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Leather Worker


Leather has been used by humans for thousands of years for everything from shelter to necklaces. The majority of us at least have leather shoes, while some even have leather clothing and furniture. Leather wallets, leather belts, leather purses and briefcases, leather saddles, leather gloves. Like it or not, leather goods aren't going anywhere any time soon.

Leather workers are the individuals who create all those items. Sometimes they help in the mass production of leather items, but sometimes they take the production of leather goods up a notch. They create art out of the leather, and are known as artisans. Even shoe repair requires time, patience, and thought, skills used by master artisans working intently with leather.

Leather workers look for texture, color and strength. They draw patterns, and then cut them out of the leather using machines and sharp tools. They attach the pieces together to create everything from sculptures, bowls, and hats to gloves, chairs, and saddles. The items are treated with dyes and chemicals, any required metal bits are attached, any engraving or embossing is completed, and then they are ready for sale or display.

Some leather workers specialize in shoes, and make or modify footwear according to a doctor's prescription. These workers modify shoes, and build new shoes from casts of customers' feet. They also repair shoes, and other leather goods, to extend the lives of all leather products.

Depending on the size of the factory or shop they work at, a leather worker may perform only one, or may perform all of the steps required in producing, repairing, and selling products. If they work creating art pieces, they will likely do it all, but if they work in a saddle workshop or making shoes, they may be part of a team, each individual specializing in one aspect of the whole project.

Regardless of how they work, these artisans are important to us. The majority of us rely on leather products, and have done so for thousands of years. Leather workers are carrying on that tradition, and will continue to do so far into the future.
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
Median Salary:
Highest 10% of Earners:

  Interests and Skills  
Interested in becoming a leather worker? Leather workers are creative, and driven to create and repair things with their hands. Leather workers who choose to work as original designers should be willing to put in long, hard hours. Leather workers who focus on repairs need excellent people skills. They need good manual dexterity, steady hands, and patience. Leather workers must be innovative thinkers interested in trying new things. They must be able to perform detailed, painstaking work. As artisans, leather workers should be culturally sensitive, and interested in learning about the arts in communities outside their own. They will also need some business sense if they would like to make this their career.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with supervisor, head designer, or client about desired item
  • Select suitable types of leather
  • Draft patterns
  • Cut leather to size and shape using knives and machines
  • Join pieces together with rivets, adhesives, awls, and needles
  • Attach buckles, metal decorations and emboss patterns
  • Finish products with stain or dye and polish and/or lacquer coats
  • Rebuild heels and soles of old shoes
  • The typical day for a leather worker involves working closely with leather, preparing it, cutting it, and shaping it however the client, the supervisor, or the artisan envisions it should be. There will also be some administrative business to take care of, contacting buyers, distributors, shop owners and gallery administrators. The leather worker spends most of each day alone in a studio or workshop, but will travel internationally to sell products at festivals, for conferences, and to learn new skills from the global leather working community.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Leather workers work in studios, shops, and workrooms. They work with sharp tools, machines, and are exposed to dyes and chemicals. They are often alone, or work with one or two other artisans. They may work for a company, mass producing leather goods for sale, without the chance to complete their own designs. They may work long hours if working on a major project, but generally the hours will be regular.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Leather workers can work as shoe and leather goods repairers, or they can become full-time artisans, and open a shop to sell their wares. They can become instructors, and write books and articles on the history and technique of their art. They can branch out into other areas of art, and become potters, silversmiths, jewelry or clothing designers, or open a store or gallery for artisans to sell and display their creations.

  Educational Paths  
Individuals interested in working with leather are advised to take a college course in shoe repair, leather work, textiles, or fashion design. These courses can last from one week to a few years. Make sure that the course you select includes skills like leather cutting, stitching, and dyeing. You should also take a few business courses if you want to open a shoe repair shop or a leather goods store. You may also want to become an apprentice to a leather worker.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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