A brand-new bag
Cherokee has a handle on Red Earth Leather
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories on creativity in business, education and the arts in Oklahoma. Oklahoma City will host the 2010 Creativity World Forum in November.
TULSA – All Steven Copley wanted was a rugged, quality leather bag that would last forever.
His search was fruitless.
“I only found one company who makes a decent product, but their prices were outrageous,” Copley said.
Copley was so disappointed that he decided he would create a company that offers what he was looking for in a bag – at a decent price.
So, Copley, who already has a day job in the IT business, created Red Earth Leather. He uses the skills, talents and abilities of local Cherokee leather craftsmen, including one at an Oologah shop, to assemble bags and briefcases that are tough, long-lasting products.
Copley stresses that the leather is environmentally friendly.
“We use leathers that were made with traditional vegetable tanning methods, not destructive chrome tanning,” Copley said. Chrome tanning uses a substance called chromium salt instead of vegetable tanning, which uses tannins from wood or bark. Chrome tanning is quicker and more common because the process requires only a few hours. Vegetable tanning, meanwhile, is a method that requires more than a month.
Copley’s primary market is online sales.
“We plan to expand to meet business needs, but one of our goals is to provide high-paying skilled craftsmen jobs,” Copley said. “Eventually, we plan on expanding to our own facility and hire Cherokee craftsmen directly, partnering with the Cherokee Nation.”
Copley and about a dozen other entrepreneurs completed Tulsa Community College’s initial Launch Your Entrepreneurial Journey program.
Tulsa Community College has introduced a new philosophy in instruction designed to appeal to creative and emerging entrepreneurs, said TCC President Tom McKeon. McKeon wanted the college to take a nontraditional approach, teaching students the steps required to take an idea to the marketplace.
Copley and the class “graduated” during a ceremony at the Center for Creativity at the downtown Tulsa campus. The class spent 16 weeks learning about how to start a business from local coaches who have experience in new business development.
The program started in May with 62 people applying for 33 slots, said Sean Griffin, TCC entrepreneurial program director.
“We interviewed 33 entrepreneurs before inviting in the 15 that went through Launch Flight I,” Griffin said.
The second class, called “Flight II,” started on Monday.
The Launch experience was invaluable, Copley said.
“The Launch program was an incubator and as an analogy, it gets hot in there,” Copley said. “There is so much going on, on such a short timeline, I think everyone was relieved it was over. I’m also very excited because of the knowledge I gained while in the program, the networking opportunities, and the timeline.”
The program enabled Copley to take his idea and turn it into a real, functioning business in about four months, he said.
“That type of business incubator is unheard of in the traditional business world. Having limited prior business experience allowed me to learn how to start and run a company the right way,” Copley said.
Copley’s Red Earth Leather is Cherokee owned and operated – the only leather bag company like it in the world, he said.
“That fact alone doesn’t really mean we’re special,” Copley said. “As a company, you have to constantly prove yourself and bring a product or service to market that will be bought.”
Copley said what sets his products apart is the company’s philosophy.
“We are Native Americans and really care about the planet that we live on,” Copley said. “We choose to buy the most environmentally friendly materials we can buy and use in our products. Our choice of leather alone sets us apart from our competition, which use toxic chrome tanned leather to make their bags and briefcases.”
The materials, craftsmanship and rugged designs make the business model something the market will support, Copley said.
“And, we can thrive in that,” he said.Tags: Creativity & Innovation