A Range of Possibilities – Part 3: An Audio Interview with Leather Virtuoso Kyle Koster

As with everything in life, all good things must come to an end. Hopefully you’ve been following us through the first two parts of our interview with Kyle Koster of Range Leather.  If you haven’t yet, you can take a look at Part 1 and Part 2, and follow-up with this third and final segment.  While you’ll probably be just fine to read these interviews out-of-order, we wouldn’t want you to miss any references made in the previous couple of weeks.  Enjoy this last piece, and if you have any questions, comments, or ideas for these interviews, please drop me a line at jerry@bestleather.org.


BL: When you make a product like the Range Mug, don’t you worry about the leather stretching over time?

KK: Yes. That’s why we went to the thicker leather as we could. Well, you could get a little thicker, but to work with that’s about what you want to do, so the 9, 10 ounce is going to stretch. It’s like a thick belt to avoid that. And then the second thing is with the wide mouth Mason jars as you can see it goes up, and then it hits a lip on the wide mouth Mason jar. There is no way they would ever stretch over that lip with 9, 10 ounce leather, so you’re always going to have a stop if that makes sense.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: With the mug being such a new product, can I assume you’ve tested them thoroughly before putting them on the market?

KK: My wife and I drink coffee for about 4 months every morning. The thing I love about them is you can drink both hot and cold liquids. You can put scalding hot coffee in there as hot as you can get, and the leather, it just like radiates super nice. Even on the ceramic mug there is no way you can put your hand right to it right away, and with the thick leather on there it is just great. It conducts heat, almost like a hand warmer, a little hand warmer the way it’s radiating. That’s what it feels like. My wife sits there with both of her hands around hers in the morning. Obviously you can use it for to-go. You can put the lid on, and the Ball Mason jars are fully sealed. You can put water in it, throw it in your pack, bag, whatever you want. It won’t leak, so that’s the nice part.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: The widemouth jar looks cool, but isn’t kind of a hassle to use a lid that is only supposed to be sealed once (if you used it for canning)?

KK: Yeah, they tell you on canning you’re supposed to use it just one time, but not necessarily. That’s more about the pressure when you’re canning and keeping the seal for botulism and stuff. I’ve beat up lids, and they still hold good. You can just tighten harder on this outside piece.

The other thing we are doing is, actually just a couple days ago – there’s a company called Cuppow which makes an after-market lid which is like a spout basically. The way it works, you remove the outer ring, then you replace the flat ball part with their after-market spout, and then you twist back on the outer ring. I just talked to them, and we are going to make that available to our Kickstarter backers at a discounted price. So you can add that on.

The nice part about that is it’s essentially like having a lid on your to-go coffee cup. It’s very similar, but it’s a hard plastic piece. That makes it easier to drink out of, depending on what you’re doing, especially coffee. Then you can avoid taking the lid on and off, which doesn’t really bother me. I kind of like the process of taking the lid on and off. But it’s just another option, and it’s cool, and we’re excited to be working with them, but you can look them up. It’s called Cuppow.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: How did you make sure this mug is going to stand up over time beside just using a heavy leather in the construction?

KK:  One of the things I did – I wanted to see, so I sent one through the mail in an envelope, just wrapping it a couple times with just paper, doing normal packaging like we do, but not putting any bubble wrap or anything, and I sent it to someone else. “Did it make it there?” Just to see how durable the glass, because really you’re adding leather to a really durable product of a Mason jar.

Exactly. That’s the fun part about it. It’s a mug we set on our Kirkstarter page to accompany any adventure. It’s kind of like the tag we used, whether you’re going to work you can bring it, whether you are going hiking on a trail you could legitimately – obviously it’s not the most weight-efficient product. You’re just going out for a day hike or something like that. We went out, clipped it to a bag, went hiking with it, and it held up great.  Just different things.

One of the big things was I knew that before we started selling them. We did some trial sales just to see what people thought of our design. I knew that 9, 10 ounces obviously would protect the glass better. It’s going to have a sturdier, more rigid handle.

One of the things I used Chicago screws to hold everything together, just essentially screws into itself and tightens, but that works really well. They’re solid. All the screws are solid brass, but these ones are plated because they’re kind of a brushed nickel color, but their stuff is not like zinc or anything like that. We get all our hardware from Buckleguy. We really enjoyed working with them.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: I see you’ve got something else there with you today.  What exactly is that for those who can’t see what I’m seeing?

KK: This is a pipe pouch. …Occasionally. I actually got a custom order. Someone asked me, so I said, “Hey, I probably smoke my pipe 2 or 3 times a year. That actually is a great idea.” So I sat down and made this guy his own special design, and going back before, that’s a great way to be listening to your audience of what they want, doing custom orders for people. Then if they’re working well adding them to your own line as a leather company is a really great way to operate. You then have someone wanting something, you make it, you get feedback from them. This guy, who ordered it from me, liked it so much he referred me to some of the big online tobacco web sites trying to put me in contact with them to sell them on the sites because apparently in like pouches and cases they are either really really overpriced, even with not using great leather, or they’re just not great quality, or their design is really old school, kind of a box or something like…

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: It also looks like you’ve brought some type of wallet with you, the one I’m going to review in the next few weeks.  What are we looking at here?

