If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in my time at Paradise, it’s to never underestimate a cowboy. I’ve discovered there’s a lot more to these guys than just horse skills and hat hair, and I’m constantly amazed by their hidden talents, whether it be musical, artistic or literate.
For custom leathermaker Matt Moran, diversifying into his leather business was a matter of necessity, borne from his background as a seasonal ranch worker. Earning, as most cowboys do, a modest no-frills wage, Matt learned to improvise simply to make ends meet.
“I started making my own gear instead of buying it,” Matt tells me. “Pretty soon I was making gear for everybody. I finally quit and started making cowboy gear full time.”
Of course, it helps to be incredibly talented and have an eye for style. A Buffalo local, Matt produces leathergoods of every description in his workshop in the little town of Story, making custom saddles, chinks, handbags, fly fishing gear and wallets - you name it. While 75 percent of his business comes from custom orders, Matt also visits local ranches like Paradise, selling ready-made handbags, wine holders and fishing gear to guests. He also has a lucrative side business renting out chinks to visiting dudes; and on occasions, the guests buy their rented chinks as a cool memento of their vacation.
The hallmark of all Matt’s work is quality. One touch of Matt’s extremely stylish handbags and you’ll recognise superior craftsmanship, durability and top-notch materials - it’s hard not to keep fondling these tactile and beautiful pieces. Of course, I personally couldn’t resist - I started out interviewing Matt, and ended up buying his latest creation, a butter-soft buffalo-leather tote with large silver rings made from horse hobbles, a style he calls ‘The Equestrian’.
Amazingly, Matt has never had any formal training in leatherwork, apart from a couple of weeks spent with saddle makers. “I spent a week with Dale Harwood who is a saddle maker out of Idaho; and I spent two weeks with a guy in Montana who taught me how to build the saddle trees, and thats about the only formal training I’ve had,” he tells me.
Matt puts his success down to trial and error - and he humbly admits there’s plenty of the latter!
“If you don’t think you can kill a cow twice, come to my shop and I’ll show you how to do it!” he laughs.
Matt’s custom saddles are simply divine, decorated with his signature mermaid logo and Sheridan-style stamping, with flowers and vines intricately intertwined. “Most of my orders for saddles come from out of state,” he says. “Most of it is from when I cowboyed around, gypsied around, you meet this network of guys and they pride themselves on who makes what for them. Kind of like owning a Gucci purse.
“I guess I’m getting a bit of a reputation. 15 year overnight success story! Eventually.”