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
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!)