Dan Merchant is the leather maker behind Merchant Leather. Every original piece is individually made by hand - no machines are used, no shortcuts are taken. That means the leather is hand cut and the stitches are saddle-stitched by hand using hand-waxed linen thread. This forces an amazing attention to every detail as well as creates strong, durable products. Highest possible quality vegetable tanned leather from two of the classic US tanneries. 5oz to 8oz top grain leather with an unfinished, natural suede interior. Vegetable tanned leather is unique in that it uses minimal chemicals in the tanning process and will darken and soften with age. However, no two hides are the same – color and markings make every hide distinct. Classically styled and crafted by hand, Dan assures that Merchant Leather Goods are designed for everyday use for generations to come.
Talk about the beginnings of Merchant Leather. What inspired you begin this endeavor?
I started working in leather because I wanted a wallet from a designer/maker in Texas. He wanted $500 for it and at the time I couldn’t justify the price. So I decided to try making it myself. Two years later I could make something close to what he was offering! Looking back now, I appreciate the design, work and craft he put into it and would happily pay the $500 (it would have been much cheaper in the long run!). From there my wife asked me to make her a tote bag. The bag got enough attention at coffee shops and at her work that people started to ask if I would make a bag for them as well. That went on for about a year until I decided it was time to make something more out of it and launch Merchant Leather.
Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?
I have always been creative and have tried may other forms of creativity - both personally and professionally. Professionally, I've worked as an advertising/marketing creative and art director. Personally, I've done jewelry, pottery, painting and letterpress. I still love all mediums but leather has really captured my creative imagination to most.
How have the items you make evolved? How have you evolved as an maker and business owner?
The items I make have evolved greatly over time but often in subtle ways. I started, like many designers and leatherworkers, with smaller accessories and simple items. As my skills as a maker and designer have improved I've added may more larger and more complex design. However, I have always strived to keep my designs simple and "clean", letting the leather show for itself. As a business owner, I've tried to evolve as my business has grown. However, I am committed to keeping a personal, one-on-one relationship with everyone who buys something from me. That's part of the reason I've been very selective with what I wholesale and who I wholesale it to – I want to maintain a personal touch with anything I make.
What do you hope to pass along to aspiring leather makers in your classes? Why would you recommend someone take a class with you?
I love teaching leather-making classes and hope to pass on the tradition of hand-sewing leather. But I also hope to share the joy of making something tangible with your own hands. The hand-sewing classes are small and approachable for people of any skill level and creativity. In a short few hours you can walk away with something you made yourself as well as the knowledge to make it again yourself.
How has living and making in Minnesota influenced your creative work, specifically through Merchant Leather?
I love living in Minnesota and am constantly being influenced by everything the state has to offer. Directly, the MIA is one of the best places in the world to find inspiration. I've spent countless hours wandering – finding inspiration in everything from jade carvings to prairie style architecture. Indirectly, I am influenced by the practical nature of Midwesterners – I want everything I make to be beautiful but, almost as importantly, functional. I think the Midwest/Minnesota design community does an amazing job of showing beautiful can still be practical and functional.
Do you like to experiment with different materials or techniques in your work? I am constantly experimenting with different materials and techniques. While I work almost exclusively in leather, the range of what is available in leather is amazing. I'm always trying different finishes, thicknesses, textures, sources, colors and styles. The same is true for techniques – while I like to think I have the basics down, I am only ever scratching at the surface of what is possible.
Do you feel like your work allows you to contribute to something bigger than yourself?
I am incredibly lucky to be able to make something that makes other people happy. What I make is more then just a bag or a sunglass case. While they my be just things – they are things that can make you more feel more beautiful or handsome or self-confident or happy. I am lucky to be able to add, even in a small way, any of those feelings to someone’s life.