I recently was hired by the new owners of Itasca Leathergoods (formerly Itasca Moccasin) to photograph the 10 or 12 styles this storied Minnesota outfitter hand crafts. As my readers know, my passion is food photography, but hey, first and foremost I am an artist, and if my canvas one week is beet salad at D’Amico and the next week hand-stitched moccasins from Itasca Leathergoods… well, let’s just say it’s that kind of diversity that makes me love my job! And the things I learn because of my job? Icing on the cake!
If you just glance at a pair of these moccasins you might miss what makes them so special. And if you don’t know how the company operates you’re ignoring a key part of the story.
First, the company: they could easily manufacture these overseas – it would be a heck of a lot less expensive, but they don’t and won’t operate that way. The moccasins are manufactured in Lake George, Minnesota, near the headwaters of the Mississippi River. And there they will stay, as the new owners are committed to supporting the economy in which they operate.
To ensure the company’s heritage isn’t lost, they insist on US-sourced leather hides. Again, they could buy it cheaper elsewhere, but Itasca Leathergoods stands for much more than profit margins and cheap labor.
They offer custom-fit moccasins and they are the only ones who do. Customers can provide them with a foot tracing and Itasca Leather Goods will custom design it to fit the exact contour of the customer’s foot. How cool is that?
Second, the moccasins: they use different kinds and colors of leather hides, which allows them to offer moccasins in several different styles. Some of the moccasins are designed with multiple hides, which really accentuates the subtle nuances of the individual leathers and each moccasin’s design. These are beautiful pieces of footwear!
The company has bold plans for growth. It won’t be long before you see a new Itasca Leathergoods website, and as they begin manufacturing additional products like handbags, wallets, totes, backpacks, and belts, they plan to open several new retail stores in Northern Minnesota resort towns.
This was a fun and challenging assignment for me. Capturing the subtleties of moccasins is not as easy as you might think. Lighting and angles were critical aspects of the photo shoot. And I’ve got to say, prior to this gig, I probably wouldn’t have looked twice at a pair of moccasins. But now that I’ve seen them, touched them, photographed them, and just really noticed them, I’m hooked. They’re beautiful!