An Interview with Kevin Hopkins & Rusty Darnell

We sat down with Kevin and Rusty recently for a new YouTube video, but if you’re the reading type check out the interview below!

The second the camera blinks red to record, Kevin Hopkins and Rusty Darnell are off to their antics as natural as they would be if talking to a customer they’d known for years. Always trying to get two birds with one stone, we conducted our interview in our happy little YouTube recording studio, surrounded by cameras and past works of leather created in previous videos by many of our staff. The video crew behind the cameras work silently as I (a happy little marketing associate) try to write as quietly as possible. Rusty and Kevin shine like stars in front of the camera, starting off with Rusty making jokes about Kevin’s non-descript branded iced tea and his ink pen that they spent several weeks digging out of the scrap bin “that one time.” 

Knowing our fearless leaders, we do the interview a little differently than others might, just like how we do business. Kevin and Rusty have our list of questions and talk for over 30 minutes about the business. Bouncing off of each other is much more entertaining to watch than simply talking to an employee making notes. The questions cover everything from their meager beginnings, to their philosophies on life and business, to what is to come for Springfield Leather in the future after its impressive 20-year milestone.  

When asking how both of them got into leatherworking, Kevin replies first. 

“In the early 70’s, I was a Hippie,” Kevin begins. “I was playin’ music in a Rock n’ Roll band, I needed a Leather Guitar Strap. So, I took a hundred bucks, I went to a leather store, and I spent it all on all the wrong stuff! Came home, made a guitar strap that was really lousy, but it held my guitar–it worked, and one of the guys in the band, the base player, said: ‘Hey! I’d like to have one of those straps too!’ So, okay. I made him one, and one thing lead to another… As time went on, I realized I was not gonna be the next Bruce Springsteen. So, I got a job working for the leather company that I bought supplies from.” Which, at the time, was Tandy Leather; “I worked for them for 24 years, and when they closed, I took the plunge. I bought the store here in Springfield, MO. and the rest is history, sorta.”  
 
As Kevin ends, he turns and smiles at Rusty, putting the question back onto him, in which Rusty replies, fondly: “Like many of you,” He points to Kevin. “Him. Believe it or not, Kevin and I have managed to be friends for over 25 years.” They both laugh over the fact that Rusty managed to say that aloud, considering how often they rib each other. “I have a background in construction. That’s what I’ve done 99% of my life. I have worked in many, many different fields of construction. I was working on Springfield Leather, the building, and I got t’ noticin’…I’m out here and it’s cold…I’m lookin’ in the window, and those people are warm!” 

“I think you got tired of me asking you when you were gonna be done!” Kevin interjects 

“So I decided to get a job here and tell him I would never be done!” 
 
“Well,” They both begin to laugh. “…that part worked out.” 
 
Next, SLC asks their two leaders to share their overall philosophies for life and business, as well as how they educate their employees and keep them in the know: both one of many keys to success. 

“As far as Philosophy for life and business.” Kevin appears thoughtful at first before answering with enthusiasm: “Mine personally…I wanna treat others like I wanna be treated, and I wanna be fair in business, and I wanna sell something to everybody!! I wanna have something for everybody, and I want it to be a win-win deal.”  

The excitement in his voice is infectious as Rusty answers back: “Y’know the thing is I like to sleep at night, and I like to do so and know that I did what I could do. I wanna be sure we’ve done everything we can to make sure we give a fair deal and to do the best we can to make someone successful at what they’re doing. I do think that contributes to the success of Springfield Leather.” 
 
They go on to talk about their employees, and how Kevin, back when he wasn’t our fearless leader, but a fearless employee of another place and time, it was difficult for him to have all the answers to everything he wanted to know, and it ended up affecting his work. Because of this, Rusty and Kevin both strive to have an educational environment for their employees, and one way they do that is with weekly meetings with all the employees, which Rusty roughly counts to be at about “90-ish, 93-94-ish, give or take? …are we countin’ dogs or we just countin’ people?” Just the people, Rusty. 
 

Kevin explains the weekly meeting best: “We try to make it so that everybody has the opportunity to know what all the various departments are doing, what they need, what’s going to be happening in the future…We just feel that’s the best way to go about it.” 

