US Park Pass caught up with Andrea Estomo, founder of Montana’s Fort Omotse Leather, to learn more about her, and her amazing handcrafted leather products. Andrea is the leather and copper craft master behind the brand’s signature bags and home accessories, which she creates from her workshop at the base of the Beartooth Mountains, just outside of Yellowstone National Park.
USPP: What inspires you?
I have always been a very practical person, I have also always loved fashion. When I make my products I want them to be stylish, but everyday practical. When I go to a business meeting I carry one of my backpack/shoulder bag combo. On the way home I can stop at my favorite trail put on that same backpack filled with water and snacks and take an afternoon bike ride. It looks and works great for both activities. I don’t want my products to ever loose that.
USPP: What are the values your business embodies?
It’s important to me that my customers are proud of their purchase. This business has grown to where it is pretty much through word of mouth. It means a great deal to me when someone makes an order because they heard about us from a previous customer. We use the best materials, the most vibrant colors, and we test all our designs. Everything from Fort Omotse Leather is made to last a lifetime.
USPP: How did you get started?
When my husband and I bought our first house we didn’t have much money. When we shopped for furniture we could only find really cheap stuff or beautiful furniture that we couldn’t afford. I told my husband I am just going to make our furniture. Our first set of chairs is made of 1″ copper pipe and Latigo leather. Our realtor came by to see how everything was going a few months after we moved in, saw the chairs and told us we should sell those. Once we started making the chairs I always had lots of extra leather so I started making bags, and everything took off after that. That same chair design is still one of our best sellers today, and our bags and home accessories continue to evolve with new ideas and customer requests.
USPP: What part of your craft do you love the most?
Nothing gets me more excited than trying a new design or getting a customer request for something we haven’t made before. Starting a new design from scratch is exciting. Bags, wine racks, leather aprons, even something as simple as a custom belt comes with new challenges, frustrations and new learning curves. When the customer finally gets their order in their hands and tells you it’s even better than they imagined it could be, that is what really keeps me wanting to do more.
USPP: How do you spend time at the National Parks?
My family and I live at the base of the Beartooth Mountains and a nice drive into Yellowstone National Park. We really like mountain biking the trails into the back country. But nothing beats being in the mountains and in Yellowstone during the winter. We have a few favorite locations to go snow shoeing. Being in Yellowstone in the winter, everything covered in snow, is a beautiful place to be. Then there is the quiet, the silence is amazing, then you hear a wolf howl in the distance, and see a herd of bison plowing their way through the snow. So many unforgettable moments in Yellowstone, it is just a magical place to be.
USPP: How has Yellowstone or National Parks played a role in your craft?
My most popular bag designs were inspired by the style of bags that early pioneers used when they first come out west. Full-grain leather bags crafted to be functional and practical, and then we use some great colors that add style and individuality. The most-requested items are those made of Bison hide. Bison is one of the softer, most unique and most durable leathers. Watching Bison in Yellowstone gives me a special connection with them, and I want to make sure everything we do with a Bison hide is special.
USPP: What is special or unique about your products?
We have a huge advantage being a small family owned shop that produces in either small quantities or custom orders. Very few of our products are duplicates. Customers with custom orders have multiple options of color choices, right down to the thread color. Even for items I make multiples of, vary rarely do I create more than 5 that all use the same color combinations. It is very unlikely a customer will ever see a Fort Omotse chair, bag, or even a belt that is the same color combination of their own.