Interview Series: Horween Leather Co.
Welcome to MODA Interview Series, where we feature influencers and leaders in the fashion industry in the Chicago area and beyond to discuss their design inspirations, their creative backgrounds and what it means to be a self-starter in the fashion world today.
Renowned for its high-quality and bespoke leather goods, Horween Leather Company has been in business for over a century as one of the most respected tanneries in the U.S., and the only tannery located here in Chicago. We sat down with Nick Horween to discuss the various aspects of his family's business, from the company's storied legacy to its creative insight and contributions to American craftsmanship today.
Horween has the distinction of being the only tannery in Chicago. Is the location a large part of Horween's brand identity? Is there a central factor that has kept it in Chicago?
Location is very much a part of who we are, chiefly because our skilled employees all live here. Originally, the Union Stock Yards supplied the many tanneries and other businesses that utilized the byproducts of the meat industry. Water is also a vital input into our process and all of our formulas have been developed using Chicago water.
What is the process that leads to Horween becoming a supplier to a certain brand? Do they approach you with a certain product in mind, and you help specify the vision for the final product?
It is highly variable and it happens both ways. Everything we do is made-to-order and as a result we make a lot of adjustments and offer customization.
Horween has remained a private company, staffed in part by the family of the founder, including yourself. How do these two distinctions help to shape the company today?
Remaining family owned has allowed us to stay true to our original mission. Our meetings are not about “how can we grow 10% this year,” they are about what can we make next that is really special and different. If we can grow, or at least be profitable, while offering leathers that we think are the best, then we are doing something right. We are fortunate in that we have 111 years of experience to help guide or passion.
What's one thing that people wouldn't know about a tannery until they visited it?
People are surprised by how many steps are involved and how much we still do by hand. That is probably more unique to us as a tannery instead of tanneries in general.
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