Each month we're profiling familiar faces from the Leslieville Flea to learn how they got their start and what to expect from them at the market.
Ahead of the August 12 market at Ashbridge Estate, we've checked in with Mike Zimmermann of A Word In The Woods, who makes leather goods for people who love heirloom-quality everyday gear.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START CRAFTING LEATHER GOODS?
I used to spend a lot of time camping and canoeing. Simple repair jobs started me down the road of making hard-use gear. From there, I started to refine those strong, sustainable designs into items we carry every day. It was important to have the quality of handcrafted items without feeling too rustic or country-kitsch.
I worked for 20 years in the design and digital industry, and it's nice to end up with something tangible that continues its journey once you're done with it. We've come to the point where buying a leather wallet is a consumable, instead of an investment.
Good leather can last a long, long time. Maintain it well, and it shows its quality in how it ages. I call it everyday heirloom. I feel that items tell the story of their owners through their use over the years.
WHAT'S THE MOST ENJOYABLE PART OF YOUR DAY?
Hands down, I love interacting with my customers. They're from all walks of life with many different needs, but the type of people who support local, small businesses and appreciate the work that it takes to craft something by hand are amazing across the board.
I love when a market-goer comes up to me, shows me their wallet, and says, "I bought this from you years ago — it's still going strong, and I love it!" I don't think that will ever get old.
ANY CRAZY STORIES?
Nothing too crazy, but just two quick examples of how lucky I am to have great customers who surprise me:
A couple years back, I dropped off a purchase in person. She greeted me at the door with a gift bag containing a bottle of craft beer and a hand-written thank-you card. People like that make me smile from ear to ear, and want to be a better person.
Recently, a gentleman commissioned a custom phone holster. He actually went so far as to carve a wooden replica of his iPhone in its case with accurate dimensions, complete with relief details where the buttons, camera, and speakers were located.
Also, if you stop by my table, I'm very likely to show you my own daily carry, the Deluxe Card Sleeve, which I've had for years. It was in my pocket when I capsized in a canoe, and stayed soaked for about an hour. Not the best way to break in your wallet, admittedly, but it's no worse for the wear, and still gets used every day.
WHAT MAKES YOU MOST PROUD?
I cut every piece, set every rivet, and stitch every stitch — by hand. No machines, it's all done in a very strong, traditional saddle stitch method. I use quality materials, from the leather itself, which is exclusively top or full grain, to the lead-free solid brass or steel hardware. All of this contributes to a great quality end product that should last for many years, and not end up broken in a landfill in six months. That also means if something goes wrong, it's all on me, and I stand by my work.
The thing I'm most proud of, however, is making sustainable, low-impact production choices. Leather itself is a reclamation material. The handmade notebooks I include with my passport covers use recycled plant fibres, or byproducts of the sugar cane industry. Even the crinkly clear sleeves I use to protect my items on the shelf aren't plastic, they're made from plant matter, and are compostable.
TELL US ABOUT SOMETHING FANTASTIC YOU ARE BRINGING TO THE NEXT MARKET.
I'm bringing myself! No, seriously, the fantastic part is that — just like at a farmer's market — you can ask me questions about what I do, and it's a great opportunity to chat about exactly what you need. As a small, individual maker, there's only so much I can make in advance, but the benefit is that I can customize and personalize, and work together with you towards something truly unique.