Lesley Weidenbener: Leather, sewing and an Indiana company

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I had a fantastic conversation with a southern Indiana business owner last week that has its roots in some shopping I did on the last day of 2023 in Evanston, Illinois.

My husband and I were in the Chicago suburb to spend New Year’s weekend with good friends when I went to a Blick art supplies store near the Northwestern University campus. I love an art supplies store and can look at paper and markers and paints for hours even though I’m not artistic at all.

I lingered in the textiles aisle, checking out craft leather. I’ve started sewing purses and bags recently and wanted to add some leather accents to them, but buying leather seemed overwhelming. So when I saw a 16-ounce bag of leather scraps for $9.99, I knew that was my way in.

I flipped over the bag and saw that the leather brand—Realeather—was based in Jeffersonville, which made my day. Not only had I found a great deal on leather I could experiment with, but I’d found my next Made in Indiana feature. You can see it today on page 6A.

IBJ launched Made in Indiana, a feature that highlights products manufactured in the state, almost exactly one year ago. Since then, we’ve featured Bar Keepers Friend made in Indianapolis, Albanese Gummi Bears made in Merrillville, Clabber Girl baking powder made in Terre Haute and dozens more products from all over Indiana.

Nearly everyone in the newsroom contributes to this feature, including me. I think it’s important that editors help with series like this one, in part because it alleviates some burden on reporters but also because we learn so much along the way.

I learned that Realeather is a brand of Silver Creek Leather Co., which was founded by Greg Sartor, who has spent his career in the leather industry. He saw a gap in the market for craft leather—essentially leather packaged for retail outlets to sell to customers like me who are making bags or jewelry or other hobby projects—and built a company to fill it.

Silver Creek does more than sell leather to hobby shops and craft stores. It also produces leather laces for shoe companies and specialty leather parts to all kinds of industries. In fact, Silver Creek can produce 30 miles of leather laces a day.

But Sartor’s own roots are in crafting.

“It was a hobby when I was a kid, and I kind of worked my way through college doing craft shows, making things,” he told me. “Purses, belts, wristbands, that sort of thing.”

Sartor said leathercraft is not like many other artistic pursuits.

“Everything you make out of leather is usable,” he said. “It’s very practical, and it doesn’t take a lot of tools to get into the hobby.”

And many of the people who start out making leather crafts as a hobby end up with a side gig or even a full-time job selling their wares, often on Etsy or another online site. Silver Creek is always working to keep up with the trends for those makers. “We try to have fresh leathers and new designs and new tools and that sort of thing,” Sartor said.

Silver Creek employs about 50 people. And it’s sometimes so busy, it must contract out some of its work. And those leather scrap bags? They’re popular enough that the company often buys scraps from other companies that use leather just to meet the demand.

I’ve already purchased another scrap bag of leather. And I’m confident I’ll buy more. It’s especially fun to do so knowing that I’m supporting an Indiana company and Hoosier workers.•

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Weidenbener is editor of IBJ. Email her at lweidenbener@ibj.com.

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