The Wahkiakum County Eagle - Established as The Skamokawa Eagle in 1891

Local woman travels long road to establish leatherwork business

 

January 31, 2019

Diana Zimmerman

It started out as a creative challenge, but making beautiful hand stitched leather goods has become a vocation for Wahkiakum High School alum Kylie Thacker.

Kylie Thacker is designing her life, one bag at a time, with her leather smithing business, Truant Leather Co.

And as she says herself, "what brought me here is not a perfect line, it's a web of all these different things."

Pain is not a nice way to start a story, but this story, like many, can't be told without a little of it.

Thacker, a 2002 Wahkiakum High School alum, first learned about loss at the age of 11 when her older brother, Wes, was struck and killed by a motorhome while riding his bike.

"It gives you a different perspective about life," Thacker said. "Time is limited. What is the point of the mundane routine? Living and being engaged is important to me. Doing what I want to do, working to my own goals. I want to set up a life that I enjoy daily. There's no hesitating."

She knows more about grief these days with the sudden and shocking loss of her father Stan in 2017 and the more recent death of her grandfather Hoby. But Thacker can also bear witness to some of life's grander gestures. She and her fiancé, Andrew are expecting their first child later this year.

Thacker has done it all. She has been a kayak guide, a lifeguard, waited tables in restaurants and bars. She's worked in retail, as a para-educator, in high end golf clubs in Palm Springs, California, and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

"I'm really glad I had that experience," Thacker said. "I think I've had 32 jobs in my life. Everything has added up to my experience. But I always had two to three jobs. I was always broke. I was hustling to make ends meet. At 25, I was over it. So I went to technical school."

"I had no idea what it was," Thacker laughed, "but it was a school I could go to for two years and come out and be making bank."

Thacker was one of three women in the Instrumentation and Industrial Automation program at Perry Tech. She had four job offers before she even completed her studies.

"Think of any automated process," Thacker explained. "People don't do everything by hand. Or think of any water supply, where there is a tank and you have to maintain the rate of flow in the pipes or the temperature or pressure in a tank. Instruments are what do that. Transmitters and gauges and sensors. All of them need to be calibrated to maintain accuracy."

Thacker began working for a biopharmaceutical company in Hillsboro, eventually making over $80,000 a year with just a two year education.

"It was kind of a Google atmosphere at work," Thacker said. "You worked four 10s. On shift change day, they would serve food and beer and wine so you could hang out with co-workers. There was unlimited sick leave, and two and half weeks vacation right off the bat. They really tried to be progressive, they wanted their employees to stay."

Taking advantage of the vacation time, Thacker backpacked with a friend in Europe. Living out of a bag for a month changed her. When she got back to Hillsboro, she found herself thinking about how much she had spent on rent, and how much stuff she had and didn't need.

"I'd been there for a year and a half and I hadn't made any friends," Thacker said. "I spent every weekend at the coast or in Bend or back at home."

Thacker got a notion to buy an Airstream trailer. She told her dad, and he simply said, "Okay."

"At this point, if I had weird, crazy ideas, they didn't question me any more,"Thacker said. "They know I'm going to do it."

Two weeks later, her dad had found an old 31 foot Airstream. Thacker parked it in her parents' back yard and she and her dad got busy remodeling the trailer.

"Dad was a logger and two shops full of tools," Thacker said. "He always had an endless supply of lumber and every tool you could possibly imagine."

They gutted it and then turned it into a home.

"It was really cute," Thacker said. "I found a place to park it in Pacific City, Ore. I parked my trailer out there in April of 2015 and had the best summer of my life. I met Andrew, my fiancé. Instantly I was surrounded by like minded people. I had a ton of friends."

For two years she spent her weekends in Pacific City. She would return to Hillsboro and camp in her Subaru in a friend's driveway on the days she had to work.

"It was really simple," Thacker said. "I loved it. I loved being out at the coast so much, but it felt like I was checking out of my life four days a week. I enjoyed work but I started getting the itch after three and a half years even though I was making amazing money."

"How do I make this my life?" Thacker began to wonder. "I had a lot of friends out there that were self employed. A lot of surfers that had their life set up where they were free and flexible. If the surf was good, they were there. They didn't make as much money as me, but to me what they had was a lot more valuable. The freedom and the flexibility."

