All in the Family: Leather Works

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At a studio in the Northern Warehouse Artists’ Cooperative in St. Paul, classic, long-lasting leather goods are a family affair. Even Reggie, the family dog, is in on the action.

A company that started in 1999, Leather Works has only grown in the more than 15 years they have been hand-making everything from women’s handbags to leather toothpick holders. Today, their small team is shipping their leather goods across the world – not to mention the Twin Cities.

We stopped by to check out their studio and chatted with Leather Works founders Kent and Lee Begnaud, as well as their son, Nathan O’Malley.

 

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How long has Leatherworks been around?

Nathan: My parents started the company in 1999. We have been in this space [Northern Warehouse Artists’ Cooperative] for a little more than two years.

My [step]dad was managing a multi-million dollar leather company in the 90’s, and then they were bought out and sold to China. He also married my mom in 1999. She was working full time at the U of M and they started this company as just an idea. I started working full time about three years ago.

Lee: We started making bifold wallets, and were doing some ladies’ handbags. We were also doing promotional leather, embossing corporate logos on checkbooks, wallets, things like that. We were working from home at this point. Now we make mostly men’s products, although we have a women’s hand clutch and a hand wallet.

 

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What are your different roles?

Lee:  I work on the business end. I get orders processed and meet with customers and the buyers, deal with new stores and order the inventory. Nathan is our lead sewer. We have five kids, but the last two at home worked for us to make a little extra money in the summer. Nathan has always used the sewing machines to alter his clothing. He learned in ninth grade how to thread the sewing machine. I do some sewing, but I like to leave it to these guys.

How have your products changed over time?

Lee: Most of our wallets are the same ones we have made for all these years. We have added a couple different wallets. We’ve also always done belts. We try to keep the classic, minimalistic style. When we were doing the women’s handbags, we couldn’t keep up with all the colors [that were in style].

This year we are adding a dapp kit. We try to add a couple new things each year, but for guys, they love the same wallet, the same color, year after year. It’s the best leather that you can find. It doesn’t wear out, it just wears in.

Where can you find your products?

Nathan: Were in about 50 stores globally, mostly in the United States. About seven percent of our revenue is generated through online sales.

Lee: We’re also in five stores around the Twin Cities. We don’t allow two stores to have the same thing. Askov Finlayson and the Foundry both carry Leather Works, but they carry totally different things.

 

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How do you like working with your family?

Kent: I’ll be honest, it was hard at first. You’re not used to being with each other all the time. But now we have more fun that not fun. The biggest struggles we have is design ideas or colors.

Lee: It’s the best. It gets better all the time.

What’s Next?

Kent: We just came out with a cable crêpe to organize things like iPhone cords. We just put some online and they sold right away. Our dopp kit will also be coming out pretty soon. We did a collaboration with Wilson & Willy’s [in the North Loop]. We’re making them big leather baskets – you can put a potted plant in them – as well as camera straps. We’re just busy making what we make.

 

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More photos by Leah Garaas:

 

 

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Maggie is a Minneapolis-based publicist and writer.

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