This article appears in July/August Omaha Magazine.
He’s Ernest Hemingway meets James Dean meets Indiana Jones. He’s an autodidact, a Mr. Fixit. He’s ruggedly chic, well-read, and when he does cool stuff, you won’t find it sensationalized on Facebook or Instagram. He also rides a motorcycle and travels most of the year. And I once watched him floss his teeth with a dollar bill
Brent La Rue was probably born in the wrong generation, exiled from the era that made them like they used to. But if the 30-year-old founder of La Rue Leather is supposed to exist in our time, it just might be to remind us that things were once built to last.
“My thing is: I want to buy it once. I want to buy it for life,” La Rue explains while we peruse his basement workshop, lukewarm beers in hand. It’s a principle that the craftsman says he’s instilled into his leather goods business, which he’s slowly burnished over the past few years.
Surrounded by old tools and Old Milwaukee empties, La Rue shows me his stock of lifetime Dopp kits and hoof-pick satchels that he designs and makes by hand. Each bag in this bunch features English bridle leather—purchased from a tannery that’s been around for almost 150 years—and solid brass hardware that La Rue shapes in-house.
“I can give a lifetime guarantee and know that in 100 years if somebody’s still alive and making these bags, and somebody sends something in, we can order it,” he says. “They [the materials] are not going away, they are not disappearing.”
As for the La Rue Leather brand name, he explains that it describes more than just a man putting his name to his work. The double-entendre is also French for “the road,” which is where he says his business was initially founded.
“So many things throughout the weird experiences I’ve had traveling and living on the road, and working on the road,” La Rue says, “all kind of culminate in creating things that are long, lifetime goods and trying to design things that—I want to avoid the word ‘timeless’—but are always appealing.”
We’re about halfway through our beers when La Rue pulls out the bag that started it all: the leather satchel that he hand-stitched fireside somewhere in the Shasta-Trinity mountain region of Northern California many years ago. It looks like it belongs in a museum. And its origin story sounds like it belongs in an epic.
But with La Rue’s old soul and wild spirit, perhaps all of his tales should one day receive the Homeric treatment. Until then, our protagonist is going to continue workin’ and livin’, and makin’ leather goods the only way he knows how:
“People mention all the time, ‘That’s so awesome you know how to do that.’ I’m like, ‘I didn’t know how to do that…I lied to you. I told you I knew how to do it,” La Rue muses. “’I fixed your window. It’s fixed, but I didn’t know how to do it—I just figured it out.”