Portland Leather Goods Profile

Portland Leather Goods logo.

Portland Leather Goods is an ecommerce company selling high-quality leather goods at accessible price points. 

Founder(s): Curtis Matsko

Industry: Ecommerce

Founded in: 2016

Location: León, México

Interview With Curtis Matsko

Describe your product or service & the problem it’s solving:

“Our concept is simple – which, as expected, makes life a little difficult. In order to get people a simple, beautiful leather bag – the kind that looks and smells and feels and ages like the amazing leather we all love – we created a small company to make bags with ONLY the best leather, low price, and amazing quality. You have heard those cliches before. But with millions of bags sold and being named [one of the] top 10 fastest-growing companies in 2022, we really did hit the mark.”

How did you come up with and validate your startup idea? Tell us the story!

“When I told my girlfriend to quit her terrible job in 2015, she asked, ‘If I quit, what will I do for money?’ I told her to trust me. She did. I bought a small piece of leather and made a refillable journal. I told everyone we could make millions. They laughed. My best friend said it was a horrible idea. We started in a one-car garage and took the art festival scene by storm. We went from $2,000 a weekend to $10,000 and then $20,000 and $30,000. We could not believe it could get any better until we went on Etsy, and within a year, became one of the top 100 stores of all time. Portlandleather.com and Portlandleathergoods.com took off soon after. We are now the largest leather bag maker in North America. With more than 130,000 five-star reviews, we run our own bag-making facilities. We are on target to do $120 million this year. How did we get here? That is a complex tale, a book or two.”

How is your startup funded, and what advice do you have for other founders seeking funding?

“Self-fund, work your [redacted] off, don’t take on business partners, and be unique.”

How big is your team, and what qualities do you look for when hiring new employees?

“We have over 600 employees in the company. All I ever seek is AWESOME people.”

What’s your primary marketing strategy?

“Connection! We create a business you can relate to and enjoy. We smile. We are kind. And we will spend $25 million in online marketing, and when someone buys from us, the product will be better than expected. We get more people buying from us because their friend told them about us than we do from Google. And we spend a fortune on Google.”

What has been your most successful marketing campaign, and why do you think it worked so well?

“A simple picture of a girl holding a tote bag by her legs with the words ‘The Perfect Tote.’ The leather looks like leather, and we explain that buying online is hard for leather because fake leather looks like real leather. What’s the difference? Ours is different, better, amazing. Magic.”

What do you consider to be your company’s biggest competitive advantage, and how do you maintain it?

“We want people to be our friends, to connect with us, and we live for the joy our products give to people. And we want our quality to far outpace the price so we will go viral. Doubt me? Go join the Portland Leather Insiders… a Facebook group. It will blow your mind. Seriously, don’t keep reading. Join the group, and the answers to our success will become very apparent.”

What were the biggest challenges you faced in the early stages of building your startup, and how did you overcome them?

“In 2020, we were making all of our products in Portland, Oregon. We had dozens of hipster artisans coming into our building in Portland every day and hand-cutting and stitching all of our side items. Custom-made to order. And then the pandemic hit. What we learned from the pandemic was there are sometimes no good answers. Do you try to keep all your employees working, or do you send them all home? Do you lay them off or keep them under the payroll? Do you have them take unemployment … endless questions with no good answers. Our head of marketing, Maverick, said something that changed our company forever. He said books will be written about people who got afraid and people who got bold. He said it was time to be bold and grow in the midst of the pandemic while everyone else was sitting home waiting it out. Wearing double masks, I took $9,000 and bought a flight to León, México. I set up a small manufacturing place called The Studio. It ended up being the perfect time. León, México, is the capital of leather footwear manufacturing in North America, and we were lucky enough to have all of the best artisans having just been laid off from their jobs. The best artisans were literally lining up at our door, asking if they could use their generational talents and craftsmanship to help us make our leather bags. Sure. We soon begin to scale. At the same time, everyone was at home shopping online, and we were delivering products to their doors. And they couldn’t believe the quality. Pretty lucky break! Some people act, and others talk and plan and think and, well, you know the rest.”

What is your #1 piece of advice for startup founders?

“Emmitt Smith – Dallas Cowboys running back. When they asked him the secret of his success, he said, ‘I run where they ain’t.’ Pretty wise. Do things others refuse to do. Do not duplicate, innovate. An example is we broke Etsy with our leather tote bag. Instead of a girl holding a bag, we took a picture of a bearded man hugging it and laughing with joy. It crushed it. It was different. Thanks, Emmitt.”

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