For local leathercrafter Will Webb, the idea of making a quick buck is secondary to providing quality craftsmanship and true attention to detail.
This approach with his new business, Rainier Leather Company, stems from growing up with a lot of artists in his family, in which he was creating things with his hands from a young age. Webb currently operates his business with his wife from their home in Bremerton while also working a regular day job as an industrial safety consultant, working with around 450 manufacturing companies in the state. Once he’s home from his day job, he gets right to work on his other job — which he also considers his hobby.
“Working until one or two in the morning is not uncommon,” Webb said.
Webb grew up in Central California and became a commercial diver for several years while in his 20s. He then became a remotely operated vehicle pilot, flying big working-class submersibles on offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and doing ultra-deepwater operations in depths of more than 10,000 feet of water.
“I really enjoyed it, but I knew that I would have trouble starting a family with a career like that,” Webb said. “So one day, after several more years of working offshore, as my helicopter was landing, I decided I wanted a fresh start. I packed my car and drove from Louisiana to Washington with no job and no plan. I just knew I wanted to live here and that I’d figure it out.”
After initially moving up to the Pacific Northwest about three years ago, Webb was trying to pursue a hobby, going through several different fads before his wife suggested leathercrafting, noting his family’s history of saddle makers.
“Initially, I wasn’t interested, but I decided to give it a try and instantly fell in love,” he said. “I was also spending all of my free time with horses at a friend’s training facility at the time, so I saw a need for quality leather goods.”
After receiving a request to make a purse for a friend, it only took four days before Webb knew he was destined to make his new hobby a business.
“I admittedly didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was able to figure it out and realized that this was something I had a knack for and that there was a demand for handmade leather goods,” he said.
According to Webb, other leathercraft services can be difficult to find in the
area, making his leather products sought after for those looking for quality. He is aware of only one other leathercrafter, a man in Port Townsend who specializes in western leatherwork.
Rainier Leather Company currently provides three styles of wallets, coasters, shotgun/rifle straps and other custom pieces. Next year, Webb and his wife are looking to expand their product line. He noted a few key factors that set his leather goods apart, starting with using premium leather from tanneries around the world. They also burnish their products so the edges are sealed from moisture, ensuring greater durability than standard products.
“This is a time-consuming process but we refuse to cut corners when making our products,” Webb said. “Overall, what sets us apart is the craftsmanship that goes into each piece and the pride we take in making heirloom quality products.”
The process of making these leather goods was extremely time-consuming at the beginning for Webb, but as he incorporated a consistent process, gained more experience and accessed industrial equipment, the number of products made per day has increased drastically.
“This is still getting faster as we’re growing,” he said.
One of the consistent features on Webb’s leather products is the octopus logo, which serves as a personal ode to his affection for the Pacific Northwest and his time working deepwater operations. Out of several hundred working and recreational dives, one stood out to Webb.
“I was doing a short, shallow water scuba dive in the (Puget) Sound,” he said. “In about 20 minutes, I saw eight giant pacific octopus, and it has always stayed with me. I feel that the giant octopus is so iconic to the Pacific Northwest and having one as our logo reminds me of how incredibly lucky I am to live here. I even have a tattoo of a giant octopus across my forearm that dominates my sleeve.”
In such a detailed, time-consuming and often difficult industry, Webb noted a couple attributes to being a successful leathercrafter.
“Patience. I’m not the most patient guy by nature, but there is a serenity in leathercraft for me. Leather is an extremely unforgiving medium. One slip or poorly executed step could ruin an entire piece. To avoid these mistakes, you need to slow down and be deliberate about everything you’re doing. I think it’s also important to explore and experiment. Developing your own style happens naturally, but you need to allow yourself the freedom to find your own thing.
“For me, I found that specific information is hard to come by, so put yourself out there and talk to leatherworkers that know more than you. On the other side of that coin, I think it’s important to share your own knowledge. Business isn’t a zero-sum game – you don’t need to lose for me to win. I am always willing to share my experiences with someone who is taking the craft seriously and wants to improve. But if there is one thing that I feel is vital to the success of my business, it’s having a good wife. Without her support and insights, I can confidently say we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Regarding the origins of leathercraft, historic paintings of leather clothing have been found in caves dating back to the Paleolithic era, Webb noted.
“Being a part of a craft that ancient and still relevant in our modern world is something I’m proud of. In this day and age, so many of the products available to us almost seem designed to break as soon as the warranty expires. When you make a high-quality leather product, it can last for generations, and we’re happy knowing that we may not see as much repeat business because our customers own products that they love and will last them years and years.”
Since Rainier Leather Company opened in January, Webb said his business has grown at a rate he didn’t anticipate and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He hopes to soon hire more employees and serve as a job creator within the local community.
“I’ve been blown away and incredibly grateful with the feedback and support of the community.”