Rusty comments that perhaps their employees enjoy the meeting because of the free biscuits they receive. This employee pleads the 5th.  

“That probably has somethin’ to do with it.” Kevin jokes. 

When it comes to growth and keeping up with it, Kevin and Rusty both concede that it’s not easy. “Now, growth is extreeemely challenging!” Rusty admits. 

“And expensive!” Kevin interjects. 

And expensive…and it can be painful. And I’m sure that we have done our fair share of sharing the pain with those through growth because it causes you to work fast and furious and possibly make mistakes. 

 
“But y’know I’m glad you mentioned that,” Kevin holds up his index finger like he normally does when making an important point. “…because, this is the leather business. I don’t care who you are, if you’re involved in the leather business, in any way shape or form, whether you’re making something, selling something, buying something…you’re gonna make mistakes. And when we do, we want to try and make it so that everyone in our meetings understands what those mistakes are, how they came to be, and what we can do in the future to not make those same mistakes again.” 

In discussing the future of SLC and its 20-year milestone, Kevin and Rusty both acknowledge the congratulations given to them by Leather Crafters & Saddlers Journal. 

“Well, we thank you very much for that, and we thank you for the 20 years!”  

Rusty gives a big smile as he watches Kevin eagerly begin to elaborate on the most he can about SLC’s future.“We have expansion plans! SLC is going to get larger. I hope we get better. There is a little room for improvement…and we’re workin’ on that constantly. There’s gonna be a lot of changes and we’re excited about that!” 

“The good thing that we’ve both come to appreciate is that growth is a must, but you can also control the growth, and that’s key, I think. Controlling the growth to be at the right time, when the opportunity is there. So that’s what we’re hopin’ to take advantage of and we’ll give you more on that later!” Rusty adds. 

Finally, Kevin and Rusty address some of the more…interesting questions, including where Kevin does his lacing, how they find each other in SLC’s huge space, and if they have any ‘juicy tidbits’ to share with the reader. 
 
Rusty grins as he describes the hand-laced wallets we sell here at SLC, (all done by Kevin!) and how we sell some to people who wish to resell them…and Kevin describes the only economic way to get them done, since they take so much time: “…so I lace on the way home when I’m driving.” Kevin sheepishly admits. 

“You heard it, you heard it right here!” Rusty exclaims with a cackle. 

As for when one man needs to talk to the other and has to search through over 3300 sq. ft. of warehouse and retail, Kevin has it down to a science. “I can tell ya, when I’ve got something important that I need to talk to Rusty about, I know exactly where he is, and that place is somewhere else! That’s a fact!”  

“That’s exactly where Kevin is when you need him too!” Rusty laughs. 

As for “juicy tidbits” Kevin seems to struggle to come up with something for once, in which Rusty ‘helpfully’ interjects: “What kind of tea do you drink, Kevin?” 
 
Kevin picks up his non-branded tea before setting it back down. “I go to a place that has two kinds. I get traditional unsweetened tea, and I mix it with something called citrus green which is orange stuff…or! Sometimes, I’ll celebrate and put some raspberry stuff in it, and it’s always unswee–” 

Rusty looks straight into one of our cameras, pointing and interrupting with a laugh, saying that, “If you ever want to bring Kevin anything, bring him a glass of sweet tea!” To which Kevin immediately responds by gagging. There’s laughter in the recording room as Kevin continues to contemplate the horrors of sweet tea, and the recording equipment catches Rusty saying “cya!” just before being shut off.  

Our fearless leaders ask if that’s what we were after, and of course, it was. These guys are just as good on video as they are with leather! Now, we’d kept them for 30 minutes of their time, so they had to quickly book it back to their day job. (The one off the camera.) They leave the studio, Kevin with tea and ink pen in hand, ready to help the next employee or customer, ready to give someone that win-win deal. 

If you like what you read here and want to see the video in its entirety, with more questions and funny ‘juicy tidbits’, there is an interview now posted on our happy little YouTube channel called SpringfieldLeatherCo. We thank Leather Crafters for the opportunity to tell our story. Be sure to keep an eye on us, because Kevin and Rusty weren’t pulling your leg about our future plans, they’re big! 

