Living in the Midwest is not the most spectacular place in the world. Outside of our sports teams and delicious unhealthy food, us Midwestern folk deal with barren landscapes, record breaking crime rates, terrible weather, corrupt politicians, and high taxes... And I'm just talking about the state I live in!
But with the bad, also comes the good (besides the food and sports teams). For instance, the ever changing weather force many to stay inside; leading some to develop their creativity to pass the time. From these creative Midwesterners, we get some pretty cool fashion businesses. For example, we've had some wonderful denim companies that have been popping up lately! Dearborn Denim, Mugsy Jeans, and Detroit Denim Company, just to name a few.
It's not just the quality denim products coming out of the Midwest, leatherwork is big here as well. Up in Minnesota, you've got large companies such as J.W. Hulme Company making quality leather goods while famous tanneries such as Horween Leather Company (Chicago) and Hermann Oak Leather (St. Louis) supply the world with great hides!
In this article, I want to focus on two small leathercraft companies based in the Midwest that make awesome products: Kyte Creek Leather Company and Hides & Stitches.
Kyte Creek Leather COmpany
I was so excited to come across Kyte Creek Leather! Finally, I had found a home state leathercrafter! (I have since found a few more too!)
The Warden Keychain works very well. I like the feel of the leather and Austin was nice enough to give me a sample piece that he is testing out. I took the piece and made my own iteration of his keychain with what I had lying around. The sample leather is thicker (10 oz.) and is Latigo Leather from Horween that Austin also uses for his belts. The downside though is that it is way less flexible and adds a lot more bulk to the keychain. As of right now, I prefer the original leather, it is softer and bends easier with enough strength to hold my keys in place. Plus, it matches the key fob I also ordered from Kyte Creek! However, I do not have many keys so the heavier, stiffer leather might be a better option for those who carry more.
I really love the Warden Keychain and the KTC Key Fob. They look and feel great while also adding a little something to my everyday wear. The addition of a sample leather was a really nice touch and I told Austin I will update him as both keychains age and patina. Check out Kyte Creek Leather Company!
Hides & Stitches
I'm not much of a watch connoisseur. Watches are fun to learn about and look at, I've just never really got into collecting them. People will hate on this next statement, but I really do like the style of these "fashion" watches. The one that gets the most hate is MVMT and for good reason as they are manufactured cheaply (approx. $5) yet retail for around $100 to $150! Check out this video:
Even though the companies themselves are thieves, I find their designs appealing. In search for an affordable watch that has that same minimalist look but doesn't feel like a rip off or cheaply made, I stumbled upon the Danish company Skagen. I appreciate their style and ended up getting their Ancher Watch for a good price on Ebay.
I have been really happy with the watch in terms of it's design and function. The only problem I have with it is not with the watch itself, but the genuine leather strap. Now for the price of the watch, I understand not using quality leather and what's great about the original band is that it was designed to be swapped out with the easy release pins. So removing the genuine leather was not an issue. The problem was finding a good watch band that didn't cost more than I payed for the watch!
Enter Hides & Stitches. The couple that runs the company, Tiffany and Dan, make a plethora of leather goods at a decent price. Their watch strap selection is excellent, they have two piece bands, one piece bands, bands with studs, double band straps... You need it, they have it.
The watch strap I got for my Skagen is their Two Piece Watch Strap in Horween Crimson Vintage Leather (20 mm.). They offer a variety of leather choices, from Shell Cordovan to Chromexcel, as well as many colors and sizes. The reason I chose crimson is because I can wear it with brown, black, or blue boots and belts (in my opinion).
The strap arrived in a few days after ordering and it was no easy picnic to install. It was my first time ever switching out a watchband and I had to watch a few YouTube videos over and over to finally understand that I am a clumsy fool. I did prevail and when I put it on I could immediately tell the vast difference in quality from Dan and Tiffany's full grain watch strap compared to the genuine leather band from Skagen.
