Local Leatherman’s Labour of Love

The rich, earthy and luxurious smell of leather is an aroma that is unlike any other and one that overwhelms the rustic workshop of local apparel and accessory company Populess.

Brad Gadd is the creative vision behind the grassroots lifestyle brand. The idea was born out of Gadd wanting to extend his creative time in art classes outside of school so he and some buddies started experimenting with screen-printing t-shirts in high school for friends and family. More than 10 years on, Gadd has a brand that is selling in stores across western Canada.

A self-taught leather craftsman, Gadd moved into designing and creating the Populess range of accessories after discovering a skill and love for the craft. A chance enquiry to his father about where to purchase scraps of leather, uncovered a genetic reason for feeling connected with the material and the art.

“I remember asking my dad, where does a guy just go and buy a piece of scrap leather in Lethbridge.” “He laughed and brought up this box of stuff that I guess my mother and my great grandfather used to do leather workwith, I had no idea.”

Gadd designs, sources and creates all of the leather accessories in the Populess line. From making trips to Longview and surrounding areas to handpick the hides he wants to work with, to finding a supplier of rivets and hardware are all part of the job. Trying to source materials locally and keeping manufacturing within southern Alberta are factors that resonate with Gadd, who says that he aims to keep the company’s dollars in Canada or North America where possible.

“I love our corner of the world we live in and I try to incorporate that into our brand so our main slogan is ‘Born where the prairies meet the mountains’.”

Populess is not the only fashion label to emerge from southern Alberta. Lethbridge College fashion design graduate, Caitlin Power, has had her self-titled label recognized both nationally and internationally on the catwalk. Vicki Hegedus, chair of the school of media and design at the college says that up and coming designers are putting more of an emphasis on sustainability and locally sourced products.

“Nicole Bridger from Vancouver for example, does some fabulous things and she’s really thoughtful about sustainability in the fabrics that she chooses. She actually bought a factory in Vancouver so that she has absolute control over what goes on and how her things are made.”

Shelly Court Kanyo is another local designer and founded Lethbridge Fashion Week, an annual event which allows both local and western Canadian designers, models, photographers and DJ’s to showcase their skills. Kanyo believes that while Lethbridge isn’t on the fashion map yet, the city is filled with hidden talent just waiting to be discovered.

“Lethbridge has the right attitude.  We know we’re not a huge player in the fashion industry, but we don’t pretend that the fashion world doesn’t affect us.  People are supportive, generous and work hard.  Lethbridge has so many local businesses that support each other and that helps make the network here strong.”

Gadd echoes Kanyo’s sentiment, admitting he has many helpful hands working with him, including business partner and friend Cameron Stromsmoe. While Gadd remains the driving force behind Populess, he said that knowing that you’re surrounded by a supportive group of individuals and businesses is the beauty of growing and owning a business in a close-knit community like Lethbridge.