Meet Our Newest Addition to the Shop!

Here at SLC our jobs just keep getting bigger and bigger! This demands even more equipment so we can meet your needs, and our newest edition to our not-so-little machine family is a Camoga industrial splitter! This gorgeous beauty comes from Campbell-Randall Leather Machine Company, and Rusty and the rest of us are very excited about how much more splitting we can get done for you!  

So why a new Splitter? Well, we here at SLC have a large splitter and two small ones, which is amazing, but when it comes to medium-sized leather we have to put them through the large splitter, which puts that much more of a load on the big ol’ guy. So, our Camoga solves this problem by being a medium-sized splitter: Taking some of the work off of our large splitter and splitting medium-sized leather at a higher quality! It’s a win-win!

Check out the images below of our exciting unboxing and the sight of our new Camoga’s home: 

How to Care for Your Hair-on Hide Rug

You did it, you pulled the trigger and purchased that beautiful hair-on hide rug you’d been eyeing for months! They’re gorgeous, and a great centerpiece to any room in the household. But…like anything we walk on in our house, cowhide rugs demand general maintenance to keep them in tip-top shape. Not only is this a pricey investment, but if taken care of correctly it’s something you can pass on to your kids and grandkids. These rugs are very durable and have a lot of misconceptions about their care. They really aren’t that needy, and no you won’t have to run your lint roller over it every night. Here’s a few tips and tricks for your new hairy friend.

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How do I clean my hair-on cowhide rug?

If you wish to vacuum your rug, we suggest either using a robotic vacuum (like a Roomba) or putting your traditional vacuum on the lowest setting, and then gently vacuuming from the center out, careful not to get the ends of the rug caught in the brush. An alternative to vacuuming is to take the rug outside and beat it to clear dust and dirt the old-fashioned way.  

But, what about spills? While hair-on cowhide rugs are naturally resistant to stains, it is important to act quickly if you spill something that can risk leaving a permanent mark. If the stain is liquid, carefully clean it with a little water and a damp paper towel or sponge, being careful not to rub the stain or water into the rug, as liquids can get trapped underneath and cause problems later. For pet stains, follow this procedure but add an additional step of taking some vinegar or mild soap to the stain. Most methods that you use to clean your own hair will work on these rugs as long as you care to not let the water seep in. If the stain is oily and the above process does not work, you can also use eucalyptus oil to help lift the stain before rinsing it again. And finally…for food stains or stains that have particles in them, it’s important to scrape up the particles first, going with the grain of the hair as you do. Then you follow the previous steps to finish the cleaning.  

If none of the above helps remove stains from your rug, it’s best to look into a professional cleaning service to come to the rescue!

Now that basic cleaning is done, what do I do if my cowhide rug is curling on the sides? This usually tends to happen when the thinner sides of the hide have been exposed to too much heat. In this case, it’s best to remove it and store it in a cooler room or remove it from direct sunlight to give it time to uncurl. When you need to store your rug away for a time, it’s best to roll it up instead of folding to avoid creasing, and to store it in a box in a cool, dark place that stays dry.

Now you know how to care for your gorgeous rug!  

Stuck on Renia Glue

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When a customer sees a beautiful leather purse, they may not notice much beyond the craftsmanship and leather. There are parts of the item that are unseen, unnoticed by the untrained eye, but we know that the products you use behind the scenes to put your amazing projects together are just as important as the leather itself! That’s why we pride ourselves not only on leather, but on things like glue. We want the best for your projects, which is why we’ve brought in a new line of glue that is eco-and shop-friendly!

Sir Clayton, in our latest YouTube video, tells us all about our new, non-smelly, water-based glues from Renia. Gone are the days where everyone suffers the smells of a glue! The earth, and everyone else in your shop, will thank you for it!

First up is Klebfest. Simply apply Klebfest to the flesh side of oil tan leather. You can use our Silicone Flat Brush to achieve a thin layer of glue (you don’t need a lot!). Apply to both sides of the leather you are adhering together and then let dry. After it’s dried, you’ll find a tight and strong bond! This also works for veg tan leathers. Our Klebfest is available here on our website.

