Itasca Leathergoods has a rock solid handle on fashion, drive, pride in locally made goods, and the ultimate in customer service. When talking to Paul Kirkman, owner of Itasca Leathergoods, you get a calm sense of confidence but when he bought the company in 2012, he didn't know the first thing about making moccasins, nor did he know the language of leather. "I had to just dive in and learn," he says.
Although Itasca Leathergoods has had a solid following spanning 30 years now, its image and innovation has adapted and grown exponentially since Kirkman took over. In fact, many Minnesotans may have never heard of Itasca Leathergoods, previously Itasca Moccasin. Or perhaps one may have stumbled across their store on the way to or from Itasca State Park, finding it in the tiny community of Lake George. Here is where you'll find the factory store, a quaint makeshift building constructed of many small buildings hodge-podged together. Rather unimpressive until you walk through the doors and are taken in by the plethora of unique, exquisite, and colorful hand-made products. This makeshift building holds a lot of history and passion and its outward appearance will leave a charming impression on your heart as you leave.
I wandered in on a Wednesday afternoon in January to find a quiet, tranquil store with friendly employees hard at work but willing to take the time to show me around and describe their array of products. It's immediately clear that these employees value their work because they know they're not just making products, they're making art. It's a tradition of hard work, dedication, and passion about this craft that makes Itasca Leathergoods the success that it is today.
The company was started in 1986 by a woman named Mardel Bents who started making moccasins for the summer state park tourist season. Surrounded by the rich cultural heritage of Leech Lake, Red Lake and White Earth reservations, making moccasins was a quickly developed passion of hers. Her customers ranged from tourists to a large (and loyal) following of local Native Americans who used her moccasins for traditional dress in their local powwows.
But after a long and tiring 26 years, Bents retired and sold the business to Kirkman in 2012. The business wasn't much when he purchased it but he had vision and determination. In the past four years, Kirkman has renamed and rebranded the company, not only to modernize it but also to accommodate the new diverse lineup of products he's added in addition to revolutionizing the moccasin product line.
While rebranding, it was of utmost importance to maintain the heritage of the brand and an incredible amount of thought went into the logo and the look of the company. For example, the color turquoise is often associated with native culture and has become the signature color for the company and used in the logo, packaging, and incorporated into each stores ambiance. Even more culturally representative is the spine of the feather on the logo. The spine and its offshoots represent the Mississippi River and its tributaries. In addition, every product they sell is named after a tributary of the Mighty River, a cool and calculated homage to the region.
This company also understands that quality, hand-made, local products are important to the economy and important to consumers. "We're one of the few footwear companies still producing shoes in the U.S. We're small, we're independent, we're local, and we're grateful for your business." Not only do they maintain a good mission and promote the local heritage, but their products are second to none. They use the highest quality leathers, such as cowhide, and premium leathers like buffalo, elk, and moose. They have a diverse lineup of different styles and an unbelievable array of color choices.
"Nobody does what we do, nothing like the pizaaz with which we do it," Kirkman says proudly. "I'm going to make everyone happy no matter what." And he's not kidding. Itasca Leathergoods offers an incredible custom program where you can trace your foot and send it in for a precise fit and you can pick your own custom colors and custom leathers. Customers can find their perfect fit and style and their order will be hand-made and ready in 7-10 days!
Itasca Leathergoods encapsulates the meaning of "Made in Minnesota" and embodies all that we love about this area- pride, heritage, passion, and even style.
You can find these moccasins, handbags, belts, table wear, journals, notebook sleeves, and more online at www.itascaleathergoods.com,
at their factory store in Lake George (I highly recommend it!), their stores in Crosslake, MN and Hayward, WI or at a growing number of boutique shops and retailers all across the United States!