the company’s jewelry-and-rock- specimen supply division — Touchstone Beads.
Tres Outlaws in El Paso
The Road to California Leads to the City at the Pass
Scott Wayne Emmerich, current hombre-in-chief of El Paso’s Tres Outlaws Boots, set out on the California Road in search of silver and gold in 1980. The Pennsylvania native soon found himself drawn to the City at the Pass. In time, he would find his destiny and fortune intertwined with the West Texas town known as The Cowboy Boot Capital of the World.
Award-Winning Bob Klenda
They say first impressions are everything. My first impression of Bob Klenda occurred at the CSMA Winter Seminar, held at Burns Saddlery in January of this year.
The room was full of all levels of leather artisans; my seat was the stairs because all the chairs were taken – giving me a wonderful opportunity to observe the attendees.
My first impression of Bob Klenda was watching him attentively observing my son, Braydan Shaw, giving a presentation about business practices. Bob’s posture was erect, his attention undivided and he seemed to be soaking in every word, like a freshman at high school orientation.
At that moment, I thought, “Wow, I’ve got to meet this remarkable gentleman so graciously learning from a man nearly half his age.”
My instincts were spot on. I knew he was a remarkable leather craftsman; but in the three days that followed, I would come to know what an exceptional human being Bob is as well.
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of May’s issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our incredible Skill section, a how-to article on how to Spanish Plait Edge Braid. Contact Candace today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-565-6052.
A NICHE IN TIME
Smucker Harness is stitching its way to success by focusing on the carriage-driving market
The pocket-sized community of Churchtown, Pennsylvania (pop. 484), is one of those places you might drive right by, in a wink. But there, set along Route 23, amid a smattering of local businesses, vintage and modern homes and picturesque farmland, is the neat-as-a-pin, busy workshop that is Smucker Harness Co.
The small business, which produces first-rate, custom-hand built, equestrian show and pleasure harness, is owned and operated by skilled leatherworker Daniel M. Smucker. His 3,000-square-foot workshop is situated on the first floor of a three-story, metal-roofed building. “We’re just outside of Narvon,” he said, of the much larger community that is also part of Lancaster County’s celebrated Amish country.
Read the full story here.
The Future of Leathercraft Is Now David Walt, the FarmStrong Way
When I recently interviewed the venerable leatherwork artist Jim Linnell at his Elktracks Studio in Venus, Texas, he suggested that a better question than the ones I’d asked might be, “What will the future styles of leathercrafts look like? Who will continue the artform’s evolution into the next generation?”
One answer, Jim, is David Walt, 16, of Franklin, Tennessee, proprietor of his own leather business, FarmStrong. “I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands,” says David when asked what sparked the idea for the company. “But it really started in January 2017 when my pastor, Jason McAnally, and his wife had their first child and he couldn’t devote the time to his own leather business, Kindfolk. So he taught me some things, and I discovered I had a knack for it.”
Joey Jemison The Legacy of the Fort Worth Cutting Saddle
The 16-year-old bronc rider limped to the fence. He exited the arena and headed over to the stripping chute, loosening his borrowed chaps as he walked. He collected his bareback rigging and returned the “community” chaps to his friend who was about to ride. He reflected on how much simpler life would be if he had his own pair.
“I was ate up with wanting to rodeo,” remembers Joey Jemison.
Read how Joey’s hunger for rodeo led him to a career in building saddles.
Stallion Boot Company For the Love of Boots
The first year of the 1980’s was memorable for political drama, cable TV (which included the first 24/7 news channel), addictive video games and the movie release of Urban Cowboy. The movie would inspire a new generation of cowboy hat and boot enthusiasts that would forever change the western wear industry.
Pedro Muñoz’s venture into the fashion boot industry began that same year at the height of the Urban Cowboy craze.
“I was 23 years old, studying chemistry and biology, hoping to become a veterinarian,” he said. “There were two main industries in El Paso at the time – the jean business and the boot business. After Urban Cowboy came out, people wanted cowboy boots. I loved cowboy boots and thought the boot business in El Paso had great potential, so that’s what I did.” Stallion Boot Company was founded that year (1980) by Muñoz and his two partners, Jose Gallegos and Plutarco Rodriguez. “There were three of us, two master boot makers and me, a 23 year old, new at making boots. I had $2000, and that was borrowed,” laughed Pedro.
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of April’s issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on how to make spur straps. Contact Candace today at email@example.com or 435-565-6052.
International Sheepskin & Leather California Dreaming
It has been said that Los Angeles is the land of broken dreams. Fortunately that generalization doesn’t describe all of the dreams or the dreamers who live there. A case in point is a family business on the southeast side of Los Angeles. International Sheepskin and Leather is not just the culmination of any dream, but of the American one.
Read the full story here.
Elktracks to Venus: Jim Linnell’s Leather Art
Recipient of the 2002 Al Stohlman Award and the 2013 Master Leather Artisan award from the Academy of Western Artists, Jim Linnell has long been recognized as one of the field’s most talented and innovative artists. Today, retired after nearly 40 years with the Tandy Leather Company, he’s more active than ever, creating new work and teaching workshops around the country, online and at his Elktracks Studio in Venus, Texas, just south of Dallas.
Austin Artisan A conversation with custom cowboy bootmaker, Lee Miller
Virtually every day of the week, and even on Saturdays, you’ll find bootmaker Lee Miller leaning over a busy workbench in his Austin shop, Texas Traditions. He might be shaping toe boxes with a file, setting up lasts, sewing heel seats, drawing patterns or working at one of the hundreds of other operations that go into building custom cowboy boots.
Or, he might be coaching an apprentice on how to complete yet another intricate step in the craft, just the way he was once trained by legendary, fifth-generation boot master Charlie Dunn (1898 – 1993).
Find Texas Traditions on Instagram @texas_traditions_boots.
Douglas Krause My Muse
Douglas Krause graciously credits his many mentors throughout his long, successful career helping all realize the importance that others have in the making of an accomplished artist.
Follow him on Facebook at Krause Saddle Company.
Closing Its Doors: Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co.
For 67 years, Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co. played an important role as a supplier of new and rebuilt machinery and replacement parts for the shoe manufacturing and repairing industry. And, for a number of decades, it braved the sharp decline of the U.S. footwear industry, which began in the 1970s.
But by 2013, company president, Harris Feierstein, saw the need to relocate the Massachusetts business from Quincy to Woburn. “The industry shrunk to the point where, economically, it didn’t pay to maintain a 14,000-square-foot building (in Quincy) and all the equipment in it. I had to diversify to survive. I sold all the equipment and transferred only the essential parts,” he said.
For the past five years, the company no longer sold machinery for shoemaking and repairing. Instead, it specialized in replacement parts and in related items, like brushes, polishing wheels, needles and awls. His customers included a variety of other leather industries — makers of saddles, handbags, sandals and holsters.
But now, Feierstein, 79, is closing shop. “My doors will be shut in mid-April, 2018. I’m clearing out inventory. I’m selling it to machine companies, wholesalers and anyone else who wants to buy whatever they need. I’ve got approximately two-thirds of my inventory remaining. I still have a number of operating parts, and hard-to-find, new internal parts for primary machines, like Landis sole stitchers, Fortuna skivers and for 29K Singer patching machines,” he said.
Those affected most by Pilgrim’s closing will be shoe repair shops or diverse leatherworking businesses, here and abroad, who depended upon the company for hard-to-find parts.
“At any given time, I had over 20,000 parts, including many for real-old machines. So, it might only cost a business $500 to put an old machine back in operation. The only other option for that business was to spend $5,000 for a new or reconditioned machine,” he estimated.
One product line he had specialized in was replacement buffing and polishing wheels. “All the prior companies that used to represent those products, were no longer here in the U.S. I provided a definite service, mainly selling parts that people couldn’t get anywhere else, short of buying a new machine,” he said.
He acknowledged that a lot of new entrepreneurs are going into making their own footwear, saddles and all kinds of leather products. “And that’s a wonderful thing. But they buy only what they need, when they need it. That’s narrowed the field for whoever was left in the industry to absorb the bulk of the parts,” he said.
Pilgrim’s closing also marks the end of a two-generation, family business. Feierstein’s father, Julius Feierstein, founded Pilgrim in 1951. His son joined his father in 1956 and officially took over the business in 1997. His father died at the age of 92, in 2000. “He was working every day,” his son said.
Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co. was truly a survivor during the rapid decline in the U.S. shoe and repair industry.
“Twenty-five years ago, the shoe industry went overseas, including all the shoe machine equipment, which created a tremendous void in shoe machinery, in the U.S. That caused the importation of new, foreign machines. The industry in the U.S. dropped from approximately 600 shoe factories, down to 25, and the shoe-repair business dropped from 100,000 down to 6,000. At the height of the shoe industry, we employed 17 people, and today, I have two, plus myself,” he said.
“There is a lack of qualified mechanics to repair these machines,” he added. “There is no new American machine manufacturing for shoemaking or shoe repairing left in the U.S., today.”
He pointed out that people could buy a limited number of new machines in the U.S. And, they have the option of buying reconditioned American-made machines. “But, it’s getting harder and harder to find the replacement parts for older machines.”
Feirestein decided to close Pilgrim for both personal and business-related reasons. “I’m planning retirement, and I lost my wife, Janice, of 58 years, a month ago,” he said, this past January. “It’s not that I wasn’t going to close, but that made a final decision for me.”
He will miss many aspects of the business. “It’s a wonderful industry, something I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed — talking with people and resolving their problems,” he said. After retirement, he plans to travel and spend more time with his two grown children and nine grandchildren.