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Next, is the Aquilim 315, which we offer in three sizes: gallon, 32 ounces, and 8 ounces. This glue is fantastic for veg tans! Clayton likes to use the Renia Small Glue Brush to apply Aquilim. Most of the time you’ll want to place the glue on the flesh side of veg tan leather. If you need to place it on the grain side, rough it up a bit before placing the glue on. Spread this glue on your leather thinly and then wait for it to clear before adhering to another leather. Get Aquilim on our website: available in 1 Gallon, 32 oz., and 8 oz bottles.

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Clayton has also tried out the Atom Superglue, which stays flexible when dry. This works great for even oil tan leathers! This product is FLAMMABLE and NOT water-based! All you have to do is simply place the glue on leather and apply pressure for about a minute. This creates a strong, yet flexible bond which is great for leather working! Atom Superglue is here on our website.

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Last in our line is a new glue accessory called the TS Boy Glue Pot. This is a handy auto feed glue pot that can hold your glue and brush inside. Once sealed, the glue in the pot and even on your brush will stay wet until you need to use it again! Awesome! Get the TS Boy Glue Pot here.

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To see this amazing new line in action, join Clayton in our newest video!

Wrinkles Be Gone

Sometimes a little elbow grease is just want is needed to create usable products from something seemingly useless. Take this leather for instance. Just take a look at it. See all these ugly wrinkles? Looks pretty bad, huh? Some might call this total junk and pitch it, but here at Springfield Leather we like a challenge!

Turns out when you ask Sir Clayton to help figure out how to “fix” wrinkled leather, he can work things out in a jiffy and make a problem just disappear! Who would have thought you could simply iron leather…well maybe it’s not that simple. Let me explain.

Clayton discovered and demonstrates two methods (essentially the same method, but with two different working solutions) of removing wrinkles from leather using a basic household iron.

Method 1) Using straight water in a spray bottle. Spray the water on the back side of a chrome tanned, upholstery leather. Brush the back of the leather, where you sprayed it, to get the water to soak into the leather. Then you simply iron it from the backside. Take a few minutes to let it sit and cool, then turn it over and see the perfectly flat leather!

Method 2) Using 1 part water and 1 part 90% isopropyl alcohol mixed together in a spray bottle. Spray the water on the back side of a chrome tanned, upholstery leather. No need to brush the back to get the water to soak in because the alcohol will help the water absorb faster (it will also evaporate faster, so act fairly fast). Then you simply iron it from the backside. Finish it off the same as Method 1) by allowing it to cool for a few minutes then turn it over and see your handy work!

It’s really that easy and we thank Clayton so much for showing us how! We bring this up because we might have purchased TONS of very wrinkled leather recently, and we’d like to sell it VERY cheap…but it will need to be ironed. So get those irons hot and ready folks- the wrinkled leather is coming.

See the video by clicking below! 

https://youtu.be/XtjIsETwT6c

It’s Finally Happened…

It’s finally happened… Kevin has passed the torch on to the next generation. On December 19, 2018 Kevin announced that he’s stepping aside and named Rusty Darnell President and Commander in Chief of Springfield Leather Company!

And no… it’s not because Rusty is his favorite. There are actually a great number of reasons why Rusty Darnell is more than qualified to tackle the undoubtedly daunting task of running a company as unique, diverse, and continually growing as Springfield Leather! Having known Kevin for 25 years and being married to Kevin’s daughter Lindsey, he’s no stranger to this business. In case you’ve been living under a rock and didn’t know this, Rusty has actually been an employee of Springfield Leather Company since 2008 and has worked in just about every department within the company.

During his tenure, Rusty has accumulated plenty of leather and leather processing knowledge. He’s taught himself how to make holsters, wallets, and cases, how to hand stitch, and he’s learned nearly everything there is to know about sewing machines. He’s even made shoes! He’s practiced and mastered the uses of dyes, stains, and finishes, as well as their various application techniques. Saying that Rusty has a vast amount of product knowledge, is actually an understatement. He understands the tanning process almost as well as the tanneries themselves. Like Kevin, he has also established strong relationships with our vendors, and he’s learned hands-on (from the best) how to communicate with them.

