Letter: A Question About a Home Business in Leatherworking

What type of items do you suggest for leatherworking? I currently make holsters & slings for myself and friends and I am considering expanding to other items. I know it’s a silly question and you’re most likely too busy running the blog to have time for this but figured it never hurts to ask a question. Thank for all you do and taking the time to read this. – Chuck

JWR Replies:

My advice on developing a leatherworking business is a follows:

  • Recognize that this is a fairly crowded and competitive market.
  • Keep your overhead low.
  • Keep your quality high.
  • Be realistic about about what will sell. Don’t build an inventory of slow-selling products.
  • Keep your prices low, until you develop a large backlog of orders.
  • Stick primarily with STANDARD not-model-or-barrel-length-specific items with broad/generic appeal, such as slings, Yaqui style holsters, buttstock shell/cartridge holders, and a magazine pouches.
  • Don’t get bogged down in custom work. (Charge premium prices for that work, and it won’t become a problem.)
  • Develop your own Brand Name, and proudly stamp the BACK of every piece with your name/logo.
  • Avoid making any items larger than purses or saddlebags. (Shipping is problematic.)
  • Recognize that overseas (Mainland China) competition is inevitable, so be innovative in design.
  • Scale your advertising and publicity to speed up or slow down your business, as needed.

One unfilled niche in the market that I’ve noticed is making replicas of the sadly now-discontinued Milt Sparks Six Pack magazine pouch design.

Here are two examples of well-run businesses that mostly do standardized products. They are worthy of emulation:




I wish you he best for your venture! – JWR


  1. I personally prefer leather holsters and mag pouches to kydex or polymer. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find quality double mag pouches for Glock 19 or Glock 21 in leather. Also, cigar carriers.

  2. Most of my leatherwork business has been the repair business. Replacing broken straps on shoulder holsters, replacing snaps and rivets, relacing/rebacking knife sheaths and so on. If you get good at being able to fix broken leather items, you can develop a consistent market once you get the word around, depending on where you market is. It isn’t fancy work, but you can stay busy and put your investment to good use.

    You don’t see much out there in tooled leather or lace up. Some cowboys like the old fashioned look of a tooled and leather laced wallet, but demand for that is going to be slim no matter where you are. Sometimes I can drum up business at re-enactments, rendevous, or archery competitions, where not everyone wants their stuff in kydex and cordura. You might also haunt some of the SASS events since they prefer period acoutrements to go with their winchesters and sixguns. But most likely you will have competition. If you do some production and develop an inventory of good quality scabbards, sheaths and holsters, you might rent a table at a gun show and see if you can drum up any business.

    1. Jason, thanks for your comments. I have done a little kydex work myself but I prefer leather as well. If you would like perhaps you’d be willing to email me at Cmarcleathers@gmail.com and let me know what it is you are looking for and perhaps I can help you. What kind of cigar carrier if I can ask?

  3. I have been doing custom leatherwork for about 49 years (all of my tools were made in the USA). I have found that people won’t pay what it is worth here in Idaho (because of cheap stuff from China), but they will pay for hand carved designs (not just stamped) and for good custom holsters, and cases (shaped to specific items). If you can be creative and develop your own custom products you will do very well. Good luck!

    1. Dan, 49 years?! Wow! I can only hope to get that much longevity!!
      As much as I’d love to get “specific” at this point I don’t have the ability to do more than a few model specific items (there are way more blue guns then I would have imagined!)
      Might I ask what you would suggest to start out with? That would give me a good starting point?
      Thanks for any advice you’re willing to share.

  4. one of the many things I have been looking at is just this (leather working) I am trying to wrap up my small business and go from a 2700 sf shop back to 1 bedroom and a 2 car garage. This would be primarily to keep me out of the wife’s hair and give me something to do that has a purpose and also make a little money from it.

    I think the repair side of it is a great idea and will sort of pursue that near term. Does anyone have any ideas that would keep a 72 yr old somewhat brain active. I had a mild stroke about two years ago so I’m somewhat limited to the physical side of any activity.

    Have had a service oriented business for many years that requires the use of power and hand tools, table saws, and so on.

    Wife and I are already planning on volunteer activities thru our church and community.


  5. A few suggestions, for what they are worth:
    1) Sheaths for custom made knives — maybe in partnership with custom knife makers.

    2) There is really no good way I know of for carrying a fixed blade knife concealed aside from a shoulder holster like the old ones used for pistols. (Carrying in the small of the back just gives an attacker a knife with which to stab you in the kidneys).

    The shoulder holster I have in mind has a broad loop around the left shoulder and a strap across the back (maybe nylon) connecting to a supporting loop around the right shoulder that helps hold the left shoulder loop in place. With such, one could conceal a Kabar under their left armit.

    3) The Brits make — or used to make — leather sleeves to slip over the barrels/forearm grip of their double-barreled shotguns. keeps corrosive sweat from hands off the barrel steel. Haven’t seen any here in the USA recently.

    4) A lot of nylon backpacks out there would hold up much better if they had a reinforced leather bottom. Maybe something you could retrofit and/or make.

    5) A few days ago, someone put up a link to a Escape and Evasion belt made by a former CIA employee. Appears to be the old money belt with concealed pouches on the inside for lockpicks, handcuff key, small blades, money,etc.

    6) An argument can be made that western boxing is the best martial art/ self defense method. Certainly the military thinks so –combining it with Brazilian Jiu Jutsu. The problem, of course, is busted knuckles. But while the law frowns on brass knuckles, I know of no law against leather knuckles. Which would work almost –but not quite –as well.

