Looking for a Christmas gift that will do some good? A Minneapolis entrepreneur is donating profits from sales on Monday to the social services organization that helped him gain the skills to start a leather goods business.
Scott Loeser was a product developer for Gander Mountain when he was laid off during the Great Recession. After several years of unemployment and underemployment, he was able to enroll in a Dunwoody College of Technology program that teaches skills in working with leather and fabric: the so-called “cut and sew” industry.
Loeser entered the program thanks to a scholarship arranged through Lifetrack Resources, a nonprofit serving children, families and adults facing significant life challenges.
His company, Marked Leather, now employs two additional people — including his business partner, fellow Dunwoody grad Rhea O’Connor — and fills a very interesting business niche.
Loeser takes hides that show branding-iron marks, scratches and other imperfections and fashions them into distinctive bags, wallets, key fobs and other pieces. He got the idea while working for Gander Mountain to create a line of luggage.
“I was at a factory in China, looking at hides,” Loeser said. “I asked the manager, ‘What do you do with the hide that has the brand?’ He said they have to throw that away, they can’t use it.
“I just thought the brands and the other markings are so unique — they should be front and center. It makes the bag one of a kind.”
Profits from online sales of wallets, key fobs and card holders today will go to Lifetrack to support its work.
“I am excited every single day,” said Loeser, who still works a part-time sales job in addition to running his business. “I love coming to the shop and dreaming about what this might be. I feel I might have a niche.”
And you can’t say he doesn’t think big.
“I want Marked to become known as a staple Minneapolis brand,” Loeser said. “I want ‘Made in Minneapolis’ to really mean something. Ralph Lauren started with a simple tie. I’m starting with leather bags.”
He credits Lifetrack and the Dunwoody program with helping him see a path forward.
“Without the scholarship Lifetrack provided, I would never have been able to afford the class,” Loeser said. “Someday, I want to sponsor kids to go through the same program.”