As it was with Austin's Warden Keychain, you can purchase a mass produced leather strap for around the same price as the Hide and Stitches' handmade one. Of course, the well crafted item by a skilled artisan is going to be far superior. When comparing the watchbands, it's not even close. The Horween leather is smooth against my skin and doesn't feel dry like the original strap. Being full grain, the band has its own, unique look making it truly one of a kind due to the fact that the surface of the leather is unaltered. Much like a belt or leather insoles of boots, the strap will start to form specifically to me and conform to my wrist. Add in stainless steel hardware compared to the plastic on the old band and it's there's no way I'll put that strap back on the watch again! Hides & Stitches is highly recommended!
Who will I discover next?!
List of crafters and companies: American Made Leather
East 8th Leather
Founder: John Lingerfelt
Lifetime Leather Company
Founder: Ty Bowman
East 8th leather
East 8th Leather can be found on Instagram, where I primarily find most crafters. John is no exception and does business directly from his profile and through email. He posted a picture of these beautiful card holders and when I saw the blue one, my eyes went wide! If you haven't noticed by now, I really like blue dyed leather, it ages well and is so darn good looking!
I quickly messaged John and he got right back to me and said he would have the item in the mail the next morning. Impressive. I usually wait, and understandably so, a bit for my leather products from crafters as they have to make them and then deal with whatever company they use for shipping (Which can be a pain!).
With East 8th, I received the wallet a few days later and it came with this nice 'Thank You' card. It is just as great to look at as it was in the picture! I plan on using it to hold my business cards so I stop fumbling around my briefcase/car/wallet/pockets/murse looking for them. The cards fit perfectly.
The cardholder is complete with contrasting white stitching which adds to it's beauty. Great work John!
Lifetime Leather Company
Lifetime Leather was founded by Ty Bowman and the company consists of him, four employees, and the shop dog Pope. Yeah, I put the dog's name and not the employees' names, don't judge me! The company has an interesting story and you can check it out on their "About Us" page (along with the employees' names and pictures if you're interested and/or a stalker).
I cannot say where the leather comes from but it is full-grain and vegetable tanned. Depending on the lighting, the eye glass case can seem black or dark blue (I got the "Ink Blue" color). My embroidered initials turned out great and the overall craftsmanship is top notch. Even if something wrong were to come up with the case, in terms of defects, Lifetime offers a, well, a Lifetime Warranty on all their products! #dadjoke
It took about two weeks for me to get my case and the wait was worth it! Lifetime Leather Company really puts a lot of effort into making their products be the best they can possibly be.
As my American Made Leather collection grows, I have yet to receive a product that is poorly made! Craftsmanship is alive and well in the U.S.A.
I'll answer the title question immediately: TAFT has been amazing company to order from, contact, and engage with on social media. If I had a question, they'd get back to me via email or Live Chat right away. If I posted something on Instagram or Twitter, they'd reply or re-post. And the best (worst for my wallet) thing? Getting discount codes that only last 48 hours via text or getting another discount code because I posted a review on their website! The company really does a great job of being there for their customers... (And giving them excuses to buy more of their shoes!)
The quality of the leather (from tanneries in Europe), no matter the style, seems to be top notch. I would rank their leather ahead of my President Boots by Thursday and my Evans 1000 Mile Boots by Wolverine. That is quite the statement considering most of Thursday's leather comes from the well known Mexican tannery, Le Farc, and Wolverine uses Horween's Chromexcel. Now, none of these boots have yet to be put through a Midwest winter and I will be sure to do an update after six months, but as it stands, my TAFT boots have the most durable leather. Of course, my boot addiction has led me to order custom boots from Undandy and Pigeon Tree Crafting's collaboration boot with Santalum, which are both in the works and will arrive sometime this fall! (So we will see how the leathers are those boots fair!)
The Rome Boot (in black) is a full-grain, vegetable tanned leather. The upper is mostly pebbled leather with a smooth toe cap and counter. My reason (excuse) for getting this pair is:
See? Perfectly justifiable reasons. The boot itself is just as comfortable as it's counterpart and it is a bit better for the ever changing weather out here in the Midwest. While I do not think these boots are ideal from a snowstorm, I think they can hold up well on rainy days when I don't want to get the leather sole of my Troy Boots wet.
