Faye Steiner-Woods returned from a trip to Brooklyn, New York, inspired — eager to prove quality doesn’t have to mean expensive when creativity is used as currency.
“I wanted to purchase this really expensive, $50 keychain, and it just seemed ridiculous,” Steiner-Woods laughed, recalling their impulse to buy — and the origins of a business venture, Red Hare Leather, that trinket would later manifest.
“I just looked at it over and over again,” they continued, describing how they studied the piece and its design. “I went to school for art, specifically printmaking. I really love any sort of craft or skill that requires using your hands and your brain — woodworking, painting, making all kinds of things, so it was pretty easy for me to look at it and see how it was constructed.”
“[I was more or less trying to understand] tips and tricks to make it look perfect or well done — worth 50 bucks. … I took a bunch of photos of it and came home and made it.”
Successfully stitched and in-hand, the small, coveted piece of leather work started to symbolize something more than a less-expensive alternative to a pricey travel purchase for Steiner-Woods.
Click here to follow Red Hare Leather on Instagram and see their latest creations.
After seeing their initial work, requests from friends started pouring in for keychains, wallets, and other small trinkets — competing with Steiner-Woods’ own hobby creations, which showed a similar and relentless hold on the then-burgeoning leatherworker.
“I checked out a few books from the library, watched several YouTube videos, [went to] a couple of different stores and talked to a bunch of other leatherworkers,” they recalled, noting such research resulted in a showing at Hallmark’s Hallmarket.
“I really dug it. I had thought about maybe jumping into [the small business and maker] field. So it was a good step in that direction — to be a part of something, but not have to commit completely to it.”
Commitment, however, wasn’t far off, Steiner-Woods added.
“I ran into a friend from high school, Katie Mabry Van Dieren, who runs the Strawberry Swing [Indie Craft Fair.] She was like, ‘I didn’t know you did this. Come be a vendor at my swing.’ … Once I hooked up with her, it was all over.”
Shortly after the encounter in 2015, Steiner-Woods formally co-founded Red Hare Leather with their twin sibling, Beth Woods. The non-binary, trans, queer-owned leatherworking operation has since established itself as a leader within the Kansas City maker space and small business community.
Steiner-Woods now runs Red Hare as a one-person venture for their home shop in Kansas City’s historic northeast, working to advance queer representation in the local entrepreneurial community through their craft.
“The queer maker community here is pretty tight. They love each other, they bounce ideas off of each other and they’re definitely here to support each other,” Steiner-Woods said, referencing friends and allies at ULAH, Mid Coast Modern, and Untamed Supply Co., among others.
Click here to shop the latest creation from Red Hare Leather. Items are also available at Midcoast Modern, ULAH, and Shop Local KC — a brick and mortar outgrowth of Mabry Van Dieren’s Strawberry Swing.
“I love that I’m local, I love that I’m queer,” they said. “I think the local movement is a really big movement. Buying local, buying local crafts, buying local art and supporting people — not just corporations — that’s super important to me and I know that my friends and a lot of my customers feel the same way.”
Steiner-Woods hopes to expand the offerings of Red Hare Leather to include classes and skills-based training as the business continues to grow.
“The thing about leatherwork is that it’s really expensive. Leather is not cheap. The tools are not cheap and you can’t just innovate [and use different] tools. There are certain things that you have to have,” they explained, further detailing a vision for a community-based makerspace.
“I think it’d be really cool to get involved in something like that, where there could be a community tool set or community machinery like die cutting machines and sewing machines, beveling machines and riveting machines.”
In the meantime, Steiner-Woods is focused on raising two young sons, and navigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses — especially those that relied heavily on craft fairs.
“My goal for 2020 was to reverse my situation and make my full-time job my part-time job and make my leatherwork my full-time job,” they said, referencing work with Sammy’s Window Clothing Closet and FosterAdopt Connect — a secondary passion that would be difficult for them to give up all together.
“I have two small children, I carry their insurance through my 9-to-5 career and I love what I do. … I built my family through foster care and I love this place. I have a tie-in and a buy-in and I love serving here,” Steiner-Woods continued.
“The pandemic hit and I was grateful that I hadn’t taken that step yet, because I was able to survive — and it wasn’t through leatherwork during the pandemic.”
Despite a recent surge in cases of COVID-19 and its Delta variant, Steiner-Woods is hopeful steps can be taken to correct the intended course of 2020.
“Now my goal is to kind of push it further. I have a website, but I don’t get a ton of traffic there,” they said. “Having a bigger online presence, doing more wholesale [work] with different stores and different outlets and lessening [my work at] fairs as much as possible.”
“I make a ton of money at them and it’s also really great networking — not only with other vendors, but the community and customers. … I don’t want to give that up completely, but it is very exhausting being a parent, having a full-time job, having a side hustle and then giving up your whole weekend to do a craft fair can be a little ridiculous.”
Grateful for the success, name recognition, and connections brought on by the craft fair circuit, Steiner-Woods has a bigger vision should such a plan work out in favor of Red Hare Leather.
“Eventually I think it’d be really awesome to own a brick and mortar,” they said. “I think it would be really awesome to have my stuff in stores in other states. I think it’d be really great to really branch out and do more collaborations with more people as well.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.