Like many before him, Ryan Popoff’s business started as a hobby. He created the type of leather wallet he’d like to buy, then listed it online out of curiosity. A few years later, he’s running a thriving leather goods business from beautiful Nelson, BC.
We caught up with Ryan to get the story behind Popov Leather.
What is it you do at Popov Leather?
Popov Leather manufactures and sells bespoke leather goods. People can come to our website, customize themselves a really nice, high quality wallet, and we’ll make it right here in our workshop in Nelson. Everything we sell is made to order. We’re one of the few leather goods businesses in the world that still sew things by hand. We’re proud of the fact we get multiple orders out the door within five business days. Everything is 100% Canadian made, and we primarily export our goods, with 85% of our orders going outside the country.
How did you get started in the leather business?
It started as a hobby for me. I didn’t have a business background. In fact, I went to art school. I love doing sculptures. I was kind of stuck in a nine-to-five job after graduating and I was looking for something to sort of fill the void. In my free time I experimented a lot, I picked up a lot of sculptural projects and I really enjoyed exploring new mediums. One of these was leather and it was completely new to me at the time. I watched a lot of YouTube videos and experimented with it, with the ultimate goal of creating the perfect wallet for myself.
My wife put that wallet on Etsy and it turned out other people were really interested in that same kind of wallet. It was minimalist with no branding. Things kind of snowballed from there. I guess I learned how to run a business as I went!
What are the different types of leather that you work with?
Talking about leather is like opening a can of worms! At Popov, we use the best of the best. It’s all made in Chicago by a company called Horween. They’re a family run business and they’ve been out there for over 100 years. To give you an idea of how big they are, they make all the leather for the NFL footballs, the interior car seats for Italian supercars – you name it, they probably have a hand in it. Their leather is just the highest quality, which is called full grain. The thing about full grain leather is that it’s super durable and takes on character as it gets older and used.
When you look at things like leather couches, upholstery, a ball you might get at Walmart – they’re made of something called bonded leather, which is like a flurry of leather straps. When the leather gets lit in the tannery the stuff that left behind gets saved and used for the lower quality leathers. Oftentimes, it’s referred to as genuine leather, so that terms gets confused with the higher quality stuff
I can talk forever about leather. In fact, I wrote a 2,000-word essay on our website about it. It’s a very contentious topic!
What are some of the most popular products that you sell?
Most people who order from us are typically looking for a wallet or a belt. I would say those are definitely our most popular and highest rated products. You know, I’m really stoked on the type of wallets we have. They’re very minimalist and high quality, and suitable for every type of person. What we’ve noticed is we get so much repeat business. People will order a wallet from us, love it, and come back for something else. Once you’ve experienced the Horween leather it’s hard to go back to anything else! People almost get addicted to it.
Why do you think small, independent businesses are so important to support?
A key reason for me is sustainability. We love being able to manufacture our goods here in Canada, using locally sourced binding. We’re not outsourcing any of our work and everything is done in-house. We experience every part of the manufacturing process firsthand so we can ensure the end result is something we’re proud of.
The other main appeal is being able to provide quality jobs within our community. Where we live is also where we work, and we’re really proud to be able to do that. Most people who have a hobby and start selling that skill, they come to a crossroads where they can decide to keep doing it as a hobby, or excel and run a business. I took the latter path because it’s important to me to provide a place to work where I would be proud to work and to support our community here in Nelson.
Let’s finish on a fun question. What’s your favourite place in British Columbia?
Okay, so people are going to get mad at me, but I’m going to say Victoria for a couple of reasons. One, that’s where I got my degree, lived for ten years and where I met my wife. And two, that’s where we started our business. It has some of my favourite restaurants and it holds so many amazing memories for me.
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