In the sprawling backyard of the Houston Foundry, an industrial site turned artists’ studio just north of downtown, 29-year-old Kate dePara looks a bit like a mad scientist. Crouched over twenty yards of fabric spread across the ground, her hands sheathed in sturdy rubber gloves, she applies dye with an assortment of tools—spray bottles, sponges, a bamboo paintbrush, a fork. Nearby, another length of fabric sits in a bucket of steaming-hot water, while others dry on a giant wooden rack.
When Cheryl Schulke is working, few things can distract her—not even slicing open her finger, which she has done twice. “The first time, I rushed to the ER, but the second time, I just taped it back together and kept going.” The reason for that dedication is Stash Co., Schulke’s line of handcrafted leather bags and other goods, which she produces out of a century-old former mattress factory in Sealy, near the German community of Cat Spring, where she was raised. “When you are in the middle of nowhere, you have plenty of time to daydream,” she says.
Before settling in Texas, in 1997, designer (and California native) Kathie Sever worked on a cattle ranch in Montana, where she was taken with the style of the local cowboys. “These rugged, macho guys cared about the crisp, starched edges on their jeans. I loved that dichotomy,” she says. “They would dandy it up a little.” That attitude influences Sever today as she produces Fort Lonesome, her line of custom-embroidered Western wear.
The thing we have to overcome is that people think of Lucchese in a one-dimensional way,” says William Zeitz, the creative director and executive vice president of marketing for the El Paso–based company. “The challenge is to shift perception beyond ‘We just do Western boots’ to ‘We craft beautiful leather goods.’ ”
Sneakerheads—the subculture of rabid fans of limited edition athletic shoes—converged on Houston in November for the H-Town Sneaker Summit. Famous artists/rappers/etc design their own sneakers, released in small batches, and the shoes quickly become collectors items.
Abundant and sturdy, leather has long been associated with the style vocabulary of cattle country: think of all those hand-tooled saddles, chaps, and gun holsters used by cowboys past. Now a new generation of Texas designers is taking the material off the range and giving it a modern spin, applying a low-tech, hands-on approach to produce sophisticated accessories that still bear a hint of rusticity. Of course, one thing will always remain the same: the more worn-in the leather gets, the better it looks.