May 23, 2015

Custom Saddles for the New American Cowboy

Reporting Texas

Carson Leh makes saddles.

The days of horseback riding in Austin may be long gone, but Leh caters to urban cowboys and cowgirls who zip around on bikes and motorcycles.

Leh, 27, grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, where he developed an interest in handworked leather and shoe cobbling. Although he studied industrial design and sustainability in college and later worked for an environmental architecture company in California, he says he always retained a keen interest in leather work and wanted to make custom-cobbled shoes.

But that is a difficult industry to break into. So Leh turned his attention to brogue-styled bicycle saddles and, five years ago, began manufacturing custom saddles for BMX bikes. These bikes are used for racing and performing stunts, and require tougher leather to withstand the wear and tear.

“Running a bike company where my main focus was creating art and things with my hands seemed like more fun than my future in the professional architecture world,” Leh said. “Dealing with building departments all day is nearly akin to going to the DMV as your job.”

As Leh gained experience, he started making more complex shapes and designs for road bike saddles and, within two years, opened his own company, Leh Supply and Manufacturing.

A custom saddle can take a day or two to design and create. But there is no shortage of work. Leh and his girlfriend and business partner, Sandra Ernsberger, say they often have around 40 projects at a time. As business grows, Leh hopes to move out of their East Austin garage into a larger workspace.