Leah Macaleer and Nicki Lang were having coffee one day when Lang asked Macaleer if she’d go into business with her. “I just asked her out of the blue,” Lang says. Macaleer was thrilled, and the two have been turning Found: Leather into a successful business ever since.
For Lang, it all started in Guatemala. During her travels there, she lost a favorite leather bag. When she returned, her dad lovingly found some leather and tried to recreate the bag for her. The process of finding leather and remaking it into something beautiful, durable, and comfortable stuck with Lang. She began making bags from old leather couches, old leather jackets—whatever she could find. She did custom work, so each piece was unique.
When she partnered with Macaleer, they created some regular designs to keep the production streamlined for Lang, and so that customers who saw their bags out in public would be able to buy the same bag. Customers can add elements like pockets and shoulder straps, but Lang can no longer complete custom projects. “I just don’t have time.” They started up their business with the help of the Western Washington University small business center. “They were so helpful,” Macaleer said. “We have a great community, and a lot of people in our lives were there to advise us and help us transition into business partners.” Some of that help is from home—Macaleer’s family and Lang’s in-laws are all in Bellingham. “I moved here from Texas and everyone followed me,” Macaleer said. Their families were their first customers, their childcare providers, and their biggest supporters.
Tucked in a gallery above Harris Street, Found does most of their business online (foundleathergoods.com). “It’s neat how the word is spreading,” Macaleer said. A man in Virginia called to order his wife a bag. “He owns a store, and a woman pulled out a wallet. He asked her where she got it, and she told him.” It’s easy to see how Found would generate a buzz—the bags are made from high-quality leather and have a very nice hand-made look about them without looking overly done or too rough hewn. They strike a balance.
“I like the more natural-looking leathers,” Lang said. “I like for the products to look finished, but not mass produced. I don’t want us to lose that handmade quality. Even the embossed leather has a vintage look that I love.” Lang’s process begins with function. She wants a bag that serves its purpose well, that is comfortable, that looks good. “I wouldn’t want to create something that looks good but isn’t functional.” She also determines which leather would go best with which product. “We’ll get a leather in, and it’ll lend itself to a certain color or style.”
Macaleer’s favorite pieces are the Legacy Tote and the Fairhaven Grand. “I have two children, and I can pack all their things in there, groceries, whatever I need to. Large bags for a working mom are great.” Lang’s favorite bag is, “Anything I’m working on that’s new. Coming up with a new design is always exciting.” Lang sometimes works evenings to develop new designs. “It’s not really work, though.” Currently, Lang and Macaleer are working on the spring line, which will have new colors. They’re also developing a messenger bag that can serve as a diaper bag. And on the horizon? “We love dogs. We both have dogs, so we’re thinking about collars and leashes.” As for the future of the business, it is very bright. Both partners seem very free from the conflict that friendship-owned businesses can cause. On Macaleer’s part, there is deep respect for Lang’s craftsmanship and ability, and for Lang, the respect for Macaleer’s business and marketing acumen is apparent. “Our business is a safe space,” said Macaleer. “And we have a lot of fun.” Lang said, “I never thought this is where I would end up, but I love it. I’m so glad I did.” Together, these two women not only offer beautiful products, their friendship is fuel for their great collaboration. And that’s something for all of us to celebrate.