And, for at least a year after he retires, Feirestein said that he plans to help people who might have questions about locating parts for shoe repairing and manufacturing, if they email him.
Pilgrim Shoe & Sewing Machine Co.
150-V New Boston Street
Woburn MA 01801
2018 CSMA (Colorado Saddle Makers Association) Winter Seminar
Burns Saddlery graciously hosted the CSMA Winter Seminar at their manufacturing facilities located in Salina, Utah January 26-28th.
Artisans and craftsmen traveled from six different states to attend the fun, informative event. Burns’ 13,000 square foot manufacturing facility was transformed into a campus for higher-learning as the nearly 100 attendees came together to share knowledge, techniques, and friendship.
Braydan Shaw, 6th generation owner of Burns Saddlery, kicked off the event with an informative, interesting lecture on doing business as an independent entrepreneur after which Matt Wanner rounded folks up and took them into the saddle shop to give a hands-on demonstration on how to make a cell phone sheath, as seen in Shop Talk! Magazine.
After a tasty lunch, Trevor Alexander, assisted by Shane Deeter and Matt Wanner, gave a helpful demo on how to put a padded inlay seat in a saddle which was followed by a fascinating demonstration on braiding a cantle binding by Loren Skyhorse.
Closing out a busy, exciting first day, the attendees were treated to a delicious dinner (sponsored by Burns) at the local Firehouse, a block from Burns Saddlery. Outstanding food was prepared and generously furnished by Rochelle Horne, controller for Burns, along with Angie Shaw, Burns production office manager, Candace Jensen, Shop Talk! Magazine’s office manager and Susan Williams, Burns Saddlery’s manager.
Saturday’s seminar kicked off with a demonstration on covering a horn by Drew Holdaway, assisted by Trevor Alexander and Daniel Dudley.
After lunch, a fun hands-on floral tooled belt demonstration was given by Matt Wanner, Audrey Austin and Julia Clements. Over 60 people participated making their own floral tooled belt. This demonstration included lots of tapping, carving and hammering, as each person created their own belt out of leather donated by the hosts Burns Saddlery.
Saturday night, an amazing Chuck Wagon Dinner was graciously donated and prepared by master leather craftsmen, and outstanding caterer Jon Judd of San Rafael Works from Castle Dale Utah. He was assisted by his lovely wife Cindy.
After dinner, folks gathered back at Burns Saddlery to participate in a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament, where the winner Steve Morrison received a 20X Burns Custom Hat.
Sunday was a short day that included a full breakfast, a chance to finish belts and a lecture given by Bob Brenner about light weight saddles. He also made plans for members to build two saddles at the next CSMA Seminars.
2018 Spring Seminar
April 20-22, 2018
Travel Lodge Ball Room
Grand Junction, CO
Coordinator: Bob Bennett
2018 Fall Seminar
September 28-30, 2018
Castle Rock, CO
Coordinator: Brian Warner
Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum Opening
Elko Nevada was bustling early February and it wasn’t just due to the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. The excited anticipation of the opening of the new Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum also brought in some colorful characters. The museum, which was a two year labor of love, was the partnership of John and Susan Wright of J.M Capriola and NVEnergy with John’s mother, Paula in mind.
“Initially this was a dream of Paula’s. She knew that the building was Garcia’s home and shop. I’m just so pleased we could bring it to life in her honor,” John Wright said.
The museum is four doors down from J.M Capriola Co. in the old G.S. Garcia building in historic downtown Elko.
The museum building, at 542 Commercial Street, was once the center of the community where ranchers, miners and businessmen could appreciate the business G.S. had created. G.S. Garcia moved from California in the late 1800s to Elko where he immediately saw the need for exceptionally made gear in the Great Basin area. His gear quickly became some of the most sought after and recognizable gear on the market. Demands were high. In the early 1900s the family business moved back to California and stayed there until the 1970s when J.M Capriola acquired the business and brought it back to Elko.
The grand opening was nothing short of grand. The museum, which was filled wall to wall with visitors, was buzzing in awe and appreciation. “Everyone who walked in was touched. Doesn’t matter your age, this museum is truly for everyone,” Wright noted. As you walk through and see the many beautiful bits, spurs, saddles and other cowboy gear, much of the collection from the Garcia vault, you can’t help but smile at the American artistry that has inspired many today.
In the future, John and Susan hope to host gear building classes on the second floor of the museum. Wright says their goal is to “encourage and preserve the arts”. They hope to have saddle, bit and spur making classes, along with other trade classes that the museum’s audience appreciates.
You could find just about anyone among the crowd of folks who attended the event from the traditional cowboy to next-generation enthusiasts. Even the granddaughter of Garcia himself attended the event. You could even find The Outside Circle, a crew of musicians that celebrate the art of the cowboy lifestyle, who ended up playing a few impromptu tunes outside the museum.
Deemed the “guardians of tradition”, John and Susan emanated the feeling of gratitude towards all that helped bring this dream to life. That feeling brought collectors and artists together for their appreciation of this art and lifestyle. “Cowboys are never thought of as artists but most of them are… to the core!” exclaimed Wright.
The museum opening is not the beginning or end of an era but merely a continuation of the preservation and appreciation of the ranching and cowboy lifestyle. The crowd at the opening made that apparent. The current exhibit of Garcia memorabilia is one you shouldn’t miss. Many congratulations and thanks to the Wrights, NVEnergy and all who contributed in making this happen, continuing this wonderful piece of history and keeping ranching nostalgia present.
To donate to the museum please visit https://cowboyartsandgearmuseum.org
Cowboy Arts and Gear Museum
542 Commercial Street
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of March’s issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on how to paint a silhouette on leather. Contact Candace today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-565-6052.
Remington and Russell: The “Titans of Western Art”
If you are an art enthusiast, you no doubt know the names Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington. Coined “The Titans of Western Art”, the two turn of the century artists depicted life during that time in a way no other artist had done before.
Read the full story here.
Building Saddles for the Working Cowboy – Oliver Saddle Shop is the oldest, family-owned saddle maker in Texas
In these modern times, you might think that the iconic, working cowboy is fast becoming a rare breed. But, longtime saddle maker Richard Oliver, who owns and operates the Oliver Saddle Shop in Amarillo, Texas, has his own take on the subject. He and his small team specialize in building saddles for the working cowboy.
Fenoglio Boot Co.
In 2001, a handful of seasoned boot makers in Nocona and a few new faces bent on keeping the Nocona Boot company going, launched the Montague Boot Company. They opened their factory in the same brick building off Main Street where Enid Justin had started her famous boot business in 1925.
The Fenoglio Boot Co. is fast becoming a brand that not only locals, but all Texans and foreigners alike value for the fine materials and workmanship. The finest in Texas boots are once again being made in Nocona, Texas…the right way.
Barry King: Precision Tools for Precision Work
Over by a wall at the Boot and Saddle Makers Roundup, in Wichita Falls, Texas, there is a crowd gathered. Hats and shopping bags obscure what they’re looking at. It looks like the free sample cart at the local supermarket as the crowd hovers. If you push your way closer though, you can see craftsmen bent over, stamping pieces of leather. They carefully scrutinize their work, before selecting another tool from the bins of shiny merchandise. The sign on the booth reads: Barry King Tools.
Today, Barry builds tools in a 4800-square-foot shop with a storefront, in Sheridan. He has seven employees. Many of the tools are 100 percent handmade, while others combine computerized technology with handwork. The computers have actually raised the quality of the tools because they removed some of the “human error.” The CNC milling machines can hold to extremely high tolerances for a more perfect tool, but most of the stamping tools are still finished by hand –Barry does this work himself.
Leather Artist Turns Tinkering Into Career
He says he kind of stumbled into it, but now it’s become a full-time career. Sam Stuart, owner of Bar X Custom Leather in Lubbock, Texas, was recovering from a knee injury on his granddad’s couch, when he first started fooling around with some leather-making tools.
“My granddad was a simple cowboy. He built tack and always had tools and stuff laying around. I picked some stuff up just to entertain myself and before you knew it, I had made a belt, a wallet, etc. Friends started asking me to make stuff, and then I started getting calls from people I didn’t even know. It just kind of took off,” Stuart says.
That was about 11 years ago, when he was 19 years old. Eight years ago, he started the business on a part-time basis and then five years ago – made it into a full-time gig.
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of February’s issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on how to make a floral belt pattern. Contact Candace today at email@example.com or 435-565-6052.
What is a Legend?
Every so often, an individual artisan or business attains a sustained level of excellence so memorable, they become legendary. But what, exactly, gives rise to the kind of excellence found at the heart and soul of every legend? Is it a compelling ambition to win or a fierce sense of competition?
While thinking about all this, I remembered the time a friend surprised me by saying, “Competition does not produce excellence. Excellence produces excellence!”
That notion stopped my mind in its tracks. What could it mean? Doesn’t competition sharpen our edge? Push us past our limits? Turn our commonplace selves into winners? Well, it certainly helps. But now, with the passage of time, I realize that it’s not competition and winning alone that engender the state of excellence which creates an enduring legend.
Down deep, excellence appears to spring from a wholehearted desire to create something beautiful, lasting and superlative — for its own sake — not just to win, or to get rich or to step into the spotlight of fame; though those attractive conditions may come and be well-deserved. Excellence is born from the love and respect for a fine craft, art or enterprise, from the pure joy of those things.
