A Range of Possibilities – Part 2: An Audio Interview with Leather Virtuoso Kyle Koster

In the first part of our interview with Kyle Koster, creator and owner of Range Leather, we covered a number of topics from his entry into the trade to the ethics of creating luxury goods with leather.  If you haven’t had a chance to read or listen to the first part of the interview, you can find it here.  Rather than draw it out with a lengthy introduction, we present the second of three parts in our series of with Kyle.

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BL: It’s pretty close to the holiday shopping season, though for some retailers you’d think it started in July.  What plans do you have for Range Leather this holiday season?

KK: This is really the first Christmas that we’ll be fully geared up to be in business which is nice in that we’ve had time to prep both products and just inventory in a sense. So we are doing some Christmas shows, different ones. We’re actually doing one this weekend.

There are tons of different – from like high schools in this area. All have craft shows. Those are like the smallest shows we’ve done, but there have been some larger shows, even in Spokane. We’ve traveled to Portland and different things, to shows.

 

Listen to what Kyle has to say

 

BL: What do you find to be one of the biggest hurdles when you’re trying to prepare for a show or, better yet, your first holiday season?

KK:  I think the biggest one that always happens is working capital within a business. Your hides are expensive. People don’t understand. They really are expensive, and then to buy like quantity, and to not know when you’re going. If you’re making to order obviously it’s easy as a business. If you’re making inventory for a show or a craft fair, whatever it is, you have to have a large amount of each item that you create in stock because some shows you’ll sell a ton of minimalist wallets. Then the next show you’ll sell very few minimalist wallets, and you’ll sell key chains and bracelets and stuff like you can’t believe. So you have to have quite a bit of inventory stocked up. That means obviously you have to have quite a bit of hides.

One of the reasons we did this Range Mug Kickstarter was because we hadn’t worked with 9 or 10 ounce leather at all, and so I had stayed away just because of this being a hurdle. Obviously 9 or 10 ounce leather is more expensive, and it’s for wallets, and for what we originally were doing I didn’t need it. I could do 4 to 6 ounce, I kind of like 4.5 to 5 for wallets or at least the ones we do.

This Kickstarter with the Range Mug we’re raising money because we’re going to place a pretty large order with Horween for 9 or 10 ounce leather. That’s a huge hurdle. It’s like funding that, especially because I funded every business. It’s been a blessing. We haven’t taken on any investors or anything like that. That’s probably the biggest hurdle is working capital. 

Listen to what Kyle has to say:

 

BL: Let’s get technical for a moment – what you mean when you’re talking about a 5-ounce leather versus a 10-ounce leather?

KK: Probably the best way is to either go on line and look at a scale or a chart, but leather is going to go by ounces starting at maybe 2 ounces.

It’s thickness. So if you would measure the thickness – it does go in mm is usually the best way. But you can look at a chart, and it goes up. It doesn’t jump equally. The difference between 6 and 7 ounces may not necessarily be the difference between 9 and 10 ounces if that makes sense. But you can look at the chart, so it’s going up in thickness of the leather.

The best way you can use a caliper or a leather gauge, and you can get your 1.9 mm, 1.8, and look at. And that’s the crazy thing. Each piece of leather is going to – most of them are sold 4.5 or 5 ounce even because each hide has a variation. That’s one of the things I like about leather. Every piece is essentially unique, where it comes from on the hide, the animal, everything. Your medium is not square is what I always tell people.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:

 

BL: It’s all about the leather when you get right down to it.  What’s your preference: vegetable-tanned, chrome-tanned, or otherwise?

KK: That’s a good question. The veg tan leather I like. I really have been liking some of Horween’s Dublin as well. That is a great tannage from them.

It’s Horween’s – I can’t remember exactly, but it’s a veg tan leather, and then working with Chromexcel which is a chrome tan, and then it’s re-veg tanned. That’s kind of like their staple, but between those two it’s kind of what I enjoy working with. I don’t know. Even when you’re working with it you can tell how the edges burnish up and different things like that.

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I found kind of the colors I like the best from them. My favorite is their whiskey color; it’s a beautiful rich brown. For our Range mug we’re doing natural Dublin which is really cool. On the Kickstarter page you can see what the natural looks like. It’s really really good-looking stuff. The pull up on that if you like creased over the leather you can see maybe the best way to describe it is a different variation of color. The Dublin has a really really rich – it just kind of looks rugged from the start.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:

 

BL: With all that fine leather, we know you’re making some pretty cool products.  What can you tell us about your most recent Kickstarter project and how the stretch goals have helped make the Range Mug a success?

KK: In the Kickstarter project where we are we put a stretch goal for both black and brown, so adding 2 additional colors as your project maybe goes beyond what you thought it would go or what you wanted it to go, or the goal you set for it. You can release stretch goals. People with Kickstarter are familiar. We did one at five thousand dollars. We were releasing brown and black as additional colors to our natural Dublin, and I just got some samples in. Actually I don’t have any of the natural today because we’re going to have to place the large order with Horween, so here’s a brown and a black.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:

 

BL: I checked, and as of this interview, you’re pretty close to your first stretch goal.  How close are you away from your goal? Why do you think this project has been so successful already?

KK: Like sixty dollars. I fully expect that to be – we still have a week or so left. They’re sturdy.

You know one of the things we do is a hand stitch line down ours which I think really adds character to it. In all the products I like to have some sort of hand stitch worked in. We do everything 100% hand-stitched, don’t use any sewing machines. The reason for that is with a hand stitch like a saddle stitch you’re going to get twice the thread thru every hole. You’re actually using 2 needles on a thread going back and forth, whereas a sewing machine essentially loops and pulls, and if 1 string breaks the whole integrity of the stitch is gone. With the saddle stitch you’re getting double the thread because you’re

Listen to what Kyle has to say:

There you have it for part two of our interview with Kyle Koster, creator and owner of Range Leather.  In the third and final part of our interview, we’ll discuss the ins and outs of the Range Mug, the Sanford Leather Pipe Tobacco Case, and what it was like to live in Hong Kong.  We’ll also have Kyle’s final words on how he finds satisfaction in working with his hands in a business world that always seems to demand more of the mighty dollar.

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