Phil Kalas

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Phil Kalas is an American entrepreneur. Phil started Ashland Leather in 2011 and is based in Chicago.[1]

Phil Kalas,  of Ashland LeatherPhil Kalas, of Ashland Leather


Ashland Leather


@ashlandleather (856 followers)


@ashlandleather (28.5K followers)


Early Career

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Ashland Leather

Phil started Ashland Leather in 2011. They detail the beginnings of their company in their Starter Story interview: [1]

Q: How did you get started on Ashland Leather?

Dan Cordova and I are the co-founders for Ashland Leather Co.

Both Dan and I are full-time employees at Chicago’s Horween Leather tannery. Simply put, we make sheets of leather at our day jobs.

During a lunch break in late 2010, Dan excitedly called me over to show me a beautifully hand-laced leather bag that he had made for his wife on their anniversary.

The bag looked incredible.

At the time, Dan did not know that I had also been pursuing leather crafting as a hobby. I ran out of the lunchroom and quickly returned with a leather wallet (what would later become the Fat Herbie) that I had crafted in my living room at home.

This confluence of two individuals who were passionate about leather and making stuff was the catalyst for Ashland Leather Co.

At our day jobs, we make sheets of leather for huge brands like Wilson, Nike, Allen Edmonds, Alden, New Balance, Viberg, and many others. We ship these sheets of leather to be turned into NFL footballs, NBA basketballs, and many types of footwear like dress shoes, boots, and moccasins.

The Horween leather tannery is essentially a boutique shop that makes small batches of specialty leathers. Many people tell us we have their dream jobs...I tend to agree with them.

Making the finest leather in the world all day spoils me. However, in the past, I did not get to complete the lifecycle of the leather and get to appreciate it as a final product. I describe this dilemma as like being the world’s best wheat farmer but not being allowed to bake anything.

As a crutch, I would often take trimmings or scraps of leather from the tannery and carry them in my pocket to see how each leather would age. Crafting a leather wallet or bag to use as an everyday carry good was a natural progression for both Dan and myself.

When we started the company I had a large amount of student loan debt. And, coming off the Great Recession, I recall going out on the weekends hoping $20 would last me the whole night. Ashland was started with $1000, a sacrifice of sleep, and a lot of blind faith. We simply made wallets that we wanted to wear. Luckily for us, people seem to have similar tastes.


Our first sale

We were extremely lucky to get our first sale.

It happened because we were in the right place at the right time. We, at the Horween leather tannery, frequently receive international buyers on visits to prospect new goods for their retail stores.

Ashland’s first big sale was a result of one of these visits. The tannery had a group from SHIPS Japan (Japanese/Asian retail stores) that was interested to see the “latest and greatest” that Horween had to offer.

The tannery owner, Skip Horween, was the first to promote Ashland to the buyers and offered them Fat Herbie wallets in both black and color #8 shell cordovan colors. That month, SHIPS presented Ashland with its first “real” order for $30,000.

Quickly, Dan and I got to work. We had never produced more than five wallets at a time. Now, not only did we have to produce hundreds of wallets at once we also had to think about new problems like packaging.

Our philosophy was to surprise and thrill the customer so we made a handmade wax-stamped box, custom letterpressed business cards, individual leather bags, and handcrafted hundreds of wallets. Through the month-long lead time that we had I don’t think Dan or myself had more than 4 hours of sleep every night.

This first order quickly led to more orders from our friends at SHIPS Japan but we also started our own website: -- Today our website is where 90% of our business comes from. Our business doubled the next year and now we took over five different rooms in Dan’s home including his garage.

We started employing more team members (hi Laura, Amanda, Matt, and Lupe!) and eventually leased a workshop next to the tannery. In 2018 we purchased our own workshop up the street from the tannery and finally have a long-term home.

Our website has grown not only in product offerings but also aesthetically. We often receive over 1000 unique visitors each day to our website. Our instagram following just reached over 10k followers.

In 2019, I started a new effort to make videos on our YouTube page and, despite being a self-taught videographer, the initial response has been very positive!


Source [1]



Contributors to this article:

  • Pat Walls, Founder @ Starter Story
  • Wiki Updater