The spirit of excellence somehow springs forth from the mire of materialism and the mundane. Striving for excellence opens our perceptions and inspires us to rise to new levels — attributes that are part and parcel of every genuine legend.
To attain the mountaintop of legendary status also takes a heap of talent. Getting there isn’t easy; it requires patience and often, long-suffering. Without those two humble companions, our genius for excellence would not survive the rough times. To be sure, the road to becoming an example of the best in one’s field will present many hardships and hurdles to overcome. A legend exemplifies resilience; prevailing for decades — even centuries.
And, a legend gives back. It’s a role model — something or someone we’d like to emulate. A legend stands for what is authentic, and therefore, resonates with what is deeply true within us. Rooted in a tried-and-true tradition, a legend also carries innovation, masterful skills and a high standard of quality forward — into our future. A legend leaves a legacy for the next generation.
This premiere issue of the annual Leather Legends aims to commemorate some of the highly respected, longstanding artisans and businesses in the leather industry. These are folks who, in their own way, embody the spirit of excellence and whose inspiring, exceptional work has survived the test of time.
— Lynn Ascrizzi
Don King The Man in the Center
They say that a good writer should never interject himself into his stories. They say a lot of things. When dealing with “legends” of the West, they say when the legend outshines the fact, print the legend. Only sometimes, you don’t have to and this is one of those times. Most of the story that I’m going to tell you came from Don King, in his own words, over a cup of coffee in 2005. The rest came from his friends who knew him best over the course of his life. And now, you’ll know him as well.
Read the rest of the story here.
Wheeler Boot Company 1960-2020
The Wheeler Boot Company has announced their retirement; they will be closing their doors in July 2020 and is now no longer accepting orders. How many companies do you know that have to quit taking orders nearly four years before they close their doors (due to the sheer volume of pre-paid orders)? This is the unique, inspiring story of such a company; a company that started in Houston, Texas, back in 1960 by the entrepreneur couple, Paul and Dorothy Wheeler.
For the Love of Fine Gloves
Dents has maintained its royal cachet and ‘absolutely top-end’ credo, for 240 years
When it comes to the making of fine leather gloves, you’d be hard-pressed to find a glover with the preeminence and royal panache that is Dents.
This small, luxury goods business, founded in 1777 by John Dent in Worcester, England, is quite possibly Britain’s oldest fashion manufacturer, a company meticulously crafting gloves of distinction since the days of that beleaguered monarch, King George III, who reigned during the American Revolution.
Today, Dents is a subsidiary of Dewhurst Dent, PLC, owned by Robert Yentrob since the mid-1960s. The company manufactures leather gloves and designs other accessories, such as leather handbags and wallets, classic hats and finely woven wool scarves.
Freedman’s Family Tradition
The worlds of leathercraft arts and equestrian culture are blessed with many a legacy enterprise. But few combinations of those worlds can boast a family tradition that goes back six generations and two centuries. In fact, there may be only one. David Freedman, of Freedman Harness in Toronto, traces his family business back to Warsaw, Poland. There, David’s great-great-great-grandfather, Mordechai Freedman, began crafting harness for Polish and Russian czars in 1802.
Wickett & Craig: Standing the Test of Time
Originally started in 1867 and based in Toronto, Canada, today Wickett & Craig calls Curwensville, Pennsylvania, home – making it one of only two remaining vegetable tanneries in the U.S. Located on more than 16 acres of land, the state-of-the-art facility produces 4,500,000 square feet of both light and heavy-weight leathers annually. The former are used to craft luxury goods like shoes, bags and belts, while the latter are used to make traditional equestrian gear including saddles, bridles and straps.
Chester Hape Passes
On November 23, 2017, legendary saddle maker Chester Hape passed away after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Born William Chester Hape, on March 3, 1935, Chester was raised in a ranching family around Sheridan, Wyoming. In the 1940’s, Chester hung out at Rudy Mudra’s saddle shop in Sheridan. He was fascinated by the leatherwork, and began trying to tool leather at the age of twelve. By the time he was sixteen, he was making belts and purses, and he considered himself a “fairly decent” tooler. He rode bareback broncs and roped calves in his late teens. In 1955 Chester joined the army, and was stationed in Germany as a paratrooper with the Eleventh Airborne. He developed a love for flying and jumping, as well as physical fitness and running in the service.
In 1958, Chester went to work for Lloyd Davis in his saddle shop. In 1959, Chester married Wanda, and went to work for Otto Ernst Saddlery for $1.75 an hour. Chester was just doing tooling for Ernst, but he met a young saddle maker named Don King, who was building saddles for Ernst. Don tutored Chester in saddle making, and Chester built two saddles under his guidance. Soon Chester was building saddles for the Ernst Shop.
In 1963, Chester went out on his own. He fixed up an old chicken barn on his dad’s ranch, and built saddles for himself, as well as doing piecework for Don King. In 1963, Chester got the contract to build the trophy saddles for the Northwest Ranch Cowboys Association. This was followed, in 1976, by a contract with the PRCA to build their trophy saddles. This continued for fourteen years, and allowed him to make fancy, fully carved, and silver mounted saddles which were seen and noticed by many people outside of Wyoming.
Eventually, according to Chester, the PRCA became more “bottom line” oriented.
“I couldn’t give free saddles like some of the bigger companies could, so it was time for me to get out,” said Chester.
Chester had made a name for himself with the beautiful, intricate, Sheridan style tooling that he did. He became inundated with orders for gift items. As busy as he was in his shop though, Chester continued to run a Hereford cow calf operation for many years.
“I could build saddles all night, and bale hay all day, if I had to,” said Chester. He always felt that his experience on the back of a horse gave him an advantage in building saddles. “It’s like a guy who builds race cars but doesn’t know how to drive.”
After his kids were grown, Chester took swimming lessons, and found that he enjoyed that. Originally his goal had been to run triathlons, but he developed a new love for windsurfing. For almost two decades Chester “chased the wind” from the Columbia River Gorge, to places like Venezuela, The Dominican Republic, and Maui.
When problems with his hands and eyes started hampering his saddle work, Chester quit because he didn’t want to turn anything out that was less than a hundred percent.
He is survived by his three children, Camille, Juanita, and Wayne, and a sister, Jackie. He will always be remembered by those of us in the leather community for his contributions to the Sheridan style of leather tooling.
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of January’s Leather Legends issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on making a gun holster. Contact Candace today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-529-7484 Ext. 470.
A Q&A with Odin Clack of Odin Leather Goods
When Odin Clack, founder and owner of Odin Leather Goods in Dallas, Texas was asked ‘Why Leather?’ he said, “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.”
Since Odin graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in marketing and branding, that last statement rings very true to him. Read the rest of his story here.
It is interesting to learn what inspires and influences young entrepreneurs. How they let go of their security blanket (9 to 5 job) and take the plunge into the unknown to start their own company / brand .…without funding, just using their hands and vision to create unique products. Believing in something so strongly that they are willing to banish their doubts, throw caution to the wind and follow their hearts.
This story is about Erin and how she left a good paying job to pursue that burning desire that lay deep within her soul. A desire to create products with her head, her heart and her hands; products that would endure and get better with age, that would sustain the journey they were taken on by the people who invested in their quality.
The Awl Snap Company began in 2008 inside Erin’s tiny apartment in Richmond, Virginia. Erin was previously working in an industry which sold cheap, plastic logoed products to big corporations; she soon realized she needed more meaning and purpose in her life than this job that was slowly beating her down. So after years of selling plastic products which would flood the landfills, Erin, like many millennials, found herself recycling as much as she could, shopping for vintage and handmade quality products and sacrificing some of her fast-fashion habits to invest in products that would last.
Dave Munson and the Coolest Bag Ever The Story of Saddleback Leather
Dave Munson’s journey as a twenty-eight-year-old youth pastor led him to Mexico to teach English to disadvantaged children. He soon realized his half-mile walk to the school every day required a backpack to tote all his books through the streets of Morelia. Unfortunately, Dave’s search in local markets left him empty handed longing for the perfect bag.
He happened to run onto a small leather shop that built bags, since the early 1800’s in fact. Dave sketched out his dream bag and within no time, he had it… the coolest bag ever! And so began the Saddleback Leather story.
Creative Leathercraft with Oregon’s Walnut Studiolo
“Necessity,” decreed the Greek philosopher Plato, “is the mother of invention.”
That Plato was a pretty smart guy. He made that observation some 2,400 years ago, and it still holds water today. Geoffrey Franklin, a native of the Portland, Oregon area, now based on the state’s coast, underscored that wisdom back in 2008 when he started riding his bicycle to his job as an architect. Finding himself in need of some leather handlebar wraps like he’d seen in a book about vintage Italian bikes, but unable to find anything like them on the market, Geoffrey created his own.
Then the economy went south and Geoff got laid off. His wife, Valerie Franklin, posted some of Geoff’s creations on Etsy and they were delighted by the immediate indications that there was indeed a market for handmade, leather bike accessories. The business grew and today they run it fulltime, working out of a home office and garage workspace.
Pendleton Leather Show Connects U.S. Suppliers to Northwest
The sixth annual Pendleton Leather Show proved to be a fun weekend for all. Held during the first weekend in November at the Pendleton Convention Center in Pendleton, Oregon, people gathered to learn new skills, hone old ones and to compete in the Roughout Saddle Contest.
“We’re happy to say that this was our best year yet for attendance and vendors,” says Vandy Douglas, the event’s coordinator. “We had about 800 in all.”
