I got my first exposure to real tough leather at a Mexican bullfight... and I was the one fighting the bull. I didn't understand much Spanish then, but from what I gathered, they said to shake the this cape thing and the bull would go for it. What they didn't tell me (or maybe they did) was that if anything else were shaking i.e. my left leg, the bull might go for that instead. Well, he wasn't real pretty, with one curved and one straight horn, and he wasn't real bright either, but he was a fast learner. So the shaking thing worked... the first time. To read "Dave the Bullfighter" click here.
My long and promising 15 minute bullfighting career ended that day and shortly thereafter, Saddleback Leather began. It's been a fun ride filled with quite a few adventures. A crooked Federale was sent to kill me. I traded my black lab, Blue's puppies for 100 tacos not once, but twice. To read "Puppies for Tacos" click here. My little brother, Jonathan, and I worked for a Mexican mafia family (we think). Blue and I lived in a $100/month apartment in Juarez, Mexico for a few years with no hot water. And the biggest adventure of all was when I met my hot wife Suzette on Myspace while I was checking out Costa Rica and Panama getting bag pics.
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Since 1999, I've been using my own personal leather bag designs daily and have found a lot of ways to improve them. Most of the changes are ones that most people would never notice such as changing the number of stitches per inch or reinforcing stress points. Those durability details are the ones I'm most proud of.
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So, I had my first bag made while living in Southern Mexico as a volunteer English teacher to kids who needed a little help. I had looked everywhere for just the right bag, but with no luck. So I prayed for God to help me find the greatest bag ever, just like the one I had in my head. Well, as it turned out, He helped me to find that bag, but in a way I wasn't expecting.
I walked into a little leather shop and met a fellow working leather in the back. I asked him if he could make me a bag if I were to draw it out. I told him that I wanted it to be made so well that my grandkids would fight over it while I was still warm in the grave. He said "Si" and I said "Bueno" and that's how it all started. God directed me to the perfect bag that didn't even exist yet.
I loved that thing and when I got back to the states, I found that everyone else did too. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I got 3 to 4 compliments a day on it. People asked me all the time where I found it and where they could get one. The bag was actually fun to carry, not just because of all the compliments, but because of all of the stares. People crossed the street to ask about it and came out of their offices when I walked by their windows.
One of the more common remarks I heard was "I bet that bag has some great stories" and believe me, it did (hitchhiking southern Mexico with big sombreros (I'm the one on the right), surf trips, car crashes, jungle treks, countless taco stands etc.). It didn't take long to realize that I was onto a good thing.
Well, Blue and I went right back to Mexico to have 8 more made. A month later, in Portland, Oregon, we sold most of the bags off the safari rack of my old Land Cruiser in about 3 hours. Well, I'm the one who sold them. Blue just sat there on the tailgate.
After that, I decided to move back to Mexico to get more bags made and get the company off the ground. The leather worker who made my first bag, though talented, wasn't the most trustworthy guy south of the border and so I started looking for someone else. I went to Mexico's leather town to find a new craftsman. Arriving, I started asking strangers on the street, "Excuse me, do you know where I can find a leather worker?" Pretty much everybody pointed me in the same direction of Don David (The don of a family is the older and most respected patriarch in the family). So I started my search for his little workshop-storefront. When I walked in, I knew I was home. This gentleman had a big wide smile and gentle sparkling eyes that put me at ease right away.
I introduced myself, handed him the bag and asked if he could make it. Knowing what I know now, that was a really dumb question. He could've made a functional leather car engine if I would have asked him to. He shared his resume over the next several days and weeks and months as I sat in that little shop on an overturned 5 gallon bucket for hours on end (there was a cushion). I sat fascinated watching him work and listening to his story as he told me that his father's father was a leather craftsman in that very workshop back in the 1800's.
His grandfather trained his father who in turn trained him. Don David started as his father's full time apprentice in 1948 at the age of 10 and is now training his son to take his place. Using his vast experience working leather, he transformed my basic but great looking bag into an amazingly durable and highly functional work of art. He's no longer interested in making more than a few of any one thing, but rather enjoys turning my design ideas into beautiful reality. He's truly a gifted man.
