The Portland Leather Renaissance
Portland’s come a long way from its original days as a gritty, old frontier/port town with a predilection for logging. Hell, Portland’s changed a lot since its heyday as the epicenter of all things good and grungy about the 1990s; this despite that TV show Portlandia and the concept of retro-cool.
Since start of the 21st century, you’ve probably heard about Portland the beer mecca, Portland the coffee capitol, Portland the foodie fave and Portland the hipster haven; all true. And while you still might hear Temple of the Dog on the radio at a food truck that serves Transylvanian food or find flannel sold in farm-to-table coffee shops, Portland’s latest, newest, fck-yeah export falls squarely in the classic and timeless category: Leather.
That’s right. Portland leather is fck-yea. And, it’s got heritage, all starting way back in those 1930s depression days with Danner, who became known for their high-quality, sht kicking leather boots. Perfect for timber town. Known just as much for their rugged style as they are for their quality construction and steely sturdiness, they’re experiencing a renaissance these days; just as likely be found in true-blue outdoors stores as inside style-minded men’s boutiques. Kinda like Red Wings, ten years ago. They make a lot of models, but we say start with the Stumptown Collection—throwback, but not so much to be rendered a costume, with the Mountain Light Overton, Vertigo and Tramline being the models that most easily translate from the field into everyday wear.
The creative entrepreneurial spirit of modern day Portland has expanded upon the house which Danner built, giving an artisanal edge to all imaginable products that can be crafted from cowhide. Like things for beer or your bike (or both at the same time), a specialty of Walnut Studio which is really just a dude, Geoffrey Franklin and his wife Valerie who call their home garage their studio. We are obsessed with their handmade equestrian grade leather beer carriers, which come in a six-pack 12 oz. bottle size or a four-pack 22 oz. version. Another small-scale operation doing some big things is Wood & Faulk, or really a guy named Matt Pierce, whose leather accessories are made with the outdoorsman in mind, like a hand crafted English bridle leather camp stool, Horween leather wallets and cordovan watch straps.
On a slightly larger scale, Tanner Goods, started in 2005 is a collective of leather craftsmen inspired by legendary Washington saddle maker L.P. Streifel. Each piece is made by hand using tools that date back to the early 20th century and are based on a philosophy of less is more. Meaning, perfect leather belts, gloves and wallets and even some handsome collars and leashes for your four legged friends.
Orox Leather is a family based company that uses time-tested, heritage techniques from Oaxaca, Mexico (the name is a compression of Or for Oregon and Ox for Oxaca, where the Martinez family traces their ancestry). For years they were only available at Portland’s weekly outdoor market, but after growing a cult following in 2012, they opened an online shop and brick and mortar store in the city’s old town section, featuring an open studio where you watch the Martinez’s hand make everything sold in the store. A handsome mixed canvas and leather pannier bag, a leather bike handle and a sturdy tool roll up that attaches to bikes are our favorites.
The new Portland leather industry has something for just about everyone even leather jackets, which, when you think about it, have to be made to last. The one thing that hasn’t changed in Portland though the years: It rains. A lot.