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Leather To Last A Lifetime

Odin Clack makes them smart, simple and strong. And if his little company succeeds, you may end up givng yours to your grandkids some day.

by Jerome Weeks 11 Jan 2018
Odin Clack

Odin Clack got into hand-made, premium leather goods because he's been restless and creative with his hands since he was a kid in Galveston, drawing and building stuff. Clack has a marketing degree from Texas A&M and has worked as a director of digital global marketing for Texas firms. Five years ago, he visited a Tandy Leather shop on a whim and came out with a starter kit. Now, will Odin Leather Goods - that little leathercrafting business he started in his garage - really take off?

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Welcome to the Art&Seek Artist Spotlight. Every Thursday, here and on KERA FM, we’ll explore the personal journey of a different North Texas creative. As it grows, this site, artandseek.org/spotlight, will eventually paint a collective portrait of our artistic community. Check out all the artists we’ve profiled.


The video above was originally made by KDAF-TV’s “Eye Opener” and Neeha Curtis.

 

The lines of leather products you find on Odin Leather Goods’ website are not super-chic or duded-up country-western. But they’re all sharp, solidly-designed, hand-made leather products: wallets, tote bags, belts, portfolios. It’s a good-looking site with good-looking gear.

So I went to check out the storefront, tour the workshop, possibly see some of the art of leatherworking in action.

And I found myself in the backyard of a typical, two-story suburban home in Coppell.

“Let’s step into the workshop,” Odin Clack says and opens the door to his garage. “This is Odin Leather Goods.”

Indeed it is. And it’s all of it. No, Odin doesn’t really have a good explanation why his parents named him Odin – you know, Sir Anthony Hopkins, father of Thor.

odin1

Odin Clack in his garage-workshop checking his workflow list for the holidays. Photo: Jerome Weeks

Clack’s garage is like a million others across America. There are shelves and shelves from floor to rafters, racks of tools and a couple of tables. Only, in this case, the shelves overflow with leather hides and the tables are covered with sewing machines and cans of leather soap and unfinished tote bags.

“Nothing fancy,” Clack says. “But it’s where I get the work done.”

In short, every Odin belt or smartphone slipcase is hand-made right here, solely by Clack. Since 2009, Clack has been the director of global, online marketing for several North Texas firms. He’s managed 50 websites in 11 languages. And that expertise is evident in his own website.

Meaning, all these leather goods have been just a sideline.

An artistic outlet he needed? “No,” he says. “I loved my job” in online marketing. But even as a kid in Galveston, Clack says, he was always drawing and drafting and building things with his hands. He’s just got to be doing stuff. About six years ago, he thought he’d try something with leather. There’s no family heritage in the business, he says, no childhood fascination. Leather is just ‘structural.’ Good for building things.

“You have to cut certain things a certain way, you have to trim a certain way. It’s not abstract. I want things that have form and body and shape.”

But Clack had to learn everything about leather from scratch. Spent a ton of money at Tandy Leather – and spent a ton of time asking questions.

“It kinda grew into a hobby. And then from a hobby it was ‘Maybe I have a small business here, make a little bit of money on the side.’ From there it went to ‘Let’s actually try to build a brand.'”

the sign level

The sign in Clack’s garage. Photo: Jerome Week

Three months ago, Clack spoke at a crafts and creativity conference in Memphis. He met other artisans and designers, all of them worrying about the same thing: How do I take my craft to the next level? But flying back to his marketing job in Dallas, Clack actually felt psyched. He’d shared ideas, he got new ones, and his digital skills gave him an edge. He already has 30,000 followers on Instagram, people who give him feedback on his latest designs.

So he returned to the office on Monday — “full day at the office with all this energy and vigor. And then Tuesday got laid off.”

Now – Clack is facing the dilemma confronting plenty of novelists, jewelry makers and all those quilters and ceramic artists on Etsy. Can I make a real living at this?

“I don’t have an interest in going back to this artist lifestyle,” he declares. “Nor could I with two kids and a wife. So anything I do now it’s going to be with the intent of, not necessarily making a million bucks a year, but I do want to earn a nice income for myself and my family.”

Clack’s goods don’t feature traditional leather tooling — the kind of intricate work done by leather artists like Clint Wilkinson in Denton. And high-fashion materials like Italian leathers are too soft for his goods. He works with nothing but heavy-duty cowhide and solid brass buckles and clasps. He wants to build bags tough enough to last a lifetime. You’ll be able to hand down one of his wallets to your kids – and your life will have shaped it almost as much as Clack did.

“I don’t make goods that require you to baby and to take great care of – no,” he says. “Use the hell out of it. And the more you use it, and the more you beat it up, the better it’s going to look. So the patina is going to come from you.”

Clack says, yes, many would consider all this a ‘masculine’ style. Odin Leather products are so simple, they mostly come in just tan, brown or black.

odin sewing2

Odin Clack sewing one of his signature belts. Photo: courtesy of Odin Clac

But a few months ago, Clack devised a new tote bag. He called it the Rylie. It’s a little rounder. Still minimalist and functional but a little more stylish, little more sophisticated.

Really – it’s a purse.

“It does have more of a pursey feel to it,” Clack admits. “And took a couple of pictures of it and before I know it, I had a bunch of orders.”

So why the name ‘Rylie’?