"I decided when I was going to purchase things, I was going to invest in things and not buy a bunch of cheap crap," Thacker said. "I had been carrying around a cotton tote bag. It was getting a little ratty and I wanted something a little nicer."

She found some bags, but they were either really expensive, or over embellished, or both.

"I wanted something really simple," Thacker said. "I found it on Instagram. There were independent makers, but they wanted $600 to $800 for a tote bag."

That was crazy. She decided she could do it herself.

"It was just random," Thacker laughed. "A lot of my whims? I don't know where they come from."

She made a tote and gave it to her niece, but not before posting a picture of it online.

"Everyone freaked out about it," Thacker said.

That's when she decided that she could do it too. After a little investigation, she discovered that there was a lot of opportunity. Not a lot of people were leather smithing.

"I think I always wanted to do something creative for a living, but I didn't know what that was and there was no clear feasible way for me to make a living at it," Thacker said. "I'm very creative, but I'm also very practical. I understand that you need to have an income. I wasn't totally willing to do the starving artist thing."

After her father died in 2017, she gave up her lucrative job and moved back to Skamokawa to be near her mom for awhile.

"I love coming home," Thacker said. "It's like hitting the easy button. The support of the community. It's an awesome place to be, it's an awesome place to be from."

She started turning the leatherwork into a business and a lifestyle.

"I don't have any bags to show you," Thacker told me. "I sell everything I make. It's the coolest thing. I've gotten amazing feedback from the very beginning."

Thacker chooses to do minimal and simple designs, using hand stitches and letting the quality of the material do the talking, making each item unique.

Self taught, she's been piecing tools and other things together as she goes along.

Thacker buys her leather from a supplier in Bend.

"He gets a lot of interesting leather that is not repeatable," she said. "I find interesting markings and blemishes that I like to incorporate. I think that's what my customers look for and wait for."

The stuff they sell in the mall doesn't look or smell like this," Thacker said. "Our consumer culture is so out of control, we treat our bags like consumables. You need a new one for every season, and it's falling apart after a year."

"All of this stuff that you donate to goodwill, what percentage of that do you think gets sold and how much ends up in landfills?" she continued. "You could use these bags for 30 years. These are made to last for decades, to be heirloom pieces and passed along."

I've only been doing this for two years, Thacker admitted. I can't make that claim yet. But that is the goal.

The leather is made to patina, taking in elements from the environment.

"It looks better with age," Thacker said. "I try to promote investing in quality, spending a little more money on one bag that you're going to love. Keeping the design simple makes them timeless."

Starting her own business has become a truly interesting challenge for Thacker.

"It's turned into this multifaceted thing where I've gained other interests," she said. "I think I'm passionate about the branding of it and the design of it."

"I'm the only person," she added. "I handle business, marketing, accounting, customer support, design, and photography. Everything. If I don't work, stuff doesn't go out the door."

She loves all of it, but what she loves most of all is the freedom that comes with independence and self-employment.

Why did she select Truant as the name of her business?

"I was a good kid, but I liked to have fun," Thacker said. "I was mischievous. I skipped school here and there. I'm perpetually late. I was going from this very acceptable career and lifestyle to being kind of a nomad and giving the finger to society. I was looking for a word that was a little rebellious but original. When I saw truant, I laughed."

Diana Zimmerman

Samples of Thacker's leather work. To see more, go to https://www.instagram.com/truantleatherco/.

"I think my bags speak for themselves, but I wanted to evoke a feeling of doing not exactly what you should do, but suddenly having the entire day to do exactly what you want to do. It's a giddy, free, happy, engaged feeling. It was what I wanted to evoke with my branding, but it is what I want my life to feel like every day too. Sometimes I'm in here, and it feels like a sweatshop, and I'd rather be surfing or doing other stuff, but I'm doing the work, because I want to, because it's for my dreams, for my goals."

Thacker loves the outdoors. She grew up on the river, and discovered mountain biking when she moved to Colorado Springs. She also loves surfing, hiking, hunting, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, yoga, gardening, and working out.

Check out her work at https://www.instagram.com/truantleatherco/ or http://truantleatherco.com.

 

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