July 22, 2015


Madi manages the mercantile leather shop.

Ranchlands’ leather shop has evolved from a young rancher’s humble sack of tools, used for tack repairs, to a signature line of bags which will launch in the New York marketplace next spring. Here is a summary of the path traveled thus far.

Chapter 1: Duke Phillips grew up as a working rancher. Living in a remote area made leather work a necessity, so he learned the basics of tack repair at an early age. He enjoyed the craft and continued learning from a mentor, even learning the art of saddle making.

Chapter 2: Slowly, Duke accumulated a small collection of tools. He kept them in a sack, which was brought out when something needed to be fixed.

Chapter 3: Upon moving to the Chico Basin, he built a work table and expanded his tool set. Out of this corner workspace, he started making small goods for family and friends. Eventually he was making handbags for his wife and daughters.

Chapter 4: As the ranch crew grew, the need for housing and saddle storage arose. This meant finding a new space for the shop that could facilitate growth and allow more involvement from the Chico staff. Thus, the “new” saddle house was built.

Chapter 5: Sewing machines, work benches, and tools sprawled over half of the saddle house. The expanded leather shop became a popular hangout for after-work beers and conversation among the crew. Multiple people could work on projects and a small retail space was set up at our sister ranch, the Zapata, for guests to buy ranch-made goods.

Chapter 6: Duke decided to offer goods online and could see the shop becoming a viable business opportunity, and way to diversify Ranchlands. I was hired in the summer of 2014, and Duke trained me as his first full time leather shop employee and manager.

Chapter 7: About 6 moths later, Duke’s vision gained support from a group called Nest. They enabled us to procure new machines and pursue our goal of passing on the heritage of leather craft and sharing our story with the urban community.

Chapter 8: Just a week ago, this partnership lead us on a trip to New York. There, we met with a woman helping us with the design aspects of our signature line and an Italian leather crafter that shared his knowledge of pattern making and construction. At the present stage, we have many people assisting with various areas, such as branding and marketing.

There will be many more chapters to come, as we prepare to launch this signature line in the spring at the New York Market. I am excited to be a part of this organically evolving leather shop that started as a simple sack of tools.