La Rue Custom Leather
Tell us about your business.I was 10 years old when my dad first started making saddles. Seeing that process—the amazing combination of engineering and sculpture, craft and art—was like flipping a switch in my soul. I became obsessed with perfecting those skills, and even though I'm not there yet, that passion has only grown stronger in the decades since. My ultimate goal has always been to bring those traditional techniques to bear on my own original designs. My vision—my dream—is to make fine handcrafted leather accessories that are rugged enough for the ranch, but refined enough for the city. In keeping with that vision, we use only the finest vegetable-tanned leathers from a US tannery that's been doing it the same way for nearly 150 years. Every stitch is sewn by hand with waxed thread set into hand-cut grooves. Every edge is beveled and burnished. As we move into larger quarters—and expand our line of products—La Rue Custom Leather will grow and evolve, but our standards will remain unchanged.
Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.La Rue Custom Leather is headquartered in a converted garage in a sleepy coastal town just a few miles from the bustling sprawl of Los Angeles. My work bench—a gift from my wife more than 20 years ago—is a massive and ornate hand-carved teak desk topped with a reclaimed Balinese temple door. The walls of my shop are lined with antique wood cabinetry covered with framed ephemera and essential items of inspiration: quotations on the nature of craftsmanship and quality; portraits of people (like Amelia Earhart, or Bruce Lee) who never once said "Good enough;" sepia prints from a hundred years of leathercraft; mementos of my children and my Native American heritage. And, of course, LEATHER and TOOLS: the most beautiful, buttery, strong and natural leather, and an imposing wall of medieval implements—everything I need for cutting, punching, shaping, taming that leather—all meticulously arranged and lovingly cared for. Wherever I look, I see inspiration and the means to give it shape.
What inspires you?There's a quote on my wall; I can see it from my workbench. It's from a perhaps unlikely source—William F. Buckley, Jr.—and it says: "I get satisfaction of three kinds: One is creating something; one is being paid for it, and one is the feeling that I haven't just been sitting on my ass all afternoon." I am inspired by a job—any job—well done. I'm inspired by men and women in command of their craft, the ones who have worked so hard to make it look so easy. I think what I love most about working with leather is the fact that there's virtually no limit to how far one can hone one's skills. My ideal is to match the precision of the finest machine-made goods without compromising the unique character you only see in a thing that's made by hand. Not many things can strike that balance of precision and soul, but when it works—in a flawlessly tailored suit, say, or in an immaculate piece of sushi, or in a row of stitching that's perfectly even and clean—that moves something inside of me.
What makes your business stand out?I'm not sure it's so much a case of what makes my business stand out as it is a case of what makes my business ring true. When I open my shop in the morning and I set out to make the very best thing I can make, when I stamp my mark on it and I promise my customer that it will last forever, I'm simply doing what generations of makers before me have done. Perhaps that makes me stand out, but I can say with great satisfaction that lately I see more and more businesses placing an emphasis on quality goods and honorable service than I have in a long, long time. Certainly La Rue Custom Leather still stands out in comparison to the big brands cutting corners with overseas production and intentionally short-lived products, but I am proud that my company stands with the new generation of American businesses committed to (as our motto says) Correct Styles and Permanent Quality.
What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?Above all else, take pride in your work. In any creative endeavor, you're putting a piece of yourself on the market; make it your best. When you do your best work, and you're committed to constant improvement, the rest becomes easy. It's easy to market your work when you know you did your very best. You don't have to fool anybody when you're giving them the very best value you can for their money. And buy quality materials, for God's sake. You can always charge more for quality, but shoddy merchandise is too expensive at any price.
What does American Made mean to you?To me, American Made represents a return to what made this country great. I grew up in Canada, and from a very early age, I was drawn to America. This, to me, was a country that MADE THINGS—a country that made things HAPPEN. But I feel we sort of lost our way for a while; our values got a little out of whack. We stopped revering the craftsman, and instead elevated the salesman. We worshipped the sizzle while we turned our noses up at the steak. Now—in large part through efforts and initiatives like American Made—I feel like we're back on track. I've only been in business a short time, but I've diligently honed my craft for 30 years now, and I can confidently say it's never been cooler than it is right now to tell people I'm a MAKER. Every day, it seems, I meet more and more Americans who have woken up to the pride and satisfaction that comes from making things with their own hands, and I've seen the ripple effect, the positive impact, that can have on our communities as well.
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