Both pairs of boots were comfortable right out of the box and fit my feet better than both my Thursday Boots and Wolverine 1000 Mile. That maybe due to the fact that TAFT does not offer half sizes and recommend you size down (which is unusual) if you fall into that category. My first two boots are 10.5 so I got the Troy in 10 based on what they suggest and it turned out to be a perfect fit for my feet! Upon holding them up against my other pairs sole to sole, the TAFT boots are a little slimmer in the toe and maybe slightly shorter.
The better fit might also be why I think the leather is better as creasing is not as noticeable on these boots. Now, for reference, the quality of leather does not always mean more or less creasing, just ask the Shoe Snob or Horween themselves. Many different variables can play into why a shoe creases, from the shape/design of the last to the very shape of a person's foot. However, creasing isn't the only difference I've noticed, as TAFT's leather doesn't seem to scuff and scratch as much. We will see how these boots hold up compared to my other ones as time goes on, especially the suede on the Troy Boots.
The weight of both boots is something else that is noticeable right away. Both of these pairs are light as a feather! (Okay, maybe a bit heavier than a feather...) I was especially surprised by the Rome Boots, as opposed to my Thursday Presidents, being such a lighter weight as those pairs are easiest to compare in terms of their style.
Another issue for some, not me, is the fact that these boots are Blake Stitched (more common in Europe) as opposed to the Goodyear Welted Style (more common in North American & the U.K.). Here is a link that describes the differences and the pros and cons between the stitching methods. As of right now for me personally, the Blake Stitch is better as they do not require much, if any. break in period and seem just as durable in rain as their Goodyear counterparts.
My TAFT Boots, on a limited sample size, seems to be my favorite out of my small collection. I highly recommend them in both customer service and overall boot quality. These Direct-to-Consumer shoe companies are becoming more popular and for good reason! Check them out! -Stylin' Asian
Pigeon Tree Crafting
Founder: Isaac Paul
Ah belts. Belts are what got me into the world of leather. I was researching online for a new belt because of department store one had yet again, died and it was a rabbit hole! I learned about the kinds of leathers, leather tanning, leathercrafting, and so on. The first item my eyes (and fingers) gravitate towards upon stumbling upon a new leather shop is, you guessed it, belts.
Pigeon Tree Crafting
I forgot how I came across Pigeon Tree Crafting, but it was probably due to Isaac's presence on Instagram. Isaac loves denim and leather, as do I. What's neat about his shop is that many of his handmade goods use indigo dye... The same stuff on the jeans you are wearing! So leather + indigo dye= awesome products!
Yes, I have a boot addiction. Anyways, the belt's quick release buckle really helps keep the most used hole from damage. Add to that the tear drop shape of the holes, which are designed to make the buckle lie flat, and there is not much strain put on the leather. Having said that, the belt is made of vegetable tanned, full-grain leather and definitely feels like a solid strap so even without those (awesome) features, this belt would last! Some of Isaac's other belts are made with the famous Sedgwick Bridle Leather and look just as beautiful. If you are a fan of raw denim and quality leather goods, check out Pigeon Tree Crafting!
Horse & Oak Leather
Originally, the color of the belt I ordered from Andrew was Horween #8 Burgundy. However, he was out of that color :(. Andrew graciously offered a refund or a percentage off of a different color belt. That was awesome and I never say no to belts so I ordered a brown one instead. Great customer service!
While Andrew's belt has the same kind of buckle and similar hardware as Isaac's (both brass, PTC uses custom rivets and H&O has Chicago screws), the leather used for this belt is Horween's Horsehide, which compared to Isaac's bovine, veg. tanned leather, is vastly different (break down of leathers). For starters, it is much thinner, but that does not mean it's weak because it holds up a good pair of denim, pockets full and everything, just fine. *Update: Andrew reached out to me and told me that the leather used for this belt comes from Horse Butt Strips that are tanned for 45 days with the infamous Shell Cordovan before being separated. Interesting stuff!
