Leather: the rich smells, the luxurious look and appeal. Leather has certainly remained in style over the years, but the industry’s tradespeople have suffered. The art of leatherworking seems to have almost withered away into non-existence, but in the basement of the Mercer building, one artist carries on the tradition.
Kyle Closen, a Saskatchewan native and welder by trade, decided to realise his dream and begin a leatherworking business. Closen is the founder of Clo’s Custom Leather, an old-school business that sells custom handcrafted leather goods. Prior to owning his business, Closen started doing leatherwork as a hobby.
“I grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan and my family owned an upholstery store in town, so I worked a lot with fabrics and different textiles,” says Closen. “My grandpa used to work with leather, and so he taught me some things. Like I wanted to make a belt and a wallet, so I made it myself because it was so expensive to go out and buy, so I made myself some stuff.”
Friends and family began to see Closen’s workmanship, and he continued the craft in his spare time until he finally decided to open a shop in Vacancy Hall and pursue leatherworking full-time. Clo’s Custom Leather initially operated as a retail space, showroom, and workshop. Recently, Closen has expanded his workshop to another location within the Mercer building, while the retail outlet remains in its original place.
Vacancy Hall was an ideal starting point for his business, says Closen. “It’s a nice, affordable place for new artists to set up and follow their dreams and try and make something out of the space,” he explains.
When he started his business, Closen took a lot of custom orders, but now he focuses more on his own brand. Although he still takes a few custom orders here and there, he is committed to producing a line of regular products.
Closen responds positively to the idea of a fine arts program for leatherworking. “That would be amazing if there was such a thing, to be able to learn and do something like this,” he says. “It’s a dying art, for sure. Leather is something that essentially can last forever if it’s built properly. It can last forever and will never fall apart.”
Leatherworking is one of the oldest remaining crafts out there, and while the popularity of leather products has remained strong, the craftsmanship has suffered. In this dying art form, it is entrepreneurs like Closen who continue to engineer quality products, going against the status quo in our era of cheap manufactured goods.
There is something so significant about buying a handmade product — an act that is foreign to us today. Essentially, as consumers, it is about valuing the tradition of craftsmanship. Clo’s Custom Leather is a testament to those who once made things that mattered, and made them to last.