So I soon found myself living in Juarez, Mexico in a not so nice neighborhood and rented a $100/month apartment (including utilities). I saved so much money living there that I was able to send a little money for 5 more bags, then 8, then even a dozen at a time. Things were really starting to roll, but it wasn't long before I started to burn out. The lure of $17,000 USD a year just wasn't as attractive as it once was. I was longing for the good life again.
That's when I talked Dad into working with me part time to help with customer service and shipping and quality control and organizing the customers and a bunch of other things. Boy was he a breath of fresh air and his part time job turned into a full time job in no time. All of his business wisdom and understanding really made a huge difference and the struggling company soon became a healthy company. Now I was able to get back to traveling a little more. Whether in Poland or Panama or the Czech Republic or Slovenia or Tunisia or anywhere else, I was finally able to go more places than I could ever drive or hitchhike to.
But after 3 years of living in Juarez, I got tired. I was tired of wondering if my old truck would be there in the morning and leaving the glove box open so that my loving neighbors wouldn't break the glass to find out it was empty. I was tired of drug dealers and prostitutes on the corner of my street and ignoring the same old foot cop trying in vain to pull me over every morning to get a bribe. Honestly, after awhile, I kind of liked the mice. Especially Stuart. He was a great listener. I had gotten hot water two months earlier, so that was no big deal. I was just tired and wanted out of Juarez. Saddleback was developing a small little family of dedicated brothers and sisters who spoke highly of their bags to their friends and co-workers. So, I decided it was time to live back in the U.S.
As it turns out, just after that trip to Panama, I moved to El Paso, Texas, met my super funny and hot wife, Suzette, on MySpace.com and got married 5 months later. 9 months and 15 minutes after the wedding, we had our gorgeous little baby girl Sela (Honestly, she looked just like me, minus the 5 o'clock shadow, when she was born, but she got really cute about 4 months later). Since we've been married, we haven't slowed down. Bora Bora, Australia, Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Canada, Jamaica, Acapulco, Spain, The Seychelles, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ireland, France, all over Mexico, and maybe 60 airplane rides later, here we are. Our boy Cross came along not too long afterwards.
With Suzette's tremendous support and added organization along with our dedicated, talented and hard working family members, we were able to bring to life a few more designs and colors. Again, we grew and needed more structure and planning. Suzette and I began praying for just the right person to take us to the next level. It wasn't long before we began hearing of an amazing business coach named Chuck Bowen, who actually coaches dozens of other business coaches all over the nation to grow their businesses. As we listened to him on the radio and were recommended to him by others whom he had helped, it became obvious that if anyone could structure Saddleback, it would be him. We got an appointment and, 3 weeks later, he squeezed us in. That's when we started learning how to organize and to lead the company to a firm foundation.
And now, like the kangaroo picture, we're tough as nuts. A strong and healthy leather company, built to last and planted firm to weather any storm. I've heard horror stories of lots of small and successful businesses who, driven by greed, try to become giants and fail. In the pursuit, they either shut their doors or become nothing more than mundane and mediocre. We aren't like that. We are and will maintain our family of leather owners with love. Pretty much everyday I lay down in bed with my hot wife and we talk about different bag owners who we've been going back and forth with. We want to know your name. If our goal were to sell something to everyone, we would no longer be selling to shepherds; but only to sheep. We'd lose our edge and our designs would lose their originality and charm. We don't want to be a common name in everyone's home, but certainly in a few.
The Saddleback Story would not be complete if we did not give honor to whom honor is due. There have been many sacrifices in the growth of Saddleback, but none greater than that of the first cow, we'll call her "Daisy Bell". Her true identity is being protected out of respect for her friends and family. We stumbled upon this old photo of her in our archives. The spirit of "Daisy Bell" lives on today. She clearly did not die in vain.
To put it simply, Saddleback's goal is this: To love people around the world by making excessively high quality, tough and functional leather designs. And now you know... the rest of the story.