Kyle Closen’s roots are in the prairies. He grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan with fond memories of working at his grandparents’ upholstery shop, an experience that opened him up to the world of textiles. While he’s worked in other areas during his professional life – having been a truck driver and welder – he always came back to his passion of working with different materials and creating unique handmade items. He took the leap to start his own business in 2014 and Clo’s General Leather Co. was born. Since then, Kyle has been working out of the Mercer Warehouse in downtown Edmonton making super cool, but functional, products out of leather like duffel bags, backpacks, wallets, and motorcycle gear.
Community Support Is Key
Looking back over his years in business, Kyle is most proud of taking the steps to start his own business. There wasn’t always someone there telling him what to do, but with his biggest supporter – his mom – he made it work. She helped him realize that no matter what you’re doing – working for someone else or yourself – things might not be easy. She encouraged him to keep going and keep chasing this if he felt it was working. Edmonton Made has been a great way for him to connect with other creative businesses in the city and he found some mentors in the local maker scene to bounce ideas off of. He also found a good support system in us, asking questions to our business advisors to get answers to his questions and find connections to events and other entrepreneurial organizations.
Leather Is Tough
When Kyle started his business, the main challenge was trying to decide what products people were going to want. If he thought something was cool, and his friends and family thought the same, was that actually going to be something that he could make a living selling? Working with leather, he can make anything from shoes to hats, so the challenge was figuring out what to concentrate on. He found that his social media followers and customers would tell him what they wanted. By seeing how people reacted and commented on his posts, and watching what brought in sales, he could tailor the product offerings. Through listening to what his customers want, Kyle has sold products throughout Canada and the US, and has also received interest from Australia, Dubai, and Holland.
“Every product you make, you get another job from it. Anytime I get my products into the hands of my customers, they seem to have a return value through word of mouth.”
As the demand has been growing, the challenge now is working with limited space and resources, and making decisions on how to grow the business sustainably. He always wants to be his own designer and create his own originals, and from there figure out how to meet the demand. Looking at these unknowns may be scary, but he always finds a way to keep things fun and be uplifted despite the challenges that he is facing.
How to Avoid Getting Your Hide Tanned
Kyle has learned a lot as he’s grown his business from the ground up, and has some valuable information for those looking to do the same thing:
- Step forth with a good plan. Things are consistently changing, but you have to have a solid idea – something that is measurable, that you can try, test, make changes to, and continue to grow.
- Go for it! Push your limits and get out of your comfort zone. Being comfortable is easy. Make yourself feel everything, no matter how uncomfortable, including both the ups and the downs.
- In the end, it’s all you. Organizations are there to help as much as they can, but it is up to us as makers and entrepreneurs to do the work and get where we want to be.
Looking Back Before Moving Forward
As he moves into the future and onto the next steps for his business, Kyle was quick to reflect on how far he has come. Sometimes, he says, it can feel like you aren’t getting anywhere and things are a constant struggle, but as you look back you can appreciate how far you’ve come. He has truly built a business based on his values, and as he grows he is taking those forward. Over the summer he is hitting the road to do some markets and get his products into stores across Canada, while working on his 2018 product line. He’s working towards growing the demand and brand across Canada and the globe, and we can’t wait to see what he does next!
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