Interview with Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather
This interview is a written transcript of an audio interview with Dave Munson, CEO of Saddleback Leather. Some parts of this interview have been omitted or restructured to ease flow of reading. Words added for clarification or paraphrase are listed in brackets. Every effort has been made to maintain the integrity of Dave Munson’s intent and dialogue.
Saddleback Leather is a prestigious brand of quality leather merchandise, partnered with Chamberlain’s Leather Milk. Offering a wide range of products including backpacks, briefcases, satchels, messengers and more, you’ll be hard pressed to find leather made of tougher stuff. Perhaps even more fascinating is the man behind the hide himself, Dave Munson, a San Antonio entrepreneur who designed and had his first bag made while living off of tacos in Mexico. Don’t take me word for it though. Check out Dave’s story in his own words here.
Now for the interview with the man himself – without further ado.
First things first. What’s the big beef with leather, Dave? What makes leather so special?
It’s all natural, it’s real, it smells real nice. When I was in When I go into the mall, I’m always attracted to Wilson’s Leather or one of those leather stores, and I go in to smell the leather. It’s always been an attraction, and I needed a bag made, so I thought, what the heck, let’s make it with leather.
About your time in Mexico. Cold showers and tacos for a year. Either you’ve built up some pretty stoic superpowers, or you can make one killer taco. Which is it, and how?
Three years, no hot water, and it wasn’t a burden to eat the tacos and burritos. Actually there was a place I used to eat, it was called “Buritos de Oro,” and they had horse meat they used for the burritos. They were delicious!
Dang! So horse tacos – that’s the secret!
Horse burritos, of course. Thank you.
So you were wandering the streets of Mexico with naught but tacos in your hand and one kick-ass leather bag in your head. Pretty soon, you were airdropping Saddleback bags off a sleigh into chimneys with a ho-ho-ho. Was that part of your master plan when you left across the border?
Yes. Absolutely. We had a deal with the man up north. He said a lot of men had been asking for a high quality, masculine bag that would last for generations. He didn’t have any to give them and he didn’t know how to make it, so he asked me. So he got me going on that and…here we are. My idea was just to go teach English initially, and then I had a bag made, like the one I had in my head all the time, and that’s the way that all got started. So it wasn’t initially to start a business, but when I saw everyone ask me about my bag, it was a no brainer.
So…you were partners with Santa Clause? All along?
That touches me right here. Speaking of touching, that bullfight story on your website was epic. Thanks to you, I’ll always remember to go for the horns. So what other animals have you wrestled down with your bare hands, and what was their secret weakness?
There was a dog once. If you scratch them just right, they cave, and just give in.
Does that work with hungry wolves?
Yes, yes. But not more than two at a time. I’ve not had any success with any more than two, which – they’re usually in packs. It’s kind of difficult. So you have to go into a cave for that. And little known fact: bears can’t see in the dark … very well. If you’re in their cave, and you wake them up – you know, kind of a little sport we used to do back in the day in the wintertime – if you wake them up out of their hibernation, and stand real still, they just go by you. It’s really fun.
Are you serious? You speak from personal experience?
Perhaps you can share with us a more personal experience. You met your wife, Suzette, online. It’s really hit or miss up there – how did that work out? Online dating isn’t the easiest thing to pull off.
Well back then – I [was on] eHarmony, and met some great gals. We just had conversations for hours and hours and they would end my sentences, I would end theirs. Just…wow! Impressive! But I never met anyone as amazing as Suzette. So when I met her on Myspace – she found me – it was a no brainer. So I had more success not looking for someone than I did looking for someone.
Thus spake Guru Munson. An open mind opens opportunity. Now, reading your stories about travelling gave me Jack Kerouac fever.
What’s your favorite thing about being on the road?
The greatest thing about being on the road is all the landscapes, and being able to explore. What’s over that hill over there? Or I wonder if there’s a valley if I follow this river? That sort of thing. Exploring and seeing the beauty of the different textures and different parts of creation. That’s the best part of travelling. It’s way better to have a family to travel with. The wife outweighs the dog in more ways than one.
Anything you miss while you’re out there?
Memory foam. I usually miss my memory foam. The trick is a firm bed with two inches of memory foam – not three inches, not one inch – two inches of memory foam on top. So whenever we’re getting ready to go on a trip, usually the night before we go, we’re laying in bed and we [think] “I can’t wait to get back and lay in this bed.” Familiarity is always missed, but experiencing new things is also cool. There are pluses and minuses to everything, but you have to give up familiarity to experience new.
So, I’ll just plan on upholstering my car with memory foam, then.
Yeah. I was going to build into the roof of my car – have it go up to the rack, to support the weight – a piece of plywood that I would lower down from the ceiling. It would just touch the top of the seats. And then I would have my mattress, my sleeping bag, on this. And my face would be, you know, a foot and a half from the ceiling. But I would have a nice, long bed to lay in. That was the plan – for rainy days, when we can’t sleep on the rack.
Sounds like an upgrade worthy of the Mystery Machine.
Yeah, yeah. I had all kinds of big plans. Before I got married. [Laughs]
About that – of all the wild and fantastic tales on your site, the most astounding thing to me was how your travelling “really got going” after you had your two kids, Selah and Cross. First, awesome names. Second, how did that work? Three, do your kids still get jet lag, or are they masters of ordering home on the to-go menu?
Everybody gets jet lag. But with the kids it last a couple days. Usually it’s one day of jet lag per hour of time change. If it’s 8 hours it takes 8 days to get used to it. The kids don’t have to spend as much time adjusting. They take a lot of naps and just work it out. For them to sleep, we have systems for airplanes. Melatonin is always a wonderful travel companion. The first year of Selah’s life she was on 39 airplanes. And Cross, when he was three years old, we did a 1900 mile road trip.
How did you manage that? Most families, they have a kid and they just settle back and take it easy. You just bolted out the door at the first opportunity.
You have to decide to. Anyone can do it, you just have to decide to. Have the flexibility – have a job that you can work from home. One of our friends is in the hospital right now, with cancer. And Susan was there, doing customer service from her hospital room. She was visiting. There was internet there, so she was doing customer service from there. You have flexibility, as long as there’s internet.
Quick one – do people call you Don David?
No, I’m not a don yet. Because my Dad’s still alive. He’s the don. As long as your Dad’s alive, you can’t be the don, ’cause he’s the don. So once you’re the oldest of the generation of your family, you’re the don. And people make exceptions, but generally. I’m not Don David yet. I’m not old enough and wise enough yet, to be that.
Last question: where are the fabled daisy bell bags today?
One, a guy in Franck Forte, bought one. He’s in Hollywood, or was. Um…man, I don’t know. I didn’t put a logo on things for quite a while. I just was selling leather bags. Someone sent one in for repairs. It didn’t have a logo on it, they figured it was Saddleback, I had signed something on the inside – a little note on a piece of leather, attached it – something like that. So there are a few floating around. I don’t have that eBay account anymore, so.
Their elusive nature adds to their mystique.
They’re out there somewhere. You know what, I can check into my… My uncle has one. I need to find out about that. He bought one of the originals. I need to… I need to get hold of him.
Sounds like the start of another grand adventure.
Thanks so much for this interview. Let me know how that thing with your uncle goes.
Alright, will do. Actually, I need to find that. One of the originals. That’d be great.
Write a story on it! I can’t wait to see how that turns out.
Dave Munson (Saddleback Leather)