Leatherwork is a great hobby, and can be a fruitful one. However, when you’re getting started and you have to buy everything for the first time, the costs can start to add up.
If you got into leatherwork to eventually make a little extra money on the side, this can understandably get pretty frustrating pretty quickly. That said, manage expectations and be fair with yourself; if you can cover the cost of materials and a few new tools, making projects for others can be a great opportunity to grow your skillset and build your resources.
In this blog, we’ll walk you through what you need to know to start making money off your leatherworking hobby.
Step 1: Define Your Products
Chances are that you got into leatherworking because you had a project that caught your eye or an idea to make something in particular. And there may be an audience for that, if you can find it.
But a fundamental “law” of marketing is that customers buy for their reasons, not your reasons, so always consider what’s going to help them understand what the value is of what you are making.
Do they want something unique? Something that will last forever? Something that looks good on them? There’s no one right answer here, but as long as you can understand what drives their purchasing decisions, you can know whether or not your products that fit those needs.
If you’re not sure where to start, research what people trends are popular right now and how your products might align with that. For instance, when Yellowstone was at it’s peak popularity, hat bands and boot anklets were a trend. Or if you live in an area that’s known for a particular animal, you might find that figure carving portraits is a way to turn a buck making leather art to tourists or tourist shops.
There are opportunities everywhere, you just have to look for them.
Step 2: Identify Your Audience & Pricing Your Product Accordingly
Your customers become your friends faster than your friends become your customers. Family and friends may seem obvious folks to hit up, but they likely are willing to pay the premium that you need to make it worth your while.
Think about who needs what you have, who wants what you have, and who can afford what you have? This is important because once you know who your audience is, then you can think through how marketing might reach them specifically.
Pricing your product will take some experimentation and research — look at what other folks in the market are charging on Etsy and on their websites. Keep in mind that their price is reflective of their skill and experience, and yours should be too. Price appropriately and competitively.
Step 3: Promoting Your Product & Services
Once you have something to sell, how is anyone going to know unless you tell them?
Post your projects to your social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) or consider making business pages for your brand. Post photos of your work, behind the scenes of you making things, and even things you screw up and scrap to show your commitment to quality. People like to buy from people, particularly when purchasing handmade items, so don’t be afraid to get in front of the camera, show a little personality, and be human about your struggles.
You can also share posts and articles related to leatherworking on social media so people can start to think of your page like a hub for information. This can help build a following before you even start selling things!
All that said, when you do have something for sale, make sure people know where to buy it. Consider building a website or setting up an Etsy page. Don’t be pushy or aggressive about it, but also make sure that when folks are ready to spend money, they know where to do so.
Also, it can be helpful to build relationships with other makers/sellers/creators in your area or online community; they might share customers with each other or refer people to each other for certain types of items that they don't make themselves. You might even learn from one another. Local leathercraft guilds can be a good place to meet like-minded artisans.
Step 4: Every Artist Reaches A Creative Block; Push Through It
At first, things that are selling well may not be the things that you love to make; tooled Western floral belts may not inspire you, but it may be what gets you the skills and momentum to make other things.With every project you should learn or earn, but ideally both. If a project comes your way that you’ve never done before, at least consider it. You may not make money, heck you might loose out based on hourly, but the skills you gain from that are an investment in yourself as you learn how to use different tools and techniques and develop your artistic style.
Warning: the one exception to this may be repairing antique leather, particularly family heirlooms. If you don’t feel like you have the skills to do it, please pass on these opportunities and help connect them with someone who might be a good fit. Exercising new skills when you can start over is great, but be cautious of trying new skills at the risk of something irreplaceable.
As you’re getting started, consider most projects as someone paying you to practice your tooling or learning new assembly techniques. Be open to doing more than just one type of project, particularly early on.
You may find that you have a passion for making three-dimensional leather flowers and that they sell really well! Great, do more of that once you find that niche and develop those skills. Ultimately being able to specialize in one or two different types of products is what helps you build your name, build your efficiency, and build your profitability. But few start there.
All of that said, make sure you still enjoy what you’re doing. If you find yourself burning out, take a break from customer orders and just do something really creative and totally different. Be okay with frustration; no one ever learned anything by getting it right the first time.
Nothing is fatal except for what is, so push the boundaries of your skills, try new things, but most of all, have fun with it.