Douglas says that they started producing the show in 2012. Prior to that it was organized by Ferdco Sewing Machines and was started approximately 20 years ago by the Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal. The purpose of the show is to unite suppliers form all over the U.S. with customers in the Northwest.
Leather-friendly town; leather-friendly classes
Historically, Pendleton is a leather-working town and also home to one of the best PRCA rodeos in the country. It’s a very leather-friendly town and has at least five leather/saddle shops – and that’s just in the downtown area. According to Douglas, Hamley’s and Severe Brothers are the most famous.
“We’ve revitalized the show with the help of the Pendleton community and leather industry,” Douglas says. “Hamley’s hosts a reception for all of our participants at their historic Slickfork Saloon. There’s live music and a fabulous Western atmosphere.”
The Pendleton Leather Show consists of classes beginning Thursday of the show week and continues throughout the show. Classes cover basic subjects like basket stamping to more elaborate projects like tooling and painting iPad cases decorated with ospreys and trout.
For example, classes included:
- Basics of design and engraving by Nevada Watt
- Braiding an eight strand kangaroo bracelet by Beaner Flaten
- Fundamentals of sharpening tools and swivel knives by Paul Zalesak/On the Edge
- iPad case decorating with tooling and paint by Annie Margarita
- Sewing machine fundamentals by Leather Machine Co.
- Tooling and painting leather boxes and notebook covers by Ed LaBarre
The Roughout Saddle Contest is an event highlight. It’s the only contest of its kind with a comprehensive and extensive scoresheet that was created just for this event. The scoresheet is designed to provide immediate and specific feedback to the entrants so they can improve their work accordingly.
This year’s expert judges were: Pedro Pedrini, Randy Severe and Conley Walker. Each contestant paid a $150 entry fee to enter one of two categories – novice for those who have built less than five saddles; and open for everyone else.
Door prizes and raffles were popular with the crowd too. People have a chance to win “Leather Dollars,” which are $100 vouchers that can be spent with any vendor at the trade show. Gift baskets and hand-tooled leather items were among the prizes. Tandy Leather, Frogjelly Leather, Leather Wranglers, Bee Natural Leathercare, The Turquoise Arrow, Richard Stapleman Boots all donated door prizes.
Planning for the 2018 show has already begun.
“We may even have a new exhibit of hand-crafted Western items that we’re very excited about,” Douglas says. “But we’re keeping that under wraps for a few months until we work out the details. We’ll also be working to attract more saddle makers for the contest and plan to use all the integrated classrooms to their fullest. Every year we add a little more to the show and every year we strive to make it the best show yet.”
For more information, visit: www.pendletonleathershow.com.
Roughest Saddle Contest Winners
Novice 1st Place
Novice 2nd Place
Open 1st Place
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of the December issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on making a molded cell phone holder without a pattern. Contact Candace today at email@example.com or 435-529-7484 Ext. 470.
Lisa & Loren Skyhorse: Humanitarian Saddle Makers
Trying to find one title that best describes the Skyhorse’s is impossible. Loren and Lisa Skyhorse are a rare husband and wife saddle-building team that create out-of-this-world leather masterpieces. Once you meet and spend time with them, you will never think of them as just saddle makers; they are truly multi-talented, cosmic human beings. Lisa and Loren were given the “Skyhorse” name by Native Americans and adopted into their culture, as a gifted exchange for all the service and kindness they’ve rendered towards indigenous people around the world.
Bobby Woodward Earthly Connection
Most artisans strive to unfold and create a signature style that gives their work a special identification. Perhaps a bold stroke, soft lines, a special finishing touch… some sort of embellishment that will immediately identify the creative maker. Bobby Woodward has achieved a signature style through hundreds of feet of kangaroo lace and fine gemstones – gemstones that he and his beautiful wife, Kathryn, source and cut. The gemstones become cabochons that are perfectly hand bezeled with braided leather lace, to create the signature look of a Bobby Woodward bag.
Check out Bobby’s creations at www.bwleathers.com.
Leddy’s A True Texas Legend
Folks from Hollywood to the Grand Ole Opry, the White House and the chic sheikdoms of Qatar have been known to wear custom-made Leddy boots. And thousands of ranchers and working cowboys have something in common with folks like Prince Charles and former NFL quarterbacks Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. They all ride Leddy saddles.
Learn more about this legendary company by visiting www.leddys.com.
Nettles Country: Stirrups for Every Foot
Ronnie Nettles’ legs were bothering him. His narrow oxbow stirrups, the norm for cutting horse trainers in the 1980’s, were rubbing on his shins. It probably wouldn’t have bothered a guy who just had one horse to ride, but as a cutting horse trainer at the top of the game, Ronnie had a barn full of horses to work every day. And this is the beginning of Nettles Stirrups.
Learn more about Ronnie and his company at www.nettles-stirrups.com.
Rodeo World Champions The Best Beget the Best
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) is the largest and oldest rodeo-sanctioning body in the world; “world champion” is the most coveted title in Pro Rodeo. The sport’s world champions are crowned at the conclusion of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) presented by Polaris RANGER, based on total season earnings at PRCA rodeos across the continent, including monies earned at the Wrangler NFR. The PRCA crowns eight world titlists; each receives a gold buckle and a specially-crafted trophy saddle.
To learn more about the 2017 NFR visit www.nfrexperience.com.
Courts Saddlery Closes
Kathy Court of Court’s Saddlery in College Station, Texas, recently announced that the historic business will close its doors by the end of November. Established in 1956 by Tony and Zella Court, Court’s Saddlery was unique in that the ownership had remained in their family for over fifty years of operation. They also enjoyed an excellent reputation in the western wholesale business, furnishing products and supplies to many other saddle shops and stores. At one time Court’s had a traveling salesman who would call on saddle shops and bring them supplies. In the roping world, the Dee Pickett Roping Saddle demonstrated how an endorsement could be successful, and the saddle has been ridden by many ropers over the years.
On January 9, 2011, a fire burned the venerable saddlery to the ground. The only building left standing was the one that housed the nylon products. Included in the complex of destroyed buildings were the offices with all of Court’s records. Within a few months they were operating out of temporary buildings. The old buildings had been grandfathered into to the new zoning regulations. Now they could not rebuild on the original site. Still, over the next few years they rebuilt their business on a different site.
“I don’t think we ever recovered completely from the fire” said Kathy. “That was really devastating, and it was like starting a brand new business all over again. We gave it 100 percent but I don’t think we ever completely recovered.”
Kathy also feels the way in which the market has changed and the rise of internet retailing really affected their business. Court’s found it hard to compete with internet sites that didn’t require a brick and mortar store to operate out of. Unfortunately this seems to be where many younger customers are shopping these days. Jimmy and Kathy Court had been involved in running the business since 1974. Many of their employees have been with the business for forty years. Kathy said that most of them have been finding jobs and were encouraged to leave when they did. Jimmy and Kathy’s son, Tony plans to continue his own custom saddle business.
Court’s Saddlery leaves behind a void that won’t be filled in the memories of those of us in the leather industry.
Yee-Haw! Another Great ‘Roundup’
Leather goods were flying at the 2017 Annual Boot & Saddlemakers Trade Show
To Kathy Kimmel, the Annual Boot & Saddlemakers Trade Show, held in Wichita Falls, Texas, shines a welcoming, bright light on her long, leatherworking career.
“I consider it a blessing in my life,” she said, of the popular event that she and her husband Eddie have co-organized for 29 years. “I love it! The closer I get to show time, the more energy I get. I love the whole idea that people in the business can get in touch with each other. I love the vendors. It’s nice to see them meet with customers, one on one. At the show, you can do business and get to see friends.”
After the showgoers head for home, however, she misses all the fun and excitement. “I’m let down when it’s over,” she said. But then, there’s always next year!
Kimmel and her husband co-own Kimmel Boot Company, in Comanche, Texas. They bring to the show a ton of experience and a hometown touch that fosters a sense of community between custom leatherworkers and vendors.
The two-day trade show, also known by the boot and saddle crowd, as the “Roundup,” was held this year on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 6 – 7. The event, set once again at the Wichita Falls Multiple Purpose Event Center (MPEC), attracted about 1,100 attendees, not counting the vendors, Kimmel said.
The roughly 42,000-square-foot show area that the Kimmels provide, allows exhibitors plenty of exhibit and storage space, plus room to hold free teaching seminars — sessions where folks can pick up, in an informal and relaxed setting, expert, how-to leatherworking tips, such as, “pegging and stacking heels” “crimp boards and lasts,” “leather carving,” “economics of a one-man boot shop,” and “fitting the customer’s foot.”
This year’s lively event drew about 60 vendors. For leatherworkers, the Roundup is a great place to find thousands of must-have products under one roof — fine leathers, saddle trees, boot lasts, hand tools, hardware, findings, stitchers and other machines, steel cutting dies and clickers, silver buckles, conchos and trim, and plenty more.
“Leather was flying out of there, and the Leather Machine Co. (of Ontario, California), sold half of their inventory,” said one enthusiastic participant. “It was reassuring for the industry and exciting to witness. It was also good to meet some of the incredible saddle and bootmakers from the Midwest and South. They were so humble and kind — wonderful people. The crowds were good and everyone seemed happy to be there.”
Kimmel gave a big nod to the vendors. “Without their support, there would be no show,” she said.
RECOGNIZING THE TALENT
Besides helping to promote the custom leather industry, the Boot & Saddlemakers Trade Show nurtures a deep sense of pride and appreciation for the extraordinary set of skills involved in handcrafting leather. This gratitude is given expression each year, through its boot and saddle contests.
