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The Ranchlands Podcast #25

The Art of Leatherwork at Colorado Correctional Industries

For this episode, Ed and Ranchlands’ leather shop manager Madi Phillips headed to Sterling, Colorado, where they sat down with Freddy Z and Duncan Clarke to discuss leatherwork, craftsmanship, and the art of creating useful and beautiful leather goods by hand.

The Sterling Correctional Facility is the largest prison in the Colorado Department of Corrections. You may be surprised to learn that within the walls of the facility are some of the most skilled leatherworkers in the West– dedicated craftsmen who build saddles, chaps, tack, and more, and whose work has received international acclaim. These incarcerated craftsmen work for Colorado Correctional Industries, also known as CCI, a division of the Colorado Department of Corrections that provides job opportunities for incarcerated adults to learn a trade and work on soft skills to prepare for reentry into the community, while simultaneously earning money to help support their families and themselves. 

Since 2017, Ranchlands has partnered with CCI to produce many of the handmade leather goods you’ll find in the Ranchlands Mercantile– knife sheaths, belts, bags, and more. As you’ll hear in this conversation, what started with a few orders from Ranchlands back in 2017 has blossomed into a rewarding, mutually beneficial relationship that continues to grow and evolve to this day.

Our Guests

Freddy is an inmate at the facility who has been working in CCI’s leather division for well over a decade. Although he started with no experience in leatherwork, his years of focus and dedication to the craft have transformed him into a highly skilled craftsman and leader within CCI’s leather division. Freddy has been one of Ranchlands’ most trusted resources for exploring new product ideas, ensuring the highest standards of quality control, and teaching new inmates how to become master leatherworkers. 

Duncan was the former supervisor of CCI’s leather program and has a long history with Freddy and many of the other leather workers, as well as with Duke III and the Phillips family. Duncan is an experienced ranch manager, a highly skilled leatherworker, and a veteran teacher, so he has been uniquely qualified to share his wisdom with Freddy and the rest of the team. You’ll definitely pick up the mutual admiration between Freddy and Duncan, and you’ll be amazed by how much they have learned from each other over the years.

More Podcast Episodes

#40: Ranchlands then and now with Duke Phillips III

Duke Phillips III is the CEO and founder of Ranchlands. Ranchlands owns and manages large scale, conservation oriented ranching operations in the American west, and provides management and strategic advisory services...


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