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These Small-Batch Leather Goods Are Field Tested

Leather products tested by scientists in the field.

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Gfeller Casemakers via Facebook

After years of working as an exploration geologist, Steve Derricott wanted a more stable family life. So in 1985, he and his wife Lori purchased Gfeller Casemakers, a leather goods company based in Meridian, Idaho. Derricott was familiar with the brand; he’d used Gfeller field equipment while working in the Western US on precious and base metal projects along with uranium, coal and geothermal resource investigations. The field equipment — including field cases, belt cases and hammer carriers, among other things — was the industry standard for field geologists and engineers.

Roy Gfeller, a part-time saddlemaker based in Franktown, Colorado, started the brand over 70 years ago. In 1946, Gfeller worked with a local geology professor to design a belt-carried field case for the professor’s students. “Western saddlers build rugged functional saddles that are comfortable for both horse and rider, using the finest raw materials available to assure strength and safety as well as long life in the saddles,” Derricott said. “Gfeller successfully brought the quality materials and durable construction methods of western saddlery to geoscience field equipment.” News of Gfeller’s well-made goods traveled quickly in the field and exploration geology community, and a wave of new customers led to an expanded line of products including belt cases, tool carriers and cases for other scientific instruments. By the time Gfeller moved to Big Timber, Montana in 1949, he offered a catalog with a complete line of field geology equipment.

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Derricott was well-versed in Gfeller’s products when he purchased the company, and was keenly aware of the rugged environment in which they were used. Along with continuing production of the geoscience line, he and his wife strove to diversify the product line. They made a conscious decision to stay out of the horse tack and sporting good fields, and looked to develop new items in response to customer input, akin to the genesis of Gfeller’s original geology equipment. But with the new goods, Derricott wouldn’t sacrifice the functionality and quality the brand was known for. So he continued to use high-quality leather and hardware along with construction techniques borrowed from the Western saddler.

Now, Gfeller Casemakers offers a modest array of leather goods for daily use along with its traditional line of geoscience products. “We don’t build to a price requirement,” Derricott said. “We believe that is a surefire way to allow compromising of material quality and/or production methods into the business.” The brand’s Field Belt starts at $91 and Field Cases start at $114. More general items like Notebook covers start at $65, and Card Holders start at $33. “We build it right, price it fair and let the customer make the choice,” he said. “It has always been this way with Gfeller products.”

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After three decades, Derricott is optimistic about the future. The brand has maximized production at its current location and plans to relocate to a bigger facility that will accommodate a storefront and larger staff. A successful collaboration with Best Made has offered brought Gfeller a wider customer base and increased interest in the brand has allowed for new product development. As time has passed, Derricott has not faltered from Gfeller’s user-driven products and values the connections he’s developed with suppliers and individuals. “Our greatest pride is in the relationships we have built with customers and dealers,” Derricott said. “They hold the future of this company.”

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