Near Morro Bay off Highway 1 lies a studio apartment on a ranch where agricultural systems management senior Wyatt Smith spends his time carving and crafting handmade custom leather creations.
What once began as a casual hobby for Smith has now matured into a business venture: Rafter KW Leather.
Smith said he picked up the hobby of leather tooling in Fall 2019 as something to fill his spare time. He bought a tooling kit from Amazon and his interest grew as he practiced.
“I started watching a bunch of YouTube videos and really taking pride in my work and paying attention to the little details,” Smith said.
Soon, he started selling custom leather items like belts, wallets and Apple Watch bands to friends and family members. As his business picked up momentum, he started an Instagram and Facebook page, which he uses to showcase his work and do giveaways to increase exposure.
Now, he has developed a strong following of Cal Poly students, and even customers as far as Texas, who request his services. Some have discovered Rafter KW Leather through social media, and others through word of mouth, Smith said.
Animal science senior Kylie Calleton ordered a customized purse strap. She said she chose to purchase the strap from Smith to support a student business, and also because of Smith’s attention to detail and creativity.
“He’s really good about making what people envision and making it come to life,” Calleton said.
Smith said he spends many hours making sure he crafts each product to his standards.
“It’s not work if you love doing it,” Smith said. “I get home from class and I’ll sit down and spend eight, nine, 10, 12 hours just constantly going.”
Each order can take up to three to four weeks to complete. The process can be noisy, he said, requiring a lot of stamping, carving and pounding indents into the leather, which is where the isolated nature of his work space becomes convenient.
“I try to make every piece my favorite piece, because if it’s my favorite I know that I’ve done a good job,” Smith said.
Smith said his future plans include taking more hands-on classes, like saddle making, to improve his skills. He even plans to combine jewelry into his leather pieces. He said he wishes to continue doing leather work after he graduates, and if his business grows enough, he hopes to do it full time.
To Smith, leather tooling is more than a hobby, or even a business – it is also about carrying on an old-fashioned trade.
“I love keeping this way of life alive, and this western lifestyle and western tradition alive, and I can do that through tooling leather,” Smith said.