The leather/leather processing knowledge Rusty has accrued and the way he is able to articulate how Springfield Leather Company operates is extremely beneficial when it comes to making deals and buying leather! He’s been an integral part of getting many of the fantastic (and less than fantastic) leather deals we’ve been able to offer you. He’s also got a thing for machines… leather processing machines, to be specific. Rusty Darnell has introduced many different facets to our business over the years. The biggest thing yet is the ability to split sides of leather. Purchasing industrial machinery, such as a large leather splitting machine, was never something Springfield Leather had ever considered. Now here we are, splitting leather sides like we know what we’re doing, because thanks to Rusty, we actually do!

Rusty does what it takes to get the job done and is trying to steer us into the modern age. From laser engraving to automated packaging machines, from hot-foil stamping to CNC machinery, from increasing our in-house production to private label production to sourcing custom hardware and tools; Rusty has worked hard, alongside Kevin to bring us to a point that we are pretty much self-sufficient, and there’s even more to come!

It should also be said that it turns out Rusty does pretty well in front of a camera! He’s become a familiar face with leather crafters from all over by sharing his knowledge in our educational videos, alongside Kevin. So to sum it up, Springfield Leather Company now has a new, very well qualified, fearless leader. Congratulations Rusty.

WHAT’S KEVIN DOING? Many of you might be wondering what Kevin plans on doing with himself, now that he’s loosened his grip of the wheel. He’s still the OWNER of Springfield Leather Company. His role will be more along the lines of owner/consultant. But did you know that he is an actual rock hound? It’s true! He loves rocks! He’s been collecting rocks since he was a kid back in Iowa! He’s so knowledgeable, he can look at an unpolished rock and tell you what kind of stone it is. He (along with several other employees) go to Tuscon every year to buy rocks, beads, stones, specimens, etc. It’s actually pretty incredible to think of Kevin, who we all know for his leather knowledge and leather work, as the guy who can tell you the difference between agate and jasper, or if something is quartz or carnelian. He used to do some hand slicing and polishing back in the day, now he has a bunch of machines/saws that cut/slice and polish stones! A couple of those machines are BEASTS! They’re huge and make a ton of racket when he’s running them, but the folks on the Retail Showroom floor don’t seem to mind a single bit!

In all honesty, Kevin will keep doing what he’s always been doing… He’ll continue to help by utilizing his mind-blowing super power! He has the unique ability to make something much more difficult than it actually has to be. He’s had this gift for some time, but he’s spent the last few years really perfecting it!  He’ll still come in every day; make leather bundles, help folks, answer his emails, answer the phone, talk to vendors, play with his giant rock machines, play the guitar, lace some wallets, play with his rocks some more, buy leather, sell leather, make ostrich packs, roll leather, buy some more leather. The only difference is that he might go home a little early some days, maybe spend some afternoons doing things he enjoys…like buying leather and rolling leather and selling leather… 

Honeycomb Bag

A while back, we shared some images from a customer, Jason, who used our pre-cut hexagon shapes to make one buzzin’ bag! While we don’t know all of his secrets, we’ve done our best to give you some tips and tools to make a similar bag on your own. 

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The original bag was a gift for Jason’s wife. Here are some of the things he used and a few we recommend trying to put your spin on this project. 


What he definitely used: 

Jason left some very enthusiastic and detailed reviews on the hexagon shape and dye listings, so be sure to read those for some tips from the man himself. 

Additional things you’ll need: 

  • Bag Feet – we think his were gold, but any color will do! 
  • Rivets and setter – we think he used black or gunmetal rivets
  • Thread & needle – we think he used brown awl
  • Stamp or stencil for bee decoration

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So, we don’t know exactly how he made it but we asked for help from one of our pros, Clayton, who makes bag prototypes for us all the time! 

Color Your Shapes

Use the dye and stains of your choice to transform your shapes! It looks like Jason used a bit of stain or antique paste on some of the yellow pieces for a more rustic look. Add the finish of your choice or leave them natural – no matter what you do, give them time to dry before moving on. 

Make the Bag Panels

This bag looks completely hand-stitched and Jason used a cross stitch to make it happen. You’ll need a needle and thread to pull it off. We recommend using a brown waxed thread to do the job! 

