Leather and Luggage in Kalispell

Recently opened business will specialize in high-end bags for men and women

By Molly Priddy

In Western lore, it doesn’t get much tougher than leather. It came from tanned cattle hides, made saddles and cowboy boots, and was used as a descriptor for particularly rugged people.

In Kalispell, Ryan Motley hopes to become part of leather’s legacy in the Mountain West, but his approach is more about beauty and utility, and less about ruggedness.

Motley’s new business, Bespoke, opened in August. His shop near downtown Kalispell serves as a workspace and showroom, where the traditional leather luggage pieces he builds sit on display.

But these pieces, custom made for European sports cars, represent Bespoke’s past, when it belonged to a man in the United Kingdom. Motley is focused on the company’s American future, which will include branching into men and women’s bag fashion as well as travel gear.

Sitting among his tools and fabric in the open, light space, Motley admits he’s more surprised about his new business than anyone else.

“If you would have asked me six years ago what I was going to be doing, it wouldn’t be this,” he said.

Motley, 29, graduated from Vanguard University in Southern California with a degree in business administration and a minor in religion. He had internships with investment companies lined up, but realized his heart wasn’t in it.

Plus, he wanted to get back to Montana, especially the Flathead, where he had lived since seventh grade. He was in the Bitterroot Valley before that. Living in a Californian city performing work he didn’t even like wasn’t an option, he said.

“I can sit here in a place I want to be, and just be able to do what I want to do,” Motley said.

Instead of a career in investing, Motley looked to his experience founding Crochet Kids International, a nonprofit that teaches women in Northern Uganda to crochet, market their wares, and build businesses during a five-year course.

It was rewarding, Motley said, and it also dealt with the business of textiles. If he could get back to something like that, he figured, his future would open up again.

“Originally, I kind of wanted to do something similarly to what we did there, but with a different textile,” he said.

Leather caught his interest, given its strength and beauty, and Motley researched potential businesses for sale. He eventually contacted the owner of Bespoke, which was at that time building custom car luggage with factories in Turkey.

Motley purchased the business, and maintained it for a couple years while learning the leatherworking craft. Then, he ceased Turkish production, and brought it all to the United States, specifically to his Kalispell work room.

“It just made the most sense,” he said.

He and wife Sara are the only workers, though the couple’s three kids spend plenty of time in the workspace too.

But now that Motley feels comfortable in his craft, he’s taking the Bespoke business in a new direction, away from sports cars and more toward beautiful and sturdy bags.

He is collaborating with a Danish company called Wilkens to design and build a luxury, rolling carryon suitcase – complete with a steamer-trunk look – and a company in San Francisco looking for high-end suitcases to give as company rewards.

Along with luggage, Motley is also making men’s and women’s bags, using felt wool, leathers, and canvas. The idea is to produce a beautiful, functional, long-lasting bag that someone would keep and use for their entire life, he said, moving away from the idea of cheap, replaceable fashion.

“My goal is to build stuff here that looks good and lasts a long time,” Motley said.

Ideally, Motley would like to build a product line with certain styles, but different iterations with various materials, so each piece is unique. Another goal is to be as transparent about where materials came from, like the Scottish leather, to show why certain pieces cost more than others.

His new lines will also have new names – Olde Stash for the men’s bags, and Miss Stash by Olde Stash for the women’s bags – marking a distinct separation from the Bespoke car luggage business of the past.

Hopefully, his business picks up enough to add employees, Motley said, but until then, he’s going to keep building what makes him happy.

“I love to create things, I love to design things, I love to make things,” Motley said. “I love to see things come to life.”

For more information, visit www.bespokeluggage.com.