KK: Yes. Here’s our minimalist wallet. You can kind of see; you can play with that one. Obviously that one’s not broken in. I’ve been using this one for a year. Obviously you can see the Horween leather and the rich patina that it gets. So the way I designed it – this one I did a lot of designs on because this was our first product we launched on Kickstarter.

I think the Kickstarter market is a little bit saturated on wallets. You’re getting tons and tons of wallets.

But the way I designed this one you can slide your thumb up on this side. All of our designs have angles built into them. Usually I try to incorporate angles, not curves because of the range and like mountains. That’s kind of the way we’re just subtly trying to work range.

It has an angled front so you can slide your thumb up. You can flip it over and slide your thumb out. I show people that. You slide your thumb up, flip it over, slide your thumb out. So you get both access to a vertical and a horizontal slot, and it’s just really easy to navigate.

I usually put my ID up front here, and then my credit card right there, and then it’s got a slot for cash on the back. Like I said, I’ve been carrying this for the last year. I have 6 cards in mine right now. You can hold more if you stuff it. But really I designed it as a minimalist wallet from 4 to 6. It does stretch, and it won’t stretch back, but the best way to look at is learn what you want to carry, and then carry that, and you won’t have any problems.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: It looks like it’s designed to be carried in your front pocket; not the back like a billfold if I’ve got it right…

KK: It is, a front pocket. When we do shows – the minimalist wallet – people come up – “I’ve been looking for a minimalist wallet.” The best part about this with the whole hand stitch all the way around is this is going to last forever. You can see the wear and the patina that mine has after a year of carry. The edges are all just gorgeous. I tell people it takes about 2 weeks to really break in so you can get that slide with your thumb. In our Kickstarter project the first one we did you actually link up to the slide and to see that. It really is easy to navigate. I won’t carry anything else as I design other wallets.

We have bi-folds and stuff like that. Even at shows people will be wanting to purchase a bi-fold which is a much more expensive wallet because a lot more time. I’m like, seriously though, think, look at this wallet…

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: All right – the burning questions I’ve been waiting to ask – how expensive is it, really, to live in Hong Kong?

KK:  So the cheapest when I looked at it, the cheapest room I could find was like 100 feet by 140 feet, or sorry, 10 by like 12 or 14, so you’re looking at 140 square feet which is like a box.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: And by “cheapest”, what are you shelling out every month for rent?

KK: This was the cheapest district in Hong Kong. The district is called Wan Chai. A lot of these places you would be living above; I had friends who had to do it because the price of living above night clubs and brothels and things like that. That is literally the cheapest district you can find in Hong Kong – sorry I have to convert from Hong Kong dollars to US, 900 to 1000 dollars for something like that, maybe 800, just expensive.

There are people who pay in rent in Hong Kong, and these aren’t mortgages, upwards of 30 to 40 thousand US dollars a month. These are in buildings. Everything there is apartments in a building. Maybe the top floor of a building would cost that. That is just crazy.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: Did you have any thing left over at the end of the month so you didn’t starve?

KK: Really that’s what is at a premium. Just briefly, there is a difference between the local. If you live and eat and just kind of maneuver as a local it’s really actually cheap, but If you go into the western side of things everything is going to be crazy expensive like that.

For me as a youth pastor I lived on the local side which I enjoyed much more like eating local food. For lunch you could go to a western restaurant and spend 40 or 50 bucks, or you could go to a Chinese lunch box shop under a bridge and spend $3.50 and get like more food than you would want, probably loaded with MSG, but that is okay.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: After everything we’ve talked about, I can only guess that being an entrepeneur and artist runs in your family.

KK: My grandmother always says to me, “Oh, you’re an entrepreneur; you know, Uncle Robert, he was an entrepreneur as well.” I think as for like the musical stuff. There are some musical people in my family. I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it all that much. But I do think the artist side has definitely helped in design of products.

I also learned graphic design early on because I learned right away that if you’re going to have a company, and I would encourage anyone that has a company to learn graphic design. It will save you so much money and time on stuff and photography, just kind of learn that whole package. I took classes on lynda.com. It has tutorials. Spend the time as an entrepreneur to learn it because it will help you so much. It’s incredible.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:


BL: How do you keep it all together – life, family, and business…your sanity?

KK: We have a sign we put at our booth; it’s from First Thessalonians in the Bible. It says aspire to live quietly, mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands. I don’t think it means, Paul is not saying go live in the mountains in a shack by yourself and just build something. I think he’s saying kind of keep your nose out of other people’s problems and distractions and all the worldly things that can pull us in different directions and that aren’t glorifying to God, not necessarily to command everyone, but like he’s encouraging them to work with their hands. I think definitely my wife and I have found a lot of satisfaction and contentment in that.

Listen to what Kyle has to say:




Remember, you can find out more about what is going on with Kyle and Range Leather on his web site at rangeleather.com. If you’d like to hear more programs like this, drop me a line at jerry@bestleather.org with your suggestions and ideas for future segments.

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