“It was the kid in the family I was thinking about at the time. Typically, all the items are named after the last kid I was thinking about.”

You can see a Rylie bag up-top as Clack’s ‘selfie’ portrait and on the table in front of him in that photo with the Odin logo. Of course, Clack still cranks out his simple, hard-working, ‘manly’ belts – they’re some of his biggest sellers. But the Rylie bag also sold well over the holidays, and that female market is something Clack is definitely considering these days. Odin Leather Goods has doubled or near-doubled its profits every year for four years. It’ll need to continue that climb for all this to work.

But Clack figures he’s got digital smarts, a good brand, a lot more time on his hands now – for his hand-made products.

And if he comes up with some new designs?

Well, Rylie has plenty of cousins to name them after.

 

You said earlier, the leatherwork all started as a casual interest, then it grew into a hobby. Then you got more serious. Did you ever quit your day job to pursue this full-time?

Well, so, it’s an interesting thing. I got laid off. The interesting thing is I had been invited to a conference called ‘Creative Works’ in Memphis to speak about Odin Leather Goods, my business, and to share how I grew my business. The conference brought a bunch of creative people together from all over the country – painters, videowork, digital designers – to talk about being a better creative. We shared our problems – and some even our solutions.

Leaving that conference, I came back energized, really fueled with the thought, ‘Hmm, maybe my big ideas weren’t so outrageous, maybe this is the time to start planning my exit from this business [his full-time job working as director of global online marketing for a small health-and-wellness company].’ There were a lot of brands at the conference that I’ve looked up to for a long time – Oxford Pennant is one of them, Grits Clothing down in Houston – and I’m seeing them doing these awesome things, and I’m always thinking, ‘How can I get my business like that?’

Then I meet with them and find they’re actually asking themselves the same thing, ‘How do we get our business to the next level?’

the bag

The Texas Messenger bag was inspired by early 1900’s US Postal Service mail carrier bags (note the one-handed, solid-brass latch) . Down-sized to messenger-bag size, it comes with shoulder straps but it’s updated with a laptop pocket. Photo: Jerome Weeks

There are all these arbitrary levels we set for ourselves, comparing ourselves to others, looking at things like Instagram that maybe aren’t based on reality. But it turns out maybe you’re not so far behind. When you meet them, one-on-one, you realize we’re all having the same battles, going through the same struggles.

So – got back to Dallas on Sunday. Went to the office on Monday, all energized and full of vigor. Got laid off Tuesday.

Oh.

Yeah. But I’m planning to consult still. Like I said, I like my [online marketing] job. But now I’ve got my holiday orders waiting for me, plan to do six or seven bags just today. Then we’re going on vacation, close the shop until early January.  And now I’ve really gotten intentional about Odin Leather Goods.

Has living and working in North Texas been an advantage, has it been a disadvantage? Or could you have done this – with all these tools – pretty much anywhere?

I think it’s definitely been an advantage more than anything.

Two things. One, the amount of resources here are incredible. I know a leathercrafter in Toronto. Whenever he needs a side of leather, he has to pay an incredible amount in taxes to get that leather across the border. Or if he wanted to try out new hardware or equipment, all these other things he wanted to try – it was much more of an ordeal for him to get it. He had to find it, spend the money for it, have it delivered, pay the taxes, determine if it’s what he wanted, if he could use it. If he didn’t like it, he had to start all over again. He couldn’t just go anywhere and see what he wanted, put his hands on anything, try it out.

Well, I have a Tandy store in Irving, and I still use Tandy quite often, but for the first year or two, when I wanted to build something, I’d go to Tandy, ask a lot of questions. And that’s just a 25-minute drive for me. So I spent an incredible amount of time there, an incredible amount of money figuring things out.

But even for something as simple as shipping supplies or tools, I have Uline right here [a shipping supplies company]. I have incredible access to these resources. I think that’s a huge advantage being here in North Texas.

Past that, North Texas also has a great community of makers. So I’m in that space of maker-designer-creative, where the lines blur together. But there are so many of those right here in North Texas I’d be able to partner with, talk to, share experiences with, learn from. I could throw a rock here and hit someone who’s making something incredible in their backyard, in their garage, in their studio, right now.

As a source of inspiration, do you look at another designer’s bag or wallet, take it apart, figure out how to improve it, make it your own?

I’ve done some of that. Y’know, ‘I wonder if I can come up with my own version of that?’

But more than anything, I see there’s a problem. Or something I want to do, I want to achieve. Like, ‘I want to carry this type of wallet but I want to be able to put it in my front pocket but also have a place for cash.’

So OK, what do I do?

Or ‘I want to carry my laptop and nothing more than a notepad with me because I don’t need the chargers and all the other stuff. I don’t want a big bag.’ What do I do? Or ‘I want a belt that’s going to last for many years and still be comfortable, still look good.’ Well, that’s the problem, I’m just trying to come up with a solution to fix it.”

And the motto?

Lots of people dream. People have lots of dreams, dreams are free. But you want that dream to be real, you got to put in the work.

 

drink coaster

The Odin drink coaster: the circular steel cutter (above, left) used to hammer out the coaster from a piece of leather and the custom dye punch (lower, right) to press in the Odin Leather Goods motto. Photo: Jerome Weeks

Interview questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

 

 

 

 

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