A Fresno company is selling leather products around the world, shipping iPad covers, belts and specialized firefighting accessories as far away as Australia.
But there is no sprawling distribution warehouse or staff of workers behind BaySick Leather.
There is simply 25-year-old Marcos Flores in his garage.
The recent Fresno State grad fell into a hobby that turned into a business. BaySick Leather makes all kinds of leather goods for the general public, but has developed a following among firefighters looking for personalized and sturdy accessories.
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Posting images of his work on Instagram has propelled his business to a point where he’s mailing out 20 items a day. He has more than 10,000 followers on the photo-sharing app.
It all started on a whim. He was attending Reedley College and noticed a friend’s leather belt. He liked it. But the belt cost more than $300, so Flores thought about making one.
“I was like, I can probably do that,” he says, even though he’d never worked with leather before.
A lot of YouTube video watching, some reading and a little coaching from some older gentlemen in the trade and Flores was ready to go. He has been running Baysick Leather for about five years. He named the business BaySick because he moved to the area a few years ago from San Jose — and he missed it.
“I was baysick, like homesick,” he says.
Working with leather by hand is an art that’s waning as older folks who do it retire and people increasingly turn to specialized places on the Internet.
“Everybody that does it is gone. There’s nobody around anymore,” says Nicholas Meigs, 60, of Sidewinder Chaps in Clovis, who has a different specialty in chaps and saddlebags.
So Flores took his niche and ran with it. He graduated in December with a degree in animal science with an emphasis on business management. He’s turned down job offers to manage ranches in Nebraska and South America.
He does all the work from his parents’ garage on a busy street in central Fresno with no air conditioning. There’s three sewing machines, including an old black 1950s Singer he outfitted with a modern motor. It was too fast to work with thick leather, so Flores tinkered with the motor to slow it down.
Bands that go around firefighter helmets with names on them are his top seller, going for $43.99 each. Flores stamps the firefighters’ names into the leather and fills in the letters with red paint.
So why are firefighters buying so many products?
“They look good,” says John Dominguez, a firefighter in southeastern Fresno County, proving that even people who wear bulky tan uniforms for a living like to incorporate a little style now and then.
He has purchased several products out of his own pocket, including a pair of black leather suspenders with a horizontal strap between them that has his name printed on it. He also has a leather pouch from BaySick he wears inside his uniform that holds tools such as wrenches to shut off gas valves. And another popular seller, a glove strap, has his initials on it so no one will walk off with his gloves if he leaves them on the fire truck.
Last week, BaySick sent a strap for a radio holder that had the words “Pride of the south” stamped on it to a Texas firefighter.
But more important, the cowhide products are sturdy. Sometimes firefighters will swap out the chin strap that holds their helmet on with a leather one, for example.
“The main reason would be they don’t break down as fast as the normal stuff you would wear,” Dominguez says. “Leather withstands the heat and it’s durable.”
Flores isn’t sure yet if BaySick will turn into a career or eventually turn back into a hobby. He will walk across the stage in his Fresno State graduation ceremony next month.
In the meantime, he’s experimenting with new products such as dog collars. He also recently made a leather tie-down strap for a helicopter.
“We’re always prototyping,” he says.