The saddle contest was organized this year by Pebble Brown, co-owner with her husband, Robert Brown, of Brown’s Custom Leather. The Browns literally live and work in Paradise — a small city in northeastern Texas, home to about 460 souls.
“It really is paradise,” she said. “We like to think so. I do the boot tops; he does the bottoms, to make sure they fit. We’ve been running full time for about two years. We have three grown kids and five grandchildren. Our son, Patrick, comes and helps when we get behind,” Pebble Brown said.
Their shop typically makes holsters and gun belts. “We don’t make saddles. We repair them. We’re the only repair shop for miles, and folks come from far away,” she added. Their business keeps their workshop tools humming, which include top and heavy stitchers, a curved needle machine (for attaching soles), finishers, burnishers and a post machine (for lacing boots). “We guarantee our boot repairs are out in a week. On other stuff, like saddles — it’s three weeks. I also repair purses and horse blankets.”
They buy a lot of leather at the trade show — “exotic stuff, like ostrich,” she said. “If you order online, or call, you don’t get to see what the leather you want looks like. There are so many different textures. We’re spending a lot on exotics, so we want to make sure we get the best we can. We do most of our shopping for the year at the show.”
The Browns have been coming to the Roundup for about 20 years. “It gives us a chance to get out of the shop and visit with people. We get a couple of days off. People are of the same mindset. We learn a lot of new things,” she said.
Master bootmaker Mike Vaughn, owner and operator of Mike Vaughn Handmade Boots in Bowie, Texas, honchoed the boot contest. “I kind of feel like there’s a lot of camaraderie in the boot and saddle industry,” Vaughn said, reflecting on the high level of good-natured cooperation at the show. “And, you get to visit vendors face to face, instead of over the phone.”
Besides coordinating the boot contest, Vaughn, a bootmaker for 37 years, took time out to do a little shopping. “I bought another piece of equipment — another top stitcher machine — a Singer. I also got a lot more hand tools, like edgers and knives, from Bob Douglas of Sheridan, Wyo. And, I bought some calfskin from Greg Carmack of Carmack’s Custom Boots, of Waco, Texas.
“I really enjoy seeing all these guys and gals. The show is a good opportunity to see other people’s work. It never hurts to look at someone else’s boots and to critique yourself. If you’re struggling, you can pick other people’s brains, if what they’re doing looks better than what you’re doing. . . . Pretty much everybody I know there will sit down and help you,” he said.
Vaughn observed, however, that bootmakers are in danger of becoming a rare breed. “Without a doubt, there needs to be more young people in the custom bootmaking trade. That’s why a lot of us have a backlog of orders! In today’s world, everybody wants instant gratification. It takes years to learn bootmaking. You can’t learn it in two weeks. I’m 52. There’s probably only a handful of bootmakers that I know who are in their 50s. Most are in their 60s to 80s. We need more young ones in their 20s and 30s. That group is getting really, really small,” he said.
Pebble Brown, 50, agreed. “Not as many people know the trade, as there used to be,” she said. But, she also sees encouraging signs. “There were quite a few ‘kids’ among the saddle contest entries. Twenty-somethings. Probably half the entries were younger people. One of the young men who entered the contest was interested in the older type saddles — like the ones made in the late 1800s to early 1900s, especially, the high-back saddles,” she recalled.
KUDOS TO CONTEST WINNERS
The following is a list of the 2017 winners of the Boot & Saddle Contest, held this fall at the Boot & Saddle Trade Show in Wichita Falls. Altogether, eight bootmakers and 18 saddlemakers took part in the two contests. An awards program was held Oct. 7, on the last day of the show. The entries were not judged by contest coordinators. Instead, three anonymous judges were selected.
The journeyman and open division winners listed below were awarded an engraved, trophy buckle. Winners in the intermediate class were awarded plaques.
- Journeyman Boot — Billy Cannon, Blakely, Ga.
“There are always new bootmakers coming in, which is why you have the journeyman division for people who make 15 pairs of boots a year, or less,” explained master bootmaker and contest coordinator, Mike Vaughn.
- Intermediate Top Stitching — Alan Franklin, Mineola, Texas.
“This division was created several years ago. It’s for those fresh out of the journeyman class, who can’t compete against people with 30 to 35 years experience. I remember when I first competed, there was no such class. I had to compete against the guys doing it all their lives,” Vaughn recalled.
- Intermediate Working Cowboy Boot — Matt Hopson, Bowie, Texas.
- Open Top Stitching — Carl Chappell, St. Jo, Texas.
“The open category is for bootmakers who have been making boots for a living for many years. It’s a professional division,” Vaughn said.
- Intermediate Dress Boot — Jim Brainard, Parker, Colo.
- Open Dress Boot — Edwin Boche, Burleson, Texas.
“Dress boots are those that might be worn with a suit or slacks. They might be made with exotic leather and have a little more ornate work or inlays,” Vaughn explained.
- Shop Boot — Tejas Custom Boots, Houston, Texas.
“The shop boot division is for folks who have more than one person working in their workshop. All the other boots were made by one bootmaker. There was no master bootmaker category this year, because we only had one entry,” he said.
Winners were awarded engraved belt buckles.
“This is my second year of running the saddle contest,” said coordinator Pebble Brown. “We’re trying to build it back. Last year, we had 12 saddlemakers enter the contest — this year, 19. Next year, we’re planning to send everybody a newsletter and take more time to get entries.”
- Working Cowboy — Pete Matherne, Houma, LA
“This division is for heavy-duty, well-made saddles that can withstand all kinds of everyday use and cattle working — a good saddle to rope off a calf or do whatever work a cowboy needs to do,” Brown said. The saddle can have tooling and design,” she added. “Matherne’s was the sturdiest saddle. Everything he incorporated into the design fit together well.”
- Geometric Design— Junior Miller, Junior’s Custom Saddlery, Millersburg, Ohio.
“Geometics use stamping tools. You have to get the stamp lined up exactly, and some of the tools are complicated. Basket weave and meander tools require planning, to get the stamp to do what it’s supposed to. You don’t just hammer and stamp. You can get frustrated real easy if you mess up while doing something important. Miller’s geometric designs were very striking,” Brown said.
- Open Floral Design — Mike Eslick, Mountain View, Okla.
“Those entering this division could use any floral design they choose and also incorporate a little geometric design if they wanted, say, for a border. The majority of the floral designs, like the Sheridan, are commonly seen. Eslick’s design was original and unique, not a flower that everybody does. He designed it himself.”
- Novice — Russ Gottlob, Diamond G. Leather, Winfield, Kan.
“The novice category is generally a class of people in their 20s to mid-30s, who are starting out,” Brown said. His (Gottlob’s) was a working saddle, put together very well. The overall appearance was good, and it was built like a working saddle needs to be built.”
Boot & Saddle Makers Trade Show
Kathy and Eddie Kimmel
Kimmel Boot Co.
2080 CR 304
Comanche, TX 76442
Fax: (325) 356-2490
Mike Vaughn Handmade Boots
Bowie, TX 76230
Shop: (940) 872-6935
Cell: (940) 867-2173
Brown’s Custom Leather
Pebble & Robert Brown
1820 County Road
Paradise, TX 76073
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of the November issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on drawing a basic floral layout. Contact Candace today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-529-7484 Ext. 470.
Little’s Boots Custom Bootmakers since 1915
Little’s Boots is a 100-year-old family business with “heart and sole.” Building the highest quality boots, with four generations of family boot makers, Little’s is in an elite group of legacy bootmakers. As the 86-year-old, 3rd Generation owner Dave Little states, “That’s why you don’t see many small custom boot houses; most of them eventually either get bought out or decide to go into larger production to survive, and that is when you lose the quality.”
Read about the remarkable legacy of Little’s Boots by following the link below.
Walsall Hardware Marketing for the New Millennium
Walsall Hardware has a long history in the industry, one that stems back to the 1930’s. Over time the company has evolved and grown and recently purchased an adjoining building and built a “virtual” retail store. With over 30,000 items to choose from, you’re sure to find what you need from Walsall Hardware.
Troy West and the Thunder Beast
“The Traditional Cowboy Arts Association encourages us to be creative and innovative,” says Azle, Texas-based saddle maker Troy West. “That’s especially true for the annual Cowboy Crossings exhibition held at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City. They want us to push the envelope. Think outside the box. Do something that’s not been seen before.”
Check out the rest of Troy’s TCAA pieces online at the site below and follow him on his Facebook page to see what he is up to.
Museum of the Cowboy A California Legacy
In the gentle rolling hills on the outskirts of Santa Ynez, California, is one of the best kept secrets of the American West. If you follow a residential street to where the sidewalk ends, you will find that transition point where the West begins. Here, in an otherwise typical, rural California home, resides one of the largest private collections of “cowboy gear” in the country.
If you’d like to see the fabulous collection by appointment, call Jim or Linda Grimm at 805-688-6572.
Horse Slaughter Ban is Lifted
Below is a letter James Cox, owner of Moser Leather Company sent to the Trump Transition Team on behalf of the leather industry on November 11, 2016. He would like to share it with the Shop Talk! community in light of a recent lift on a ban that will allow horses to be slaughtered at meat processing plants in the U.S. again. The horse slaughter ban has mostly been in force for more than a decade. The ban is enforced by blocking the Agricultural Department from providing inspectors at meat plants that slaughter horses and is in place through September 30. There are no horse slaughter facilities operating the in U.S. at this time.
