Historic Fairhaven’s Morgan House Hotel was built in 1890 with a saloon at ground level. The building, located at the corner of Harris Avenue and 10th Street, has since been converted to highly desirable artists’ studios. Just like the structure it’s housed in, Found Leather Goods has a rich history and lots of stories to tell.

Nicki Lang, owner of Found Leather Goods, in her Fairhaven studio. Photo credit: Cassandra Darwin.

It all started with a saddle bag from Guatemala. Years ago, Nicki Lang owned a leather bag she purchased from a street vendor on a trip to Guatemala. “I loved the bag to pieces – literally,” says Lang. After the bag started to fall apart, her dad made it his personal mission to find a replacement. “But of course you can’t find a replica for that kind of bag,” she says. Unwilling to admit defeat, he bought a secondhand leather coat, cut a pattern for a handbag and recruited a friend with an industrial sewing machine to put together a new purse.

That bag sparked the whole idea for repurposing leather, which is how Found Leather Goods got its start. Lang still has the bag proudly displayed in her work studio. She listed her first bag for sale on Etsy and it sold within an hour. “It was amazing,” she says. “At the time I was in Portland and I was starting a nonprofit, but 2008 was not a great time for nonprofits. So I decided to stick with this and spent my days going to thrift stores and looking for more material.” This continued for five years. As the business grew, she purchased whole leather hides to produce a more consistent line of products.

Totes are a mainstay, but new items are released every month. Photo courtesy: Found Leather Goods.

The expanding business also created a need for more workspace. After working in a small home studio that required climbing a ladder, Lang was thrilled to find a space available in the historic building in Fairhaven—close to home with stunning views of Bellingham Bay. She describes it as a “secret society of artists and writers.”

In a dramatic turn of events, Lang recently suffered a leather cutting injury that left her one fingertip short and required surgery. It’s a story any parent can relate to: she was in a rush to get to a very important school event. “I was supposed to go with my son’s kindergarten class to Mount Baker Theatre to see Pete the Cat,” she laughs. But one false move with the rotary cutter changed those plans. Lang and her production assistant, Emily Bajema, tried two walk-in clinics before going to the emergency room at St. Joseph’s. Despite bringing the severed piece in a bag of ice, she learned she would need a future surgery to graft a new fingertip.

A recent sandal making workshop with Found Leather Goods and Rachel Sees Snail Shoes was a big success. Photo courtesy: Found Leather Goods.

“It took a while to come back,” she says, not only describing the physical recovery time but also the psychological toll. When asked if she has gone back to cutting, Lang says, “Yes. But I have chainmail gloves that I use.”

Even months after the surgery she says her fingertip is still very tender. Lang used her recovery time to really think about the business and the direction she wanted it to go. “I have a vision of this studio being a place where other people can come to create,” she says. “I want it to be a collaborative space where people have an idea and see it come to life. It’s exciting to think about new possibilities and not feel this pressure to just be about production.”

As a result, Found Leather Goods started offering workshops where customers come to the studio and create something with their own hands. Zero experience is required and the projects range from simple earrings to complex molded leather sandals. “Bellingham is a place where people like to make things,” says Lang. The artist portfolio opened the door to a new audience and recent custom orders have included a bonsai tool and knife rolls.

Found Leather Goods currently offers earring making workshops and will soon add a drop-in earring making station at the studio. Photo courtesy: Found Leather Goods.

Found Leather Goods has also changed the way they offer new items. Once a month a “fresh batch” of items is released on the website. This allows Lang and her team to experiment with new deigns while keeping staples, like their totes, always available. And anyone that visits the studio in person is treated to an expanded selection of goods that may not be listed on the website or are one of a kind. The studio is open most weekdays and by appointment. Found Leather Goods also participates in the Fairhaven Fourth Friday Art Walk and welcomes you to visit their studio.

Found Leather Goods is located at 1000 Harris Avenue, Studio 14 in Bellingham.

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