The belt has such a smooth finish to it and feels soft. I haven't owned any horsehide items prior to this belt but it is unique in its own way compared to cowhide. One difference that isn't the greatest (initially) is that it does wrinkle quite easily at first. I did talk to Andrew about it and he said that as I continue to wear it, the wrinkles will change and help develop a nice patina. Horsehide is used in many leather jackets as well and wrinkling is just part of the breaking in period. Personally, it has grown on me and I can't wait to see it change overtime. Plus it feels cool to run your hand over it (I'm weird).
This belt goes so well with all my other brown leather accessories and shoes. In fact, it is perfect match for my Brown Thursday President Boots! I am interested to see how this belt changes and holds up overtime compared to my cowhide belts. Be sure to check out Horse & Oak Leather!
Good to Know:
For me, I sized in at 38" for PTC and 35" for H&O based on their respective measurement techniques. While my indigo belt is longer, both fit just fine and both methods of measurement seem pretty accurate.
More great American Leathercrafters have been found! Here's to many, many more! #findingcrafters
For my full list of leathercrafters so far click here. I literally find new ones almost everyday!
I'm on a mission. I want to find as many small leather companies and leathercrafters who live right here in the good ol' United States of America. The mission is simple, support these artists in anyway I can. Unfortunately, my budget doesn't allow me to buy something from everybody... But I would if I could! That's how amazing I think these folks are! As I (slowly, or I'll go broke) purchase their quality goods, I'll write a little blurb about each product and company. The journey has begun!
The bag itself is perfect for me. The strap can be adjusted to be worn on the shoulder or across the body. Add in the full-grain cowhide and brass hardware and this satchel should last me a lifetime! (They recommend not evening conditioning the bag for awhile and just letting it patina.) I can fit most of my accessories in there, including my water bottle and tablet, which is great for traveling. It also makes a good everyday bag if I am going to be out for awhile and I don't want to bring around my Duluth briefcase. The man bag (calling it that) will come in handy on shopping trips, city outings, and hiking adventures!
On to the Corter Leather & Cloth Indigo Travel Wallet (Special Edition 2016 yeah!). With my upcoming journey to Rome in October, I was looking for a good looking passport wallet. A bunch of the crafters make them but I decided on Corter because they have the cast iron key ring at the top. I really couldn't find another one like that. Also, the dying of the leather is just beautiful! From their website:
"We designed this tannage ourselves completely from scratch. Our signature Indigo Latigo is a latigo leather that is drum dyed through the core to be reminiscent of freshly oxidized indigo. It is then hot stuffed by hand with waxes and oils to be soft and ready to use. It will age darker over time, burnishing in spots of high wear and developing a deep blue patina."
Being a fan of denim, and having just gotten Pigeon Tree Crafting's Indigo Belt (will be in Part 2), I knew that this travel wallet was the right choice! Plus, the fact that they tanned this leather themselves makes it really special and unique.
The wallet arrived within a few days, and funny story, came right when I received my passport! Awesome. The passport pocket is a little snug but I know it will form to it with more use (plus I don't have to worry about it falling out...). There are two card slots for credit cards and the back of the wallet as an extra slot. The saddle stitching (Entirely hand stitched, no machine!) is perfect and the contrasting blue thread is a really nice touch. The snap button closure is brass (I believe) and doesn't have that "cheap" hardware feel like so many name brand companies use to cut corners.
The company's itself has a very informative website. For example, in their 'Materials' section, they break down and describe each type of leather they use. That extra mile some companies go to let the consumer know about their materials and crafting process I find really interesting.
I am very happy with my choice of a travel wallet and it will get a lot of use through the years!
Well, that's part one! I hope to keep finding these little leather gems that are tucked away under all that trash from department stores. There are still real leatherworkers out there! #findingcrafters
For my full list of companies so far click here. I literally find new ones almost everyday!)