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Head, hands and heart: Cambria's Hide and Tallow crafts leather goods the old-fashioned way 

View a slideshow from Hide and Tallow.

She was sitting all alone at a table. He knew he had to make a move.

As teens chatted and socialized at a youth gathering in Paso Robles in the ’90s, Ty made his way across the room toward the woman he would flirt with, forget to call for months, eventually marry, and start a business with. 

click to enlarge HANDMADE:  Ty Smith hand cuts and sews every leather item, like wallets and messenger bags, sold at Hide and Tallow in Cambria. - PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • HANDMADE: Ty Smith hand cuts and sews every leather item, like wallets and messenger bags, sold at Hide and Tallow in Cambria.

Ty and Karin Smith, both natives of San Luis Obispo County, have each always had a disposition for all things creative and crafty. Karin grew up working at her mom’s craft store the Hobby Horse (long before Michaels ever came to town) and had a penchant for making jewelry. Ty grew up drawing and painting. 

In between Ty’s pursuing advanced degrees in history, the two opened and ran a bead store, The Place to Bead, for several years in Atascadero in the early 2000s. After studying at Sacramento State and UC Santa Barbara, the pair moved back to the Central Coast so Ty could work as chief of museum interpretation at Hearst Castle. 

While at a conference on the history of the Mission Era in Arizona in 2008, Ty grew restless and walked outside where a man was hand-stitching leather using techniques from the 18th century. Ty got a lesson on the spot and was hooked.

click to enlarge BUILT TO LAST:  Everything that Ty Smith makes has a lifetime guarantee. If something breaks over time he’ll fix it for a client at no charge. - PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • PHOTO BY DYLAN HONEA-BAUMANN
  • BUILT TO LAST: Everything that Ty Smith makes has a lifetime guarantee. If something breaks over time he’ll fix it for a client at no charge.

“I’ve got to have my hands in stuff,” Ty said. “It’s kind of therapeutic. It combines head, heart, and hands. That’s what I like the most.”

Working with leather isn’t a cheap hobby. So after Ty really got going, Karin tried selling a few of his handmade wallets on Etsy in 2012. It was such a success that the two opened up a brick and mortar shop, Hide and Tallow, on Main Street in Cambria in 2014. In addition to being sold at his shop, the leather goods that Ty makes from tanned leather hides—wallets, key chains, and bags that he hand cuts with a knife and then hand stitches using a saddle stitch and wax linen for thread—are also sold wholesale to boutiques across the county and even bigger stores like Urban Outfitters. 

Hide and Tallow is Ty’s side hustle, as the history buff still works full time at Hearst Castle. In his spare time, Ty works to create the products they sell in the store, and Karin runs the day-to-day operations along with caring for their son. They also sell a plethora of products meant to highlight all things old and new of California, from books on the Golden State, to locally made candles and soap sold under the Hide and Tallow brand, to vintage mugs scoured from estate sales and antique shops, to hand-turned wooden bowls. 

“We tend to craft and celebrate that,” Ty said. “More and more, that maker movement is of interest. People want to know what they’re buying and who they’re buying it from.”

- THAT OLD CALIFORNIA FEEL:  For handmade leather wallets, key chains, and more that take a cue from the tradition of Mexican vaqueros, check out Hide and Tallow’s shop on 2289 Main St. in Cambria or visit their online store at etsy.com/shop/hideandtallow.com. -
  • THAT OLD CALIFORNIA FEEL: For handmade leather wallets, key chains, and more that take a cue from the tradition of Mexican vaqueros, check out Hide and Tallow’s shop on 2289 Main St. in Cambria or visit their online store at etsy.com/shop/hideandtallow.com.

While the price does tend to go up a few notches on local handmade products, Ty tries to keep his pricing fair and even fixes up customers’ worn and torn leather for free. 

“They pretty much last forever, whereas if you buy something factory made nowadays, it’s not going to last,” Ty said. “I want the things I make to be accessible. I want them in someone’s pocket or shoulder rather than on the showroom floor.” 

Ryah Cooley is shopping local at rcooley@newtimesslo.com.

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