It was a cold, dark day in Whitefish and Hunter Leach’s wallet was falling apart. He pulled out a previously untouched box of old leather-working tools that his mom had given him and he set out to make a new wallet. Hunter showed the finished product to his friends the next day at work on the ski hill and they responded, “Dude, I’ll give you twenty bucks if you make me something like that!”
Motivated by that positive response, Hunter got to work making more wallets and set up a little table at the Kalispell farmer’s market. “The first time I made 300 bucks and thought this might be a viable income source,” said Hunter. He christened his new company Snowday Leather, both as a nod to that initial cold, dark day and to his fond memories of days off from school after a fresh snowfall.
Prior to this, Hunter never had interest in working with leather. But craftsmanship, innovation, and independence have always played significant roles in his life.
“I’ve always been artistic to some extent,” said Hunter. “Art was my favorite subject in school, next to PE.” Hunter’s dad was a carpenter and his mom started her own businesses over the years, which made Hunter realize that he didn’t have to work at what he calls a traditional job. “I always had in my head that I wanted to be my own boss. Then this fell in my lap.”
Hunter is completely self-taught in making leather goods. He has been working diligently since starting Snowday Leather to learn what works and what doesn't. Humble about his craft, he is quick to say there is always room for improvement.
“People will come up to me and tell me how much they love my products. I’ll say that’s great but tell me what you don’t like about it,” said Hunter. “Most people don’t have anything negative to say, but I’ll really push it because I want it to last. My goal is longevity.”
Each product is made by Hunter’s own two hands in his tight but functional workshop on the corner of Walnut and S 1st Street W in Missoula. He sells his products on his website and at various local craft markets. Being an outgoing guy, he also loves it when people renting gear next door at Love Boat Paddle Company pop into his workshop to see what he’s up to.
His products are made using both vegetable-tanned and chrome-tanned full-grain leathers. Vegetable-tanned leather is made using natural vegetable tannins and it can take up to two months to tan the animal hide. Chrome-tanned leather is tanned with chromium sulphate and can be tanned in as little as 24 hours. Chrome tanning is also harsher as the tanning process uses chemicals.
Hunter explains that the chrome-tanned leather starts out more supple and retains its initial look and feel. Vegetable-tanned leather starts out stiff, but will change over time and develop more character. He provides an example using his own vegetable-tanned wallet he’s had for years next to a new wallet. The leather has darkened and become smooth and pliable as it has taken on oils and dirt through the years.
“I explain to people they kind of have to work for it,” said Hunter. “Some people connect to that and some want it to look perfect right away.”
Hunter makes and sells seven standard products in a range of colors including belts, bucket bags, and the bifold wallets that started it all. His clientele includes locals and tourists who have seen him at Missoula’s People’s Market and customers from across the country that are attracted to his Instagram page @SnowdayLeather. He gets requests for custom work all the time, and his answer is always that it depends.
“I take it as a compliment that people request custom work, but I can’t always do it,” said Hunter. “One of those requests was someone looking for a leather jacket. Since he hand-stitches each of his products, the thought of making a jacket was overwhelming at the time, but these requests inspire curiosity and constant learning.
Snowday Leather is a full-time commitment for Hunter and everything about the process is tedious and time-consuming, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The main reason I started this was to make quality stuff and to make stuff that I’m selling to local people that can connect with me about my product,” said Hunter. “I’d like to get to a point where I can support a family. I don’t need to be rich and I don’t want to hire people to do the work. I’d rather invest in tools that make it easier for me than pay someone else to do it.”
Many businesses have plans to expand their product lines, but Hunter is in the process of narrowing down his so he can focus more on the quality of each product.
“I don’t want to have an endless line of stuff, plus it’s so hard to find good quality leather products,” said Hunter. “I enjoy the process, I like working for myself, and I like making something that will last. It’s really fulfilling for me when someone says ‘Hey, I really love what you made for me.’”
“I enjoy the process, I like working for myself, and I like making something that will last."