"In our modern society, it's next to impossible to find long-haul products," writes Scott Hofert. And he should know; his job in the non-profit sector required him to travel the world from 1989 to the 2000s, and during off-hours he sought out new specimens for his collection of leather bags while traipsing through 40-odd countries. But what he found was that most of these so-called durable goods were not up to snuff. "[They] were flimsy, cheesy or had so many pockets and compartments when all [I] wanted was something simple, rugged and durable."
North-Carolina-based Hofert then embarked on the path that will get you written up in Core77: He scanned the product landscape, could not find what he wanted, and decided to learn how to make what he wanted by himself, using his own hands.
What sparked Hofert's journey is interesting. In April of 2010 the first iPad came out, and Hofert bought one. The iPad had of course been a top-secret project at Apple, and upon its release there weren't a lot of cases available for it. Hofert got himself a scrap of leather hide and decided to make one of his own. He asked questions at a local leather shop and scoured YouTube for videos on how to work leather. After some trial and error, he had successfully produced the simple iPad case you see here:
"It was real simple," Hofert told Core77. "Square edges, clean lines." Now that he knew how to make it, he thought other iPad owners might want one, so he started a website to sell them online. He also shrewdly took out an ad in a magazine for Mac users. The risk was low: If someone wanted one, he'd run out and buy the leather, then make it and ship it. Hofert's instincts proved correct, and orders started coming in.
Having caught the leather-crafting bug, Hofert then turned his efforts towards making a leather wallet. More trial and error, and after he got it right, that went up on the website too. Orders started coming in for that as well. He followed that up with a belt and then finally, the thing that had drawn him to leather in the first place, a leather bag.
We all have our product fetishes, and I asked Hofert what it was that drew him to leather bags in the first place. "I'd travel through all these airports," Hofert says, "and you'd see some guy on an escalator with this beat-up leather bag. You'd just know, by looking at that bag, that that guy'd been everywhere with it. Something about that drew me to them. I love the idea that you can have a product that gets better with age, like a wine."
Here in 2012 Hofert's company, ColsenKeane Custom Leather Goods, is producing "at a crazy pace" and produces roughly thirty different leather products across a variety of categories. (Be sure to check out the full lineup here.) He's hired three other leather craftspersons but continues to sit at the bench himself, to ensure he touches each and every product that leaves their doors. When I called the company, Hofert himself answered the phone.
The three-year-old company is growing, though Hofert modulates that growth carefully: "I grew up in a family business," he explains. "My great-grandfather, grandfather and father all made watches. It was a family-sized operation, and I watched them work very closely with individual customers, and that sank in. With ColsenKeane, customers can come in and offer input on the bag they want, they're part of the process. And I like that." ColsonKeane, by the way, is named for Hofert's two sons.
I ask Hofert about what I assume is a massive difference between working in nonprofit consulting versus crafting leather products. "I'm not getting paid for ideas anymore," he explains, "I'm getting paid for product."
Below is a video showing the ColsenKeane shop, their process, and Hofert discussing the "narrative properties" of leather. I love seeing a designer or craftsperson who is clearly in love with their signature material, and Hofert fits the bill: