Sweet Homemade Alabama: Local leathersmith takes customization to a new level
by Sara Milledge
Special to The Star
Aug 04, 2013 | 2862 views |  0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Prichard Leather Co.’s belts, wallets and other products are custom made by Chris Prichard, top, who takes orders over the phone to make sure all the details correct. Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Prichard Leather Co.’s belts, wallets and other products are custom made by Chris Prichard, top, who takes orders over the phone to make sure all the details correct. Photo by Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Chris Prichard says he never intended to become a leathersmith.

“Ninety percent of the time, if you meet somebody who does leather, it’s prison or jail,” he said. “Mine’s accident.”

Prichard was preparing for a hog-hunting trip with a friend when he first uncovered his interest in leather art. He had purchased a new knife for the trip, but was unhappy with its sheath.

When his search for the perfect sheath came up empty, Prichard decided to buy some leather at the newly opened Hobby Lobby and make his own.

“It was very crude and very ugly compared to what I do now,” he said.

Prichard made a wallet with the leftover leather. He said a man saw it and bought it from him. Later the purchaser’s friend saw the wallet and wanted one of his own.

“It literally just steamrolled like that into a business,” Prichard said.

That was eight years ago. Three years ago, Prichard decided to turn his pastime into a business and Prichard Leather Co. was born.

“This is the first year I’ve done lots of shows and events,” he said. He tries to go to three shows a week, every week. His mobile leather shop even travels as far as Scottsboro.

Each Thursday, Oxford residents can find Prichard at Downtown after Sundown. On Friday, he sets up shop at Oxford Lumber, and on Saturday, he’s either crafting in the Quintard Mall parking lot or traveling with the rodeo circuit.

Prichard has since branched out from the leather knife sheaths and wallets that started it all. He now crafts everything from drink koozies to bracelets to guitar straps.

“Gun holsters have been big this year,” he said. “Surprisingly, artwork has also been big.”

But belts are the most consistently popular item, he says.

Prichard makes about 50 belts at a time. Each batch begins with 22 square feet of leather, known as a side. The side is then divided into strips, and Prichard knocks holes in the ends for the buckle, punches holes for notches and uses an edging tool to bevel the belt’s edges. He then wets the leather and dyes it, but he waits to seal it so the belt can be customized with hand stamping and tooling for individual buyers. Stamped names are the most common form of customization.

“It’s a lot of process that people don’t see,” Prichard said.

Each product is made of leather with a particular weight, or thickness, ranging from 2-12 ounces. A wallet is 2-3 ounces, a knife sheath is 5-6 ounces, a gun holster is 7-8 ounces and a belt is 8-10 ounces.

“It’s a big difference,” Prichard explained.

Almost all of Prichard Leather Co.’s products are custom made, and he takes orders over the phone to make sure he gets all the details correct.

Gun holsters require a special sort of customization, he said. Before he begins, Prichard molds the holster to its specific gun for a custom fit.

“That way, it’s like a glove,” he said.

Although all of his items are different, some of Prichard’s most unique work takes him back to his early days as a leathersmith.

“I do some crazy wallets,” he said. “I don’t like to do a straight square.”

Prichard has made wallets in the shapes of guitars and skulls, and even has a collector in New York who requested a wallet in the shape of a pit bull head as a gift for his dog walker.

“That’s the thing about my business — it’s 100 percent custom. I really don’t specialize in anything,” he said. “If it’s leather, I make it.”

To see examples of Prichard’s work or to place an order, visit Prichard Leather Co. on Facebook or online at prichardleatherco.com.
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