Congratulations on your win Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence! I campaigned heavily for you in my area, as well as many of my friends. We are businessmen, and feel that your team will implement policies to unleash the American Machine again, like Reagan did years ago. I do have some concerns about your possible trade policy that I would like to share, as well as some other points I would like to make.
I purchased what was left of a tannery back in 2002. We are now contract tanners. What that means is that we contract with companies here in the USA, as well as in Mexico to do our tanning. Most of the hides that we process in Mexico are USA hides that are sent there for processing, and then sent back here to be finished into a better product. What we do in Mexico is make a natural vegetable tanned product. This product is then brought back here and either colored, or hot stuffed with oils and waxes to make it an upgraded product for further manufacturing. We sell this leather to other companies for further manufacturing into belts, holsters, saddles, personal leather goods, upholstery, etc. Our leathers are used as components in many products. Sometimes the customer buys them in the natural state and does their own coloring or finishing; either way it is an important component in the process. I think if you are putting a duty on any import items, especially from Mexico and Canada (those in the Nafta agreement), that you should put an exemption on products that are considered a component. Whether this be a cut part, or a raw material that needs further processing, to be finished into a product. Because of the EPA regulations, there are only two all-vegetable tanneries left here in the United States. That being said, if the duty goes into place, the many other leather companies like our own that do finish work, or are distributors will be at a disadvantage. These two tanneries may not be able to keep up with the demand of industry. We provide a great service, and employ as many people as we can. We subcontract with many companies here in the USA for our cooperative efforts to provide leather to many small and large manufacturers here in the states. We work with chrome tanned tanneries here in the USA, who have upgraded their effluent and treatment systems to EPA standards (at their own expense), and help to keep many people employed at these companies. I have been to other countries where the government works with tanneries to build treatment plants that meet the standards for health and safety, and these governments actually help to share in the cost of those facilities instead of putting the cost on the tannery. This is the reason many of our own tanneries went out of business back in the 80’s. We are a small company, but we are holding on, and hope that you can get money back into the pockets of Americans to help spur our industry. Many of our products are paid for by people that have some disposable income. We have seen a decline in this due to the lack of good paying industrial manufacturing jobs. This is also shrinking to many degrees because of imports from China, India, and Pakistan on finished products especially in the horse and saddle industry. There are basically no duties on products coming over from those countries to the extent that belts, bridles, saddles, etc. are sold for a 1/3 of what it would cost us to buy the leather, fabricate a product, and have a decent markup here in the USA. This is where a duty would be most appropriate, finished products… not components or components subject to further processing like tanned leather. I would make myself available to your administration for any advice that I could give on the subject. I have been in this business for over 35 years myself, and my family many years before that. We not only sell our own leather, but we represent most of the tanneries in the industry, and sell leather and machinery for them through auctions and trade shows that we host for the industry. We do our best to sell and promote leather.
One of the other things that really hurt this industry and you could change for the better, is the Rule in place that does not allow any human consumption of horse meat in the USA, and the subsequent fall out of slaughter plants killing for this purpose. Lindsey Graham sponsored the law, which President Bush let go through. I am sure it was attached to something that was needed to pass at the time, or he would not have allowed it to happen. The humane society had filed lawsuits because they thought that horses were being handled cruelly. While I am sure this has happened on occasion, it is no worse than what has happened since this rule went into effect. When horses were being slaughtered here in the USA, there were sale barns all across the country that people in each of those regions could bring their horses there to sale. What this did, was create a market where people would buy horses for their own personal use, showing, working, etc., and in many cases rescuing them from the killer market buyers that were at each of those auctions. The killer buyers created the base price, which propped up the overall horse market. The personal buyers would pay more. This created an overall good market for the horse industry. Every time someone buys a horse for personal use, then they need a saddle, saddle accessories, jeans, boots, cowboy hat, spurs, shirts, etc. – the list goes on. Since this rule has gone into place, there has been a collapse in the market place. There are no longer localized auction barns… most of them has closed. There are very few killer buyers, because now, the horses are being trucked to Del Rios Texas, to a slaughter house in Aquina Mexico. This has created jobs for Mexicans, who are now exporting the meat to France, etc. There needs to be a killer market, as well as horse meat packers here in the USA to create jobs here, and bring the horse market back… which helps all of us in the industry. As a result of this ruling, the horse market has collapsed and people do not have a place to sell their horses for a profit. If they need to get rid of them because of a broken leg or some other problem, then there is no one wanting these animals anymore. Many times people are just turning them loose because they cannot afford to keep them, and the demand has went way down for anyone to take them. The horse dealers would have to feed them, and get them out west to an acceptable market in another country. Most of the localized horse dealers have quit selling horses because there are fewer places to buy them, thus creating a lower demand/prices for animals overall. Turning a horse loose to starve to death, is more cruel than transporting to a market!! Here is a link of some of the things we are currently up against, including the names of a couple of meat packers trying to do business here in the USA. Keep in mind, the hides at these packer plants can be used to produce leather here in the USA. Horween Tanning in Chicago, IL produces Cordovan… which is horse leather. Here are the links:
Moser Leather Company
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of the October issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on how to clean and oil a saddle. Contact Candace today at email@example.com or 435-529-7484 Ext. 470.
Chicago’s Last Tannery: Still Thriving After 112 Years
Horween Leather, a 112-year-old company, is both a hide processing and finishing tannery. “We bring hides in the raw and process them here. There are not many tanneries that do that, the whole way through” Skip Horween said.
Read about how this same-family owned company has withstood the test of time and the U.S. tannery exodus.
Peter Hoffman Creating a Brand
When you visit with Peter Hoffman you instantly know he is very passionate about his business. He dedicates 100% of himself to its success. He is single with no children, so 100 hours a week he takes care of his baby – his brand.
Martin Saddlery: They Know the Ropes
Martin Saddlery is located in Greenville, Texas and originally focused on the opportunity in the marketplace to produce saddles and strap goods for retailers. Equibrand, Martin Saddlery’s parent company, considers Martin Saddlery to be a custom saddlery, and many of their customers are high-end saddle shops. Martin makes their own saddletrees, uses Herman Oak Leather, real sheepskin and controls all levels of production. Countless options are available.
The Bold New World of High-Tech Fabrics
Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI) is a not-for-profit organization that is member-driven and member-owned. It is the largest textile organization in the world. In existence for 104 years, it invests more than $8 million annually to advance the industry and to support member companies.
48th Annual Harness Maker’s Get-Together Minutes
Courtesy of John Raber of Hillside Harness Hardware
July 21, 2017
The 48th Annual Harness Maker’s Get-Together was held at Hillside Harness Hardware. It was hosted by the John Raber family.
The meeting was called to order at 11:30 by Kevin Yoder. Kevin thanked the Rabers for hosting the auction and get-together.
John Raber thanked everyone for coming and gave a short report on the auction the day before. They had over 2400 lots and over 200 buyers. They had 3 auctioneers going most of the day and finished at about 5:30.
Allen Burkholder of Weaver Leather gave a demonstration on timing and repairing a sewing machine at 10:00. It was very worthwhile. A special thank you to Allen and Weaver Leather.
The minutes of our 2016 gathering were read by Kevin Yoder.
Committee members introduced were Andre Hostetler of Arthur, IL, Mark Brenneman of Springs, PA, Kevin Yoder of Nappanee, IN, Jonas Stoltzfus of Honeybrook, PA, Wayne Chupp of Fredericksburg, OH, Mose Beachy of Baltic, OH, and Reuben Byler of Middlefield, OH.
Former committee members present were Eli Schlabach, Dan Lapp, Atlee Yoder and Abe Miller.
Jim Weaver gave a short report on the auction at Weaver Leather in June. They had over 400 buyers. They had more lots of leather than ever and the prices were a little soft at the last. Tools and machinery were about average.
Tanners recognized were: Doug Morrison from Hermann Oak and Jim Cox from Moser Leather.
Also recognized was Scott Hanna from BioThane. It is their 40th year.
A special thank you to Bio Plastics for paying for the tent again this year.
Harness makers deaths in the last year were Eli Beachy, Keith Travis and Frieda Mast, wife of Myron Mast.
Longest in business was Ora Knepp started in 1959.
Newest in business was Amos Schlabach (Buckhorn Harness) started in April.
Most miles traveled was Dicky Harold (Harold’s Harness) from AR, over 900 miles.
Oldest man present was Dan Kauffman, 93 years old.
Shops present were: KY 3, IL 11, IA 5, MI 4, IN 12, OH 48, MD 2, NY 7, AR 2 and PA 35.
We had special grab bags again for children 17 and younger, then 18 and older registered.
Next year’s gathering and will be at M.D.Y. Harness in Middlebury, IN.
Door prizes were donated by:
Stauffers Harness Beiler Mfg.
Brenneman’s Leather Goods Sugar Valley Collar Shop
Weaver Leather Bowman Bits
Toledo Industrial Sewing Machine Bowman Harness
BioThane Hillside Harness Hardware
Fairview County Sales Chupp Brothers Wholesale
Troyer’s Rope Beachy’s Nylon Harness
Chupp Blacksmith Mid River Sales
Coblentz Collar Shop Broadhead Collar
Suggested meal price was $11.00 for adults.
For only $6.50 you can get a copy of the September issue!
Read the full stories mentioned above and get access to our amazing Skill section, a how-to article on tooling a floral corner. Contact Candace today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 435-529-7484 Ext. 470.