Cut the Panels 

The original design features some hexagons that are cut. Once you have the pieces assembled, you’ll have to make the panels into rectangles or whatever shape you’re going for. 

Construct the Bag 

It looks like he used brown veg tan for the minor panels and the bottom of the bag. You could buy some that is already dyed or you could dye it yourself! It looks like he reinforced the sides of the bag with the leftover yellow parts of the hexagon shapes – so waste-no-more! You could use a machine or hand stitch the bag together. It looks like he took his time to stitch the whole thing by hand – a true labor of love. 

Add the Straps and Bag Feet

Use brown veg tan for straps. He made two straps and used black or gunmetal rivets to attach them to the large panels of the bag. Use the bag feet of your choice. Clayton usually saves the bag feet for last and give the bag a bit of time to settle into its new shape. 

Make the Tag

The tag is likely the simplest part of this bag. He used one of the hexagon shapes which was dyed yellow and created a beautiful bee shape. You could stamp or stencil this one – we’re not sure how he went about it. He finished it off with what appears to be the slightest bit of antique paste. You’ll want to add some resist to the shape before following this step. 

Make it Your Own

We are confident that we missed some steps and got some things wrong. Plus, we’re sure there are some things you might like to do differently. However, using this simplified line of thinking provided, we believe you have the power to make something very similar to Jason’s design on your own! Did you give it a try? We would love for you share it with us here or on any of our social media platforms! 


Our customer, Jason, didn’t have any social media he wanted to plug, but he had a wonderful time making this beautiful bag. His wife took some beautiful photos of this bag, which you can see more of here. Until next time! 

An Exciting Announcement!

As you know, we love working together with our longstanding Hermann Oak and Kevin has a message regarding our latest collaborative effort in this open letter shared on Kevin’s Storytime!


When great companies work together, great things happen!!! And they happen for their customers as well. Those things are known as win-win situations, and the main beneficiary of these win-win situations is always the customer. The benefit to the companies comes later as it flows from happy customers to innovative companies.  It’s well known that “Customer First” has been the long-standing policy of great companies like Springfield Leather Company and Hermann Oak Leather.

Having said that, leathercrafters across the board have long-desired a HERMANN OAK DOUBLE SHOULDER.  And SLC and Hermann Oak feel that this would be a tremendous addition to the leather industry in this country for manufacturers, hobbyists, belt makers and all sorts of other leathercrafters.  But confronting the production problems that came along with creating this seemingly simple cut of leather were far more daunting than the average person would realize. It would require a small book to explain them!  

So…recently, Hermann Oak and SLC have teamed up, and worked together extensively to try to solve these difficulties.  And, (amazingly enough) we feel that between us, we think we have it whipped!!! Another benefit of this production has been realized. Not only will we have a Hermann Oak double shoulder, but we’ll also have a double culatta!!!  Initial research has shown that using double shoulders and double culattas can result in AS MUCH AS 40% YIELD INCREASES FOR VARIOUS END USERS!

With all of these things having been said, production samples are in hand!  Testing is in place. Grading and pricing are being discussed. We’re very excited to have a part in bringing this wonderful new product to our customers! And certainly want to express our gratitude and thanks to Hermann Oak for being willing to not only change the way that they think, but for taking the time and effort required to make this colossal project a success.  

MORE NEWS SOON!!!

Another Class with Denny Lowe

Denny is such a gracious teacher and this time, he’s helping our office staff train to understand customer concerns with a bit of practical application. Today’s lesson was in tooling a passport cover – here are a few images from the class! 


Denny teaches by showing first and supervising later. He’s allowing for students to make mistakes happy accidents. It’s the best way to learn a craft


Students tape the back of their projects to minimize stretching

They trace the pattern onto their leather diligently. 


Now they’re ready to begin carving and stamping

Of course, everyone works at their own pace. 

Eventually they’ll end up with something like this. 


Thanks for checking out this simple gallery. If you’d like to get some actual instruction, check out a few posts on our blog, check out our YouTube channel or grab a kit or pattern at our store. Denny has created the patterns for a number of more advanced projects including this popular shoulder holster pattern and he designed many of our CarveRite Craftaids

Until next time!