Sadelmager above all else is a family business. In 1999 my father, Bob Meadows, started All In Tack Saddle and Harness Repair, a custom and repair tack shop. He had been laid off from his corporate job and had to choose between two routes: return to the 9 to 5 that he was convinced would put him in an early grave, or “retire” early. He chose the latter, and characteristic of the family, his version of relaxation was starting his own business.
He always dreamed of working with tack since he was a young boy. Growing up in Newmarket, ON, he would head to his uncle’s farm where he would go horseback riding for hours on end. His horse, Captain, was his best friend and loyal companion, a gift from his father who was supposed to use that money to buy a refrigerator (my grandmother was pissed). When he had his first pair of chaps made at Richvale Saddlery, my dad was inspired to pursue custom leathercraft for the horse industry.
(Bob Meadows and his horse, Captain)
My father searched for apprenticeship. He trained with the best in the business, because if you’re going to do anything, you might as well do it right. He worked with Schleese Saddlery where he learned what goes into one of the best saddle companies in the world. Every single cut and stitch was absolute perfection, and anything less than such was unacceptable. I remember seeing the rolls of hides and huge cutting tables in their workshop. Each saddle was a piece of art you got to use and enjoy. I loved coming to visit him to see behind the scenes and the best part was the beautiful smell of leather.
My dad was ready to start his own company and All In Tack was born. He sought the help of Bernard of Pegase Saddlery. Bernard specialized in the thoroughbred racing industry. He helped my dad find the best tools and machinery needed. The first workshop was in our basement in Bolton, ON. I remember being a little kid and spending hours watching my dad work. I’d help with some of the dyeing and punching, but was mostly involved in my own art of painting and drawing at the time. My dad helped me make my first belt which would fit more like a bracelet now, but we still have it.
We moved to Alliston, ON and set up a larger workshop. We converted an old pig barn and tractor shed into the studio. The wood floors are solid oak and close to 175 years old. The barns and house were built in 1845 and I am convinced are haunted, good ghosts though. I began having more interest in leathercraft as a new medium and began helping my dad with tack repairs. I always loved pulling apart old saddles and washing them. Some saddles were over fifty years old and with a little elbow grease were beautiful and strong again.
I started learning about grades of leather and hardware, and how important it was to be honest and transparent about what materials were used. We often got people asking for repairs on items that weren’t 100% genuine leather or were made from a poor-quality leather that was prone to splitting and breakage. There is so much that is sold as leather that just can’t compare to what we were using. We had to charge a higher price, but in the end, we chose quality and our customers did as well. When working with a 1500-lb animal there is no room for something that isn’t strong and durable.
I never thought I was going to end up designing a line of bags, nor did I think I was going to pursue fashion as my career. I started taking garment construction at a local college when I found out that in part-time programs, pre-requisites weren’t checked. I was still in high school finishing up 11th grade when I began. It was a great way to spend my spare time and made me feel as though I was working towards something while I was uninspired by my other classes. However, I didn’t think people actually started their own fashion lines unless they were celebrities.
I instead pursued a career in funeral services, and while I loved my job, I began to tire and feel unwell at the beginning of my internship. I started having difficulties concentrating and remembering basic things. I even forgot my middle name and had a hard time with word retrieval. I woke up one day having lost most of the feeling in my legs. I had to call into work and within a couple of hours was hospitalized.
After becoming disabled I was told there was no job position available for a person with my abilities. I searched for work but ran into the same issue, all while balancing doctor’s appointments as I searched for a diagnosis. I needed to keep busy and find a purpose so in my limited capacity I began working in my dad’s shop. I would struggle and often needed my dad to help me get into the workshop. I started my first prototypes of four bags which would evolve into the Oldenburg line and sold them at farmer’s markets. I was so surprised. Having been a painter my whole life, I was finally creating art that people actually paid money for.
As my frustration searching for a job grew, I realized the only way I could balance my new reality was to work for myself. I launched Relic Leather Company as a separate business from my father’s and began building my clients and developing patterns. It was hard since most days I was too sick to even sit up in bed, but on good days I could get out to the shop and work for a few hours. The start-up was very slow since I worked at my body’s pace and had limited funds. I used hides of leather my dad had no purpose for so I could test out patterns and sell my first bags. I sold at small markets and local shops in Alliston who I am so blessed to have given me a start including Herbert’s Western Boots.
(Photo credit to Maggie Pelude Photography)
From there, Relic Leather Company grew. We decided to change our name to Sadelmager Design House which translates to saddle maker. I wanted to highlight the traditional saddlery techniques and quality that are fundamental to the making of our goods. My father and I merged our businesses so we could function as a partnership. Since our inception our designs and business has changed, but our principles never have. Quality has always been the forefront of what matters and is the foundation we built our business upon.
Whether you’re buying a saddle or a bag, we put in the same leather, hardware, love and care into its making. Some see us as a sustainable leather fashion company, others as an equestrian company. Either way we guarantee you’re getting an amazing good and service at the end of the day.
Love to hear your story. Thank you for starting the blog
Well done Becca. Good to hear how Sadelmager came into being. Interesting read and must say I love the quality of the product i ordered from you. Keep up the good work. I wish you every success in your venture.