Blazing Briscoe The Saddle Exhibit at San Antonio’s Briscoe Western Art Museum
If you should ever find yourself in San Antonio, Texas (and who hasn’t at some point?) and you’re an aficionado of the fine leatherwork displayed on the saddles on which vaqueros and cowboys blazed across the American West, you’ll want to see the historic saddle collection at the Briscoe Western Art Museum.
Rick Bean: Keeping the Balls in the Air
Rick Bean is most definitely an artist when it comes to leather, and is well known for his figure carving seen on some of his gallery-quality saddles. But, Ricks’s story starts years and many miles away from the galleries where his work can be viewed today.
Musician Creates Manufacturing Niche
When the Hunker Bag Co. launched in April 2015, it was music to the ears of many. Denton Hunker, currently the company’s only employee, is not only a musician, but apparently a master of the sewing machine too. Business is quite simply humming along.
Rodney Ammons Veteran Boot Maker
Rodney Ammons is the type of guy that is extremely memorable. Big sparkling eyes, quick-witted, fun-loving and a giant of a man, both in personality and boot size! Rodney acquired a rich knowledge of boot making that goes back to the early 1970’s and continues today.
BioThane A Leader in the Coated Webbing Industry
If you’ve ever had a baby, a dog or a horse; been in the military; worn a belt or used a wallet; carried a sporty handbag; had a boat or tent (and the list goes on) – you’ve likely come in contact with BioThane. BioThane is the brand name of all coated webbing products made by BioThane Coated Webbing Corp. It’s basically polyester webbing with a thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) or polyvinylchloride (PVC) coating that makes it more durable, waterproof and easy to clean and weld. It’s also available in different colors and some even glows in the dark.
B&B Boot Makers Gathering Where friends meet to swap info about the craft
This past May, the 8th Annual B&B Boot Makers Gathering was held in Salado, Texas, the town where this social event has been held for the past seven years. “It’s an artsy little town with a lot of antique and art shops and bed and breakfasts — a unique place near a major highway — Route I-35,” said Dustin Lauw, owner and operator of Duck’s Heritage Cowboy Boots, also located in Salado.
“It’s an annual social event, like The Boot & Saddle Makers Trade Show held in Wichita Falls,” Lauw explained. “This gathering provides another opportunity for leatherworkers to see each other in the middle of the year. It’s a small mix of the industry — most of us are very good friends. We talk about boots and our leatherwork. We don’t mind sharing information and the work we’ve done in the past six months. All kinds of people come, including some who never touched leatherwork.”
This year’s event, however, instead of being held at a local barbecue restaurant, was hosted by Lauw at his own workshop. It turns out, that the very first B&B Boot Makers Gathering had been founded and launched by his mentor, the late Texas boot maker, Duck Menzies. “It’s nice to carry on what Duck, my mentor, started,” he said. After Menzies passed away in 2014, Lee Miller, owner of Texas Traditions Cowboy Boots in Austin, Texas, handled the annual social event. He and his wife Carrlyn helped to organize the recent gathering, too. “This year, though, Lee handed the responsibility for the event to me,” Lauw said.
There is no membership or fee for the informal get-together. Those who attended this year’s event enjoyed a barbeque catered by saddlemaker Kenneth Wayne Duncan, owner of Duncan’s Saddle Shop in Killeen, Texas. And, the gathering attracted a whole bunch of talented boot makers and leatherworkers from all over Texas, and beyond, Lauw said.
One notable participant was Jennifer June of Concord, Calif., a leading expert on cowboy boots, past and present, and author of the highly praised, “Cowboy Boots: The Art & Soul” (2007). The 10th anniversary of her book was recognized at this year’s gathering, including a cake decorated to match the boot design on her book’s cover. June also posts cowboy boot information and advice at her blog site, dimlights.com.
Lauw, a fourth-generation leatherworker, apprenticed with Duck Menzies for 12 years. When Duck passed away, he inherited the business, including his mentor’s customer base and all the orders he had while running the workshop. Before he died, Menzies told him that the shop could be his, if he agreed to teach an apprentice, and eventually, pass the business on to that person. Then, Lauw relocated the business, formerly called Boots by Duck, from Temple, Texas to Salado. In fact, he designed and set up his new workshop to be almost identical with the original site he had apprenticed in.
Most of his business is spread by word of mouth, he said. “Business is good. I’m adjusting to not having a mentor, and I’m building my customer base. Currently, I have a 12-month backlog. I take extreme pride in my inlay work, the more challenging for me, the better. I think my work can carry its own weight in the boot-making trade.”
Although the date hasn’t yet been set, the 2018 B&B Boot Makers Gathering will be held next spring, in Salado.
In the meantime, in case you’ve been wondering what, exactly, B&B stands for — well, those initials kept a lot of event participants guessing, for quite a while. “Finally, someone figured out that they stood for ‘bitching & bragging,’ ” Lauw said.
Duck’s Heritage Cowboy Boots
11095 Brewer Road
Salado, Texas 76571
Dustin Lauw, owner & operator
For appointments & inquiries:
48TH ANNUAL HARNESS MAKERS’ GET-TOGETHER AND CONSIGNMENT AUCTION COMING TO OHIO
This summer, Hillside Harness Hardware, Ltd., owned and operated by John Raber of Millersburg, Ohio, will be hosting the 48th Annual Harness Makers’ Get-Together and Consignment Auction, to be held Thursday, July 20th through Friday, July 21st.
A ONE-STOP SHOP FOR LEATHER MACHINERY
Campbell-Randall Hones its Competitive Edge in a Global Market
Campbell-Randall Machinery, a business with roots going back to 1858 and the era when machines were built with American iron, is the manufacturer and distributor of a broad and distinctive selection of leather machinery, tools, supplies and parts. Today, the company is based in an industrial section of Conroe, Texas, a fairly large city located about 40 miles north of Houston.
Wendy Henry – Boot Making Santa Fe Style
Back at the Ranch specializes in women’s boots; Wendy Henry and her team developed a great looking and wonderful fitting women’s last. In fact, 80% of their business is in women’s boots, setting her apart from most boot makers that build the majority of their boots on men’s lasts and patterns.
Howard Knight: The King of Detail
Few leather artisans have the attention to detail like Howard Knight; his diversity in style leaves one mesmerized in amazement. Howard creates works of fine art in his small leather shop, which is adjacent to his home in the beautiful, mountain community of Stevensville, Montana.
The Tandy Leather Museum of Fort Worth
The Tandy Leather Museum of Fort Worth is a must see. If you know anything about the leather industry then the name Al Stohlman definitely rings a bell. Read all about this carefully curated museum dedicated to the master of leather himself.
In Loving Memory of Paige Marie Sorrell
May 10, 1997-May 12, 2017
Paige Marie Sorrell was born at home in Guthrie on May 10, 1997, the daughter of Dale and Lisa Sorrell. She found peace on May 12, 2017 at the age of 20 years and 2 days.
Paige was a bright and shining light—stubborn, wise, caring, generous, brave, and strong. She loved to read, she loved music, and she cared deeply about the rights of the downtrodden and oppressed. She made her first pair of shoes at age 12 and worked with leather after that. After graduating high school with straight A’s she received a full academic scholarship to the University of Central Oklahoma. A semester and a half later, she came home and said, “I hate college—I want to be a shoemaker.” She was an incredibly talented shoemaker and was known, loved, and respected throughout the world for her passion, her skill, and her personality.
Paige met Shane Colvin in June of 2016 and he quickly became the love of her life. She frequently remarked on how lucky she was to have found such a special relationship at a young age. Shane loved and supported her through the good times and the bad, and she leaned on his strength.
Paige Marie Sorrell is survived by her parents, Dale and Lisa Sorrell, her sister, Morgan Sorrell, and her love, Shane Colvin.
From Lisa Sorrell, Paige’s mother:
Paige took her own life on May 12, 2017, a victim of severe anxiety, depression, and anorexia. She fought her battles with grace, humor, and incredible bravery, and preferred that no one but her immediate family know of her struggles. We mourn the loss of such a special and wonderful life, and we refuse to speak of her illness or her death with shame. Mental illness is a real disease, and just like any other sickness, sometimes it wins.
SBS EQUINE Celebrating 30th Anniversary!
SBS EQUINE is celebrating its 30th year in business. SBS is a well-known pioneer and innovator of quality hoof care products.
Dr Rick Shakalis and Dr John Pautienis are considered the fathers of modern hoof sealants. Their scientific research and informative articles on hoof disease and other equine health related issues are highly regarded in the industry.
Ray Tricca, along with Drs Rick and John founded the company in Hyannis, MA in 1987. Their mission was to produce quality hoof care products that are based on sound medical principles and are safe for horses, humans, and the environment.
After 30 years, the company is proud to have lived up to this promise. It is interesting to note that the original founders still own and operate the business. SBS products are sold in over 70 countries. When asked about retiring or slowing down, Rick, John and Ray all agree that the frequent positive feedback they receive from farriers and horse owners is what gets them up every morning, “so why stop doing what you love?”
SBS manufactures over 20 hoof care products including SBS THRUSH STOP, which was named the #1 thrush remedy and “Product of The Year” in 2009 by THE HORSE-JOURNAL. Other well known SBS brands include – SAV-A-HOOF, TOE GROW, STARTING GATE GRANULES, TOPCOAT Hoof Conditioner, and SBS CRACK FILLER KIT II. For more information please visit www.sbsequine.com.
