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Articles

Lasting Craftsmanship


2017/05/01



Some may think that custom leatherwork is a dying trade, slowly being put out of business by the Internet market and import products. But in historic downtown New Albany, Mississippi, Olen Clark III at OC Leatherworks continues making custom made tack and saddles.

Clark has been working in leather for about 35 years and riding horses almost daily. His family was originally from Tunica, operating a small farm west of Senatobia with 300 to 600 head of cattle. So farming, cattle, and horses were daily chores in Clark’s life.

 “My brother and I started riding horses at the ages of 10 and 12,” said Clark. “It was an everyday deal branding, vaccinating, or helping our Dad round up cattle for the public. We would hire out and round up herds anywhere from 200 to 300, up to as many 900.”

Many years ago his family bought the sale barn in New Albany, relocating there and maintaining a custom tack shop attached to it. His father, Olen Clark Sr., started the saddle and tack business and turned it over to him in 1997. Olen Clark III carries on the age-old tradition of custom saddlery and tack in this same location.

Clark says his experience taught him a lot about what it takes to make good quality leather products. “We make custom saddles, tack, phone cases, belts, and holsters. Just about anything a person wants. We also do a lot of saddle repair.”

Clark’s products are American made, using American leathers and stainless steel hardware. “I call it custom made because it is all handmade, custom tooled and sewn. We cut all our products individually from leather hides right here in our store. There are no assembly lines. It may take more time, when factory machinery would make it faster, but it’s a lot better quality.”

Clark says that while custom handmade products are superior, the leather working business is facing stiff competition from cheaper imports. “It’s tough keeping up with the import Internet market. A lot of people just don’t realize the difference in quality until they walk in my store and put their hands on our tack and other products.”

Clark says that although custom leather products are more expensive, people who know the difference and really care for their horse will pay the price for a better quality product. “I see a lot of stuff with some parts not lined up correctly or with parts on the wrong end. I know right then that whoever made that piece of tack or that saddle has never ridden a horse, so our approach makes a huge difference. We have many customers who bring their horses to our store so we can fit them with a saddle or whatever tack they need. We solve a lot of problems for our customers this way.”

Clark still rides horses nearly every day and shows his own cutting horses. He says, “A lot of places like mine are dying out all around the country. But I’ve been doing this all my life. It’s all I know.”

Clark says he does more wholesale than retail, shipping products to clients all over the country. OC Leatherworks has about 175 items in their catalogue, viewable at: www.olenclarkcustomsaddlery.com. OC Leatherworks is located at 219 Carter Avenue in New Albany, MS.

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