Sometimes you try learning a new skill and something just clicks.
For Tyler Dietlein, he says that’s about how it worked with handcrafting leather goods.
Dietlein started his new hobby after taking a class in 2017 at Harless + Hugh Loft, which has since closed, as owner Deb Edmonds moved on to a new chapter with flower design.
“I’ve always been drawn to the overall rustic look, whether that is Wolverine boots or general leather goods,” says Dietlein. “I started out working with materials and took a few classes and it has kind of taken off from there.”
By day, Dietlein works at Dow in Supply Chain. After hours, he says he has always been the type to have a hobby.
“Once I did the class, my interest in really trying this myself developed and I wanted to move away from pattern-based work and create my own styles. I picked up some tools and started working on different stitches and designs,” says Dietlein. “At first, when I started out a few years ago I learned some really hard creative lessons on things that didn’t work for various reasons, but that comes with learning anything new.”
Dietlein turning a tote bag to the finished product. Tote bags are sewn inside out.
He shared that learning different leatherwork skills has also come through practice and learning from tutorials online.
“The leatherwork community has been really helpful along the way. There have been times where I’ve had a question or an issue and other makers have been super helpful in responding how they would tackle something,” says Dietlein. “Claridge Leather and Low Tide Leather are two of my favorites and Claridge even has a tutorial for a tote bag pattern they encourage people to use. It’s been a really neat community to become a part of in that aspect.”
“And it’s kind of hard to justify buying something new when you can make or learn the skills to make things yourself, but if there's a wallet that I'm going to have that I don't make for myself, it's going to be from Low Tide. They do many different shades of blues and natural leather, the quality is outstanding, while still maintaining a bit of that rugged look,” he says.
After making leather goods as a hobby for friends, family, and by request for a few years, Dietlein got to the point where it felt like it was time to make it official and create an official business.
With that, Memento Leather Co. was launched in February 2020.
“It got to the point where it was no longer just a hobby, both as a passion, and as a project,” says Dietlein. “Leather is best priced in bulk, like when you are buying a whole side, for instance. So, in 2019, I had about 13 or 14 sides of leather, I had done enough things for friends and family, but it was becoming a bit bigger than your average hobby. At that point, I made the call to make this an official business about six months before we launched. I used that time to build up inventory on what has been some of the most popular items, like wallets, totes, and bracelets.”
The name comes from some old inspiration and a nod to the quality of materials he sends into the hands of customers to use.
“Years ago, I got a tattoo that reads ‘Memento Mori’, which is Latin for ‘remember you’re mortal’ of sorts. It is an old saying from throughout history that is a reminder of our mortality as a means of motivation that has always meant something to me,” says Dietlein “When I was trying to come up with different names, I thought of the tattoo. Because I wanted to make a product that lasts and that was memorable, Memento seemed to be a natural fit.”
His creativeness comes from other leatherworkers he has met or followed on social media and instances where he makes his own take on an item.
“I picked up some background by watching different videos on Instagram or online,” says Dietlein. “Even watching how someone does something specific, you pick up tips or tricks here and there, even if it’s not a full tutorial. I’ve learned new stitches that way. Often, I will practice on can koozies, just so I can practice with a new stitch.”
All of Dietlein’s pieces are cut, punched, and stitched completely by hand, a process he has come to love.
“It's a very durable process, which is why a lot of people really like doing things by hand. It does take a lot more time than if I had a sewing machine, which would cut my time in half,” he says. “But with hand stitching also comes durability, which is why I only use solid brass hardware. Everything I make should easily last two to three times longer than you would ever intend to use it.”
So, what’s next in Dietlein’s patterns and plans?
“I want to start making more of something I have gotten a few more requests for recently, and that’s a smaller, crossbody-style bag,” he says. “When I started, they were surprisingly more difficult than I thought they would be, but from making some of the larger computer bag satchels that I’ve done taught me another couple of techniques and how to go about it.”
“When I do new things like that it’s always a nice challenge to work with a new style and dimensions,” says Dietlein. “With something like that, I will template a new design in poster board first, lay all the pieces out, fit everything roughly together, and then from there it’s just trial and error on the finishing details.”
“I just want to keep getting better at this and that’s essentially how this whole thing developed,” he says.
Dietlein says the most challenging aspect so far has been starting a business during a pandemic, and the amount of time that goes into photographing and promoting finished products.
“Thankfully, my wife has been kind enough to help me with the marketing, social media, and promotion efforts along the way,” says Dietlein. “And some of the events and art shows we would like to get into have been canceled with the pandemic, so we are looking forward to doing those events when they do start back up.”
“It’s been exciting and I’m really proud of him,” says Shannon, Dietlein’s wife. “When I saw the recent 3rd Street Artisan Market in Bay City, I knew he would do really well there. He has a great product, and people just needed to see it.”
“My father-in-law does custom woodworking, so it’s something we are looking forward to doing together when we have the chance, like the Midland Antique Festival, the Midland Center for the Arts seasonal events, and some of the festivals in Bay City,” he says. “But so far, most of it has just been online, word-of-mouth, or someone sees one of my designs and asks ‘where did you get that?’ and I’ll get a message.”
Refining his craft and trying new things is one of Dietlein’s favorite aspects of the business.
“I’ve always been the person with 1,000 different hobbies. You name it and I’ve probably tried it out as a hobby,” he says. “So, sticking with something for a while and really refining it to the point where I felt comfortable being able to consistently make a quality product that people like and use has been a fun and meaningful part of the process.”
You can find Memento Leather Co. online and on Instagram and Facebook.