NEED YOUR LEATHER JACKET REPAIRED?
THE MAD HATTER, ED SHANKMAN, HAS YOU COVERED
Published: Saturday, April 16, 2011, 5:00 AM
William R. Wood | Kalamazoo Gazette By William R. Wood | Kalamazoo Gazette
KALAMAZOO — In 1979, Ed Shankman had an epiphany about his career with leather.
He was at a motorcycle swap meet at Wings Stadium. He came to the event to sell his handmade leather goods — hats, belts, vests, lady’s handbags. He sold out quickly. Then bikers approached and asked for repair work on zippers, linings and pockets for jackets, pants and vests. Several wanted emblems sewn on the backs of jackets. Shankman turned them down. He viewed himself as an artisan, not a leather repairman.
But later the bikers — actually their clothes — changed his mind. He realized that each one of them wore three to four leather garments and that adds up to a lot of torn pockets and a lot of zippers that won’t budge.
“My mindset changed,” Shankman said. “I had no reason not to do it. I became a ‘help me’ guy — people ask me to help them.”
Shankman’s business, The Mad Hatter’s Leather Shop, has continued since then in his South Kalamazoo home.
Motorcycle riders account for about a fourth of his client base.
At one point in his business career, a motorcycle gang wouldn't use his services because he repaired a rival gang's leather. "The only color The Mad Hatter cares about is green," Shankman remembers a vendor telling the gang.
At one point, bikers from one gang learned he was doing leather work for a rival gang, became angry and wouldn’t come to him for repairs. But years later, “we’re all friends now,” Shankman said.
Another swap-meet vendor eventually told members of the gang that Shankman wasn’t interested in the “colors” of the gangs.
“The only color The Mad Hatter cares about is green,” Shankman remembers the vendor telling the gang.
Shankman occasionally makes leather clothing to order. He was recently working on black leather chaps made out of horse hide for a female client. But most of his business is alterations and repair of leather garments and accessories.
A new leather band for the inside of a beret costs $20. The repair of a tear in a leather coat starts at about $30, and he’ll make a leather cap for $60.
His biggest job was a handmade guitar case for jazz musician John McLaughlin for $1,000. His smallest job was the repair of a zipper runner for $15.
“I can repair a rip or zipper in my sleep,” Shankman said. “I’m a zipper ninja.”
Sometimes Shankman can repair a garment while a client sits in his shop.
Shankman has worked in his home for 19 years. He lives with his wife, Joyce, who came up with the name for the business, and his pit bulldog, Molly.
His studio is packed to the ceiling with rolls and scraps of leather — lamb, cow, deer, bison, moose, elk, goat. He can tell by the look and touch of leather what animal it came from. He has four sewing machines, each for a different purpose, such as sewing the lining into jackets or stitching thick, heavy-duty leather together.
Shankman has a website but said he gets most of his work by word of mouth. About 30 businesses in the Kalamazoo area display his cards. His work is done by appointment only. He can be contacted at 269-207-9688 or email@example.com.
Customers come from as far as Benton Harbor and Coldwater. When a motorcycle group from out of state rolls into town, that’s “che-ching” for Shankman.
His competition is the few shoe repair businesses in Kalamazoo that accept leather repair work. So he has prospered through good times and bad.
“Personal, one-on-one is what I do,” Shankman said. “It reinforces the belief that a person has come to the right place. They can see I do things by hand. What I do is a fading few.”
Shankman, 63, grew up in Elmont, N,Y., which is on Long Island. He relocated to Boston as an adult and met a leather worker, Benjamin Maleson, who taught him the basics of leather work.
“I learned a lot about leather quickly,” Shankman said. “It was magic. You only had to teach me once. He worked with me for three months and he paid me. I should have paid him as apprenticeships go.”
Shankman has worked at many other things over the years to make ends meet. He’s been a cab driver, sold wholesale leather goods, worked retail and was involved in Web development and computer animation and graphics. But in 2002, he rededicated himself to leather work and now only does that. So far, the leather work, along with his wife’s office work, pays the bills.He found Kalamazoo when a good friend moved from New York to Parchment, and Shankman and his wife visited. He scoped out the leather scene. “I found I could be a big fish in a small pond,” he said.
Contact William R. Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-388-8549.