    1. Don,
      Thanks for the ideas! I am currently working on a concealed carry holster for myself for a fixed blade Gerber that I’ve had for a while now. It’s not a shoulder holster but an IWB. I will let you know when I have it complete and will post pics. (I just started an Instagram account, will update when I have something worth posting there)
      Thanks again

  6. PS There’s also a guy in South America that makes expensive body armor concealed in leather jackets. Level IIIA body armor tends to print if it is worn under a shirt and tipping off attackers that you are wearing body armor is a good way to encourage them to shoot you in the head. Motorcycle gangs might be one niche market — it is not as if New York fashion industry is tripping over itself trying to market to the Hells Angels. Harley Motorcycles might be willing to carry Level IIIA vests or jackets in their store.

  7. PPS Leather elbow patches for wool sweater is another rarely seen item.

    Note that if one of your unique products becomes favored by motorcycle gangs, cops, soldiers,etc then New York yuppies may stand in line to buy it.

  8. PPS It is a mark of our crappy education system that K12 teaches no business skills whatsoever. If you are going to build a business, it is good to take a look at Michael Porter’s ideas on Competitive Strategy (book available via interlibrary loan). Porter is Harvard Business School’s expert on the subject. A summary of his ideas is here:


    You need to not only make a product people are willing to buy. You also need to extract a good price from customers, slap your suppliers around if they get greedy and beat the stuffings out of any competitors/copiers. Business is war.

  9. Here are a couple of links to websites that advertise “chest type holsters”. Take a look and see what you think. Chest holsters are high-end products, I think. Customers have expressed interest in a holster that is readily accessible and still allow a person to wear a backpack or sling a rifle. These products are especially popular in dangerous game country. Over many years of selling leather products, I have found it extremely difficult to recover labor costs on custom products. We are NOT in business to trade dollars with our customers!
    Develop your own product, stamp in proudly with your name and “Made in the U.S.A.” and charge accordingly. Good Luck!


  10. If you can put leather patches on sweaters, can you do so on jeans? Boys jeans are not made like the old days. Leather knee patches?

    Also, hand-made leather sandals! Unfortunately, they are called “Jesus sandals.” They sell for about $45 on Etsy and are made in other countries. These might sell well if you could get a fit that most people would wear. Etsy might be a good place to get ideas too.

    1. Hi,
      I don’t know about “patches”…..I’d feel like I was taking peoples money for nothing. I mean what do I offer? Squares/rectangles with sewing holes punched around the edges? It’s an interesting idea, it sure got me thinking, that’s for sure!
      Thank you

  11. My current leather grail is a “biker wallet” made in USA, with innards suited for lots of cards. If you like, I can send you my old Pakistani made sample that lasted maybe a year.

    My current US made wallet is constructed backwards.

    1. Hi Tio,
      Are you talking about multiple pockets for credit cards? I’m thinking open the wallet and one side is basically a vertical card holder? I appreciate the offer to send me the one you have, but emailing pictures would be even easier. If you decide to do that please send them to Cmarcleathers@gmail.com

  12. One leather accessory that is overpriced –in my opinion — are the leather carrying cases for higher end compasses. Brunton , for example, charges $35 for the case for its Pocket Transit. Of course, it charges over $400 for the pocket transit but the Chinese are exporting the DLQ-8 copy which is only $69. The DLQ-8 has gotten some good reviews on Amazon for people claiming to be working geologists but they complain about the poor holster that comes with the DLQ-8 and the high price of the Brunton one.

    Suunto charges $15 for a thin nylon case for its MC-2 line of compasses. A leather case would provide better protection.

    It seems to be a habit with some companies to charge high prices for accessories like leather cases even if they compete on price for the primary product. Similar to how car makers have a low price basic model but really charge a lot for desirable options. This can provide an opening for businesses making good quality substitutes for more reasonable prices.

  13. Where I live could be considered a tourist trap so prices may vary from one location to the next, but I have a friend that makes very good quality leather products and I purchased a very nice leather belt and it cost me $100 which I thought was rather high, but I always open carry a high cap 45 which is pretty heavy but a good quality belt makes it much more comfortable to wear. Trekker Out

  14. I made an item years ago for my wife that she really liked and it is quite simple as well as functional. It was a leather holster for her hair dryer that I mounted to on the side of the bathroom vanity that frees up the formally cluttered counter top. I can envision these selling at horse shows and other events, particularly if you add some tooling to jazz them up. Good luck on your endeavor.

  15. re:
    marking a product with the words “Made in fUSA”

    Around here, folks are very likely to purchase everything stamped “MADE IN OREGON BY OUR NEIGHBORS”.

    Anything stamped ‘made in new york city’ or ‘made in district of corruption’ or ‘made in hollywood’, not so much.

    Until just a moment ago, I didn’t realize I needed a custom belt-mounted cigar holder. Dee-luxe! I’ll be the envy of all the other cigar-smoking grannies!

    Or cobbling-up a belt-mounted holder for a door-stop. In the unlikely event any of our extended family decide to visit a government school someday (for ‘shucks and giggles’), it might be a dandy idea… but, truth is, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

    1. Gramma,
      Sadly due to things that were way beyond my control as a kid, I moved from Idaho and ended up “back east” so hopefully Pennsylvania isn’t “too” east. Please send me an email and let’s see what the Dee-luxe cigar holder needs to become a reality for you. I LOVE the idea that I could help you become the envy of everyone!
      Thank you

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