BS Trading Co. – From Tools to Hides
By Liisa Andreassen
Kenzie Lee Ratterree, e-commerce director for BS Trading in Burleson, Texas, says that while her father, Mark Ratterree, and his brothers, Troy and Rick Ratterree, were still in high school they got into selling tools at flea markets. Once the business became quite large, they were told they had to file as an official business with the state – and so it began. In 1978, they went to file for a business license and the burgeoning entrepreneurs were asked for their business name. They were stumped; no one had ever asked this before. They had a dog named BS, so they went with that. Today, the namesake continues.
“My grandparents, Bill and Betty, joined around this time also,” Kenzie says. “They continued selling tools at flea markets and then slowly got into rugs. Eventually, the tool side of the business evolved into air compressors and the rugs into cowhides to fit the changing markets.”
Evolving Markets Yield Change
When Bill and Betty retired in 2007, they split the company because it made more sense to have the air compressor and cowhide companies separate from each other. Additionally, they had outgrown their warehouse in Arlington, Texas. So Troy moved his compressor business to Grand Prairie, Texas, and Rick and Mark took over the cowhide business, expanding to use the entire Arlington location. Since then, BS Trading has continued to grow and they recently purchased a new, larger warehouse in Burleson.
BS Trading was primarily selling area rugs until the early 2000s. However, when many manufacturers started selling direct, the market became flooded. As a result, they had to start selling a few cowhides as area rugs. The market became more and more flooded with rug manufacturers and every major chain was carrying their own line of rugs, so BS Trading transitioned toward the cowhides.
“At first it was just the hide, but over the last 10 years we’ve started carrying every cowhide product imaginable – patchwork rugs, pillows, bags, table runners, coasters, placemats, can coolers, benches, ottomans and more,” Kenzie says. “Since being in the hide business we’ve started selling all kinds of other hides, including Tibetan lamb, Icelandic sheep, zebra, antelope, crocodile and much more. “
The company’s primary markets are retail stores and designers, but they also sell hides and Tibetan lamb to furniture manufacturers as well.
“We are solely a wholesale business, but sell anywhere from one piece to a designer for a custom job to several hundred pieces at a time to our larger retailers. When we sold area rugs, we had retail frontage at our location in Arlington,” Kenzie explains.
Ninety percent of the cowhides come from Brazil. The remaining 10 percent come from Argentina or Columbia, as they can get colors from these countries not commonly found in Brazil.
“Brazil tends to have better tanning quality, although both Argentina and Brazil have improved their quality in the last few years,” Kenzie says. “The Tibetan sheep is native to Northern China, so the product is made there.”
Currently, BS Trading’s best-selling cowhides are grey and champagne tones. The Tibetan sheep has also grown in popularity over the years and is a strong seller as well.
Consumer-Driven Sustainable Growth
With 11 full-time employees, BS Trading continues to be driven by the changing markets. They have a showroom in Denver, Colorado, open year round at the Denver Mart, a permanent showroom in High Point, North Carolina, and a showplace open during the major furniture shows twice a year. A small showroom is also set up in the company’s warehouse where customers can browse their inventory.
Custom orders are welcomed, especially on patchwork rugs. They have made rugs up to 20’ x 30’ for customers and can work with designs and colors to specification. They also do custom pillows and throws, as well as custom-order plates for upholstery, in Tibetan lamb.
The company’s plans for the future are to continue to build the brand and to become more user-friendly for the customer. They also hope to source different hair on items and to have running stock on their website, so customers will be able to pick the exact hide they are buying.
“We are willing to work with any company,” Kenzie says.
BS Trading Co.
253 Loy Street
Burleson, TX 76028
Dan Preston: Passing the Torch
After 29 years, Dan Preston, former owner of Shop Talk! passes on the torch to 141 year old western retail and manufacturing business, Burns since 1876. Read about Dan’s life journey and how he ended up creating one of the only publications in the leather industry.
Broken Horn Saddlery: How the West’s largest tack store successfully adapted to a changing environment
Store manager, Jim Scullati tells the rich history of Broken Horn Saddlery in Baldwin Park, California. Learn about the many facets of the company and what they had to do to survive in changing markets.
Brit West: Repurposing Dreams
Brittain Roberts, owner and founder of Brit West, shares her passion for adventure and how it led her to where she is today.
Iowa Company Keeps the Hunting Experience in its Sights: Boyt Harness is all about outdoor sporting gear
Boyt Harness, one of America’s oldest saddle and harness making companies shares how they abandoned their roots to pursue a more lucrative business: sporting goods.
Hollywood’s Bootmaker: John Allen Woodward
While pursuing a songwriting and singing career in Nashville, Tennessee, John Allen Woodward met Bo Riddle, a boot maker to the stars, in a local club. He apprenticed with Bo for a while, then everything changed. John discovered his new passion, making boots. Read more about his journey to becoming one of Hollywood’s bootmakers.
Shop Talk! Resides in Utah
Its official, Shop Talk! is now headquartered in Salina, UT, home of Burns Saddlery. We can be reached at P.O. Box 6, Salina, UT 84654, phone (435) 529-7484, fax (435)-529-1033, email Candace@burns1876.com.
The Leather Company Buys Sunset Leather: New owner expects increase in customers and sales
By Lynn Ascrizzi
John Wright, owner of The Leather Company in Monterey, CA, had run his business for only one and a half years when he seized upon a chance to purchase Sunset Leather Company, based in nearby Pacific Grove, CA.
Sunset’s former owner, Harry Crawford, 72, a leather craftsman for 48 years, who was retiring, initiated the sale last summer. Despite the fact that Sunset’s sales had dropped about 15 percent in the last quarter of 2016, Wright couldn’t resist. He bought the company, April 1, 2017, for $175,000.
“It’s a big jump. The merger will bring an increase in sales. We’ll have more clientele — more awareness of the business,” he said, noting that before the purchase, retail sales at The Leather Company had been increasing.
The business attracted him for several reasons, he said. “Sunset had well-established accounts and certain equipment that I didn’t have in Monterey. Also, we were doing our manufacturing in a limited, 1,000-square-foot area, and our retail had to fit in a 400-square-foot space. Sunset has a 2,500-square-foot manufacturing area, with offices. And, we didn’t have splitting machines. Sunset had two, and much larger hydraulic clickers, as well as five trained employees. I only had two, freshly trained employees.”
A convenience factor helped sweeten the deal. The two leather facilities are only 2.2 miles apart, and Wright lives in Pacific Grove.
Prior to the sale, about 50 percent of The Leather Company’s business came from selling leather tools, supplies and finished goods, such as bags, belts and backpacks. Manufacturing made up about 40 percent of its business and how-to leather classes, roughly 10 percent.
“We’re hoping to move manufacturing from the Monterey store to Sunset and increase our retail operation in Monterey,” he added. “Sunset had its own little bit of retail, so, we’re moving their retail to Monterey. But, we’re still planning to keep a little manufacturing in Monterey.”
A hands-on leather craftsman for 30 years, Wright, 50, enjoys teaching advanced leather classes and is a creative participant in the process of making handbags and other leather goods. “I usually make the prototypes, and I’m a general grunt. When it comes to tooling or other aspects, those are jobs I do myself,” he said.
He first began doing leatherwork in a garage shop in Monterey. In 1990, he opened a brick-and-mortar business called The Leather Shop, in Morro Bay, CA. While running that shop, he traveled back and forth for five years, to Thailand. His goal — to build a leather company overseas.
In 2000, he sold his business in Morro Bay to an apprentice, moved abroad and launched TLS Leather Company Ltd. in the sparsely populated, rice-farming community of Loei Province in northern Thailand.
But, in 2011, he moved back to the states to be closer to family. He made frequent trips to Thailand to oversee his business and did leatherwork in a garage. Then, in October 2015, he opened The Leather Company in a 1,800-square-foot facility in Monterey. “I got out of the garage!” he joked.
Wright still heads up the Thailand company, which operates in a 6,000-square-foot workspace and has about 25 employees. The overseas business makes bags, belts, wallets and the like, mostly in exotic leathers, and sells leather supplies and tools. Today, Wright makes fewer, exhaustive trips abroad and manages his overseas business mainly via Skype, email and phone.
“It’s a lucrative, export business — a joint overseas partnership,” he said. I lived there for about 15 years, so I have experienced staff that handles the operation.” He speaks Thai and his staff speaks English. “I trained them (staff) to make things the way they’re made in the U.S. We get a better product, because of my direct influence.”
For now, the names of his two U.S. companies will remain the same. “We’re going to keep it Sunset Leather,” he said, of his recent purchase. “I’m running The Leather Company, Sunset Leather and TLS Leather Company Ltd. as separate DBAs, but under one company name — TLS Leather Company, LLC.”
Through the Sunset purchase, Wright has picked up a number of prime manufacturing jobs. “We’re making leather menu covers for new restaurants and guitar straps for Moody Premium Guitar Straps. We just got an order to make guitar straps for Eric Clapton,” he said, of the renowned, rock ’n roll guitarist.
His enterprise also makes leather golf accessories for Pebble Beach Company, of Pebble Beach, CA, and leather door hangers, please-do-not-disturb signs and desktop tablets for high-end hotels that furnish guest rooms with amenities made of leather.
Other customers include: Jennifer Haley Handbags of Boca Raton, FL, Camino Brands, LLC, based in Orinda, CA, with a line of fashion leather accessories, and Gustin, designers of men’s jeans, shirts and accessories. “We make little wallets and belts for them,” Wright said, of Gustin.
Prices for his leather products average from $30 to $600. “We do high-end, custom designed pieces, too. All our products, made here or abroad, are sold in the U.S. through TLS Leather Company, LLC,” he said.