Founder of Eastern Market vendor Black Bear Leather Michael Glick is looking to grow his company. He’s just started a campaign to purchase equipment and additional materials, and to maybe even promote his part-time apprentice, Pam, to full-time.
Even Glick didn’t know how long the road to success had been for Black Bear Leather. On the day in 2013 when Glick decided to pick up some tools and try his hand at working leather, he had no idea he was following a long family tradition.
Glick had walked away from his job on the Hill four years earlier realizing he was looking for something different. Leathercraft was a whim, he said. “It was just something to try out and do what I could with it. I was just going to try and have some fun.” He created some belts and made a few bags for friends. “Then I just kind of fell in love with it,” he said.
It was only then that Glick learned about his family’s leather heritage. He knew his grandfather, Elmer, had been a member of the Amish church before leaving to pursue his spiritual freedom. What he didn’t realize was that his grandfather had been a full-time leather worker, helping his own father in his shop. With the Amish slow to adopt technology, leather items such as harness and saddle were critical to the community.
But Glick’s grandfather left leatherwork behind when he left the church to seek a fresh start, says his grandson. When Michael Glick took up the tools of the trade, his grandfather was pleased to see the tradition continue from a place of joy.
“Yeah, he loves it,” Glick said, when asked how his grandfather reacted to news of his grandson’s new trade. “He’s really excited about it.”
None of them Compare
Black Bear Leather creates out of the collective maker’s space Building Character in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Every weekend, Glick drives two and a half hours to set up his wares on the 200 block of Seventh Street SE, where he has been an Eastern Market vendor since June 2016. Glick remembers that first weekend well. He said from the very first day he came to the market with a little table, a place to hang belts and a backyard umbrella he has gotten a very exciting response from everybody.
Now, two years later, he’s been to seven or eight different area markets, in New York and Philadelphia. “None of them compare to the response I got from Eastern Market,” he said. “They’ve been wonderful the whole way through.”
At the ripe old age of 33, Glick is a rare twenty-first century success story: a self-supporting artisan. Together with his part-time apprentice, Pam, Glick turns out twenty-five different kinds of leather products in his line. Black Bear sales pay him, the bills, Pam the intern and also allow him to reinvest in his company. With requests for more and different product pouring in, he’s looking to expand.
Black Bear Leather has launched a Kickstarter campaign to expand the company. Glick says the crowdsourced investment will allow the company to invest in equipment and materials needed to produce leather pieces more efficiently.
He also wants to expand his product line. The new line, ‘The Working Set,’ includes briefcases, portfolios, wallets and card cases. Glick says that customers have been asking for these items every weekend, but custom-making each piece prices it out of reasonable reach. The campaign will allow Black Bear to hand-make product at a cost that is still accessible.
Supporters of the campaign can make contributions online, and when they do they can select a piece from the new collection. Black Bear is offering these new pieces for preorder at wholesale prices, payable in the form of contributions to the Kickstarter Campaign.
Pieces like the Roosevelt Brief, convertible to a back pack or shoulder bag, will retail at $525 but can be preordered for a $385 donation. The Atlantic leather tote bag will retail at $245 but can be preordered for $175.
Leverage to Grow
As of the first of August, the campaign has reached its initial $5,000 goal. Glick hopes to achieve even more before the campaign concludes August 22.
If the campaign reaches $10,000, the company will be able to produce their own Black Bear All-Natural Leather Dressing, a leather-conditioner to be included with all contributions of $95 and above. If the campaign reaches $15,000, Black Bear will be able to employ Pam, the apprentice, at full-time hours.
Glick says the support he has already received comes from his community of customers from all over the country and Europe, as well as from those finding the campaign on the Kickstarter Platform.
He’s thrilled with the success of the campaign so far and excited about the leverage it can provide for Black Bear Leather to grow. “I’m still always like, is this happening?” he says of the company’s success. “This is cool.”
Black Bear Leather can be found most Saturdays and Sundays (except Sunday, August 5) on the 200 block of Eastern Market, right across from Tortilla Café (210 Seventh St SE). Learn more about the company by visiting their website or go online and donate to the Kickstarter campaign.