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

Couple brings leather work to Cathlamet

 

October 27, 2022

Diana Zimmerman

Jasmine and Chris Riley recently opened NW Leather & Grace on Main Street in Cathlamet. Photo by Diana Zimmerman. The Rileys have several items for sale in their shop, including hats and trucker caps with leather details, leather jewelry made by Jasmine, and purses, totes, key fobs, and exquisite, hand stitched, Italian leather wallets all handcrafted by Chris.

It all started with a red purse.

When Jasmine and Chris Riley were still dating, she was managing a little boutique in Eugene, and he was working for the state of Washington. She also was an instructor in health care, with a background in management.

Enamored with a red purse in the shop, Jasmine talked about it frequently.

What she didn't know was that Chris, who had never done any kind of leather work, had become quietly inspired.

"He set out to make that red purse," Jasmine said. "He actually surprised me. I didn't even know he was dabbling in it at all."

Dabbling indeed.

Self taught, Chris read articles online, watched videos, and studied.

"I think I probably watched close to 100 hours of videos before even attempting to make anything," he said. "I did so much research and so much studying before the red purse: what kind of threads, the impact of certain leathers, if things can withstand the elements, what doesn't."

It took him 50 hours to complete his first project, which included a laptop case and matching wallet.

"I was flabbergasted," Jasmine said. "'You made this?' I asked him. 'You made this with your own hands? It was so beautiful. I told him this was a talent and he needed to do something with it."

That was three years ago.

They now do leather work full time. Last Christmas, Chris worked 18 hour days completing 400 custom orders over a six week period.

His second project would start as a joke: a leather motorcycle mask. Funnily enough, it was the thing that turned a new hobby into a life's work.

"He teased me about it," Jasmine said. "He made one just to poke at me."

"It looked like Hannibal Lecter," Chris said, laughing.

"It's terrible," Jasmine said. "Beautifully crafted, but terrible."

She posted the mask on social media, just to say, "Look what my husband made."

The response was completely unexpected. They ended up making more than 700 of those leather motorcycle masks and shipping them to people all over the world.

Later it would be the jokester, Chris, who would ask Jasmine to take the mask off their website. She refused.

"I can't! They are pretty cringy, but they are part of the history now," Jasmine said.

Part of their history, yes, and part of their future, because those masks paid for tools, more leather, and other items as their business grew.

"We like what we do," Jasmine said. "I could never imagine in a million years that it would turn into what it has turned into. That I could support my children off of leather work."

The pair thrive on being busy, home schooling their four kids, and spending every waking hour moving their business forward.

"We're borderline workaholics for sure, Jasmine said. "We're both very motivated people. We do what we have to do. We work like 16 hours a day."

"I'm not borderline," Chris said. "I'm full blown. She's borderline for sure. I don't know what to do if I'm not making something or working."

"You kind of have to when you're building out of nothing," Jasmine said.

"To keep up on orders, to think about taking a day off is more stressful than actually going to work," Chris said. "I think I've taken four days this year. We love going to the beach, so a day off is normally a beach day."

While Chris has turned his focus to wallets, billfolds, purses, totes, and more, Jasmine is learning to get comfortable with her own creativity, making leather jewelry.

It was yet another surprise to find out how popular her own work has become.

"We have pulled back and tried to grow as slow as we can," she said. "Every time I turn around there has been some sort of new growth coming our direction. It's a lot to manage. We do so much custom work, it's tricky."

"It's been a complete God thing from the very beginning," Jasmine said. "He literally made a way and we've just been saying yes and following the path, and the doors that have been opening have been so humbling."

Chris is always considering function, and as Jasmine says, he likes "clean, clean lines." His wallets are all hand sewn and made from premium, full grain, Tuscan leather.

"The wallets, the strength and the quality between hand sewn and sewing machine is huge," Chris said. "I sew our wallets and leather stuff by hand. It puts two threads through each hole and I do it in a way that it knots in each hole as well. If ever a thread did break, you have full back up. It's not the same with the sewing machine."

Diana Zimmerman

Here are some of the items for sale in Cathlamet's new shop.

The Rileys are aiming for heirloom quality, hoping their work will be treasured and passed down. They try to find the best leather, and use thread that has been around for more than 100 years and is very reputable. They also enjoy personalizing items for customers.

"It's the little details," Chris said. "Our last show we had someone come up and say, you finish all your edges? You don't ever see that. It makes it worth it when other crafters and makers notice these little things."

The pair vend a lot of shows, but as they've grown, they've also realized they needed a studio space to focus on their work. When they discovered that the rent was lower in Cathlamet than Longview, they decided the trek was worth it.

According to their Facebook page, studio hours are Monday through Thursday from 11-4 p.m. Weekend hours vary because of vendor events, and appointments are available.

 

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