Agenda Worthy Woman: Kim Lehmkuhl
Hometown: Dearborn, Michigan
Current city: Elm Grove, WI
You know that cool friend you have who has amazing style in everything from her clothing to her home to the bag she carries? Or the one whose house you just want to be invited to because you know you’ll be met with lots of laughs, great wine, and absolutely delicious food? Well, Kim Lehmkuhl is that friend to me. Lucky for the rest of the world, Kim is sharing some of that impeccable style through the company she runs with her husband from the basement of their home. Read on to hear the story of their business and what Kim does and believes to live an Agenda-Worthy life.
Tell me a bit about how Wolf River Leather began and your goals for it:
Our business actually was born years ago, before I knew my husband. He put himself through college by making leather vests, chaps for Harley riders, and saddle bags. He worked with someone who taught him the trade, but much of what he did was self taught. He just kept working it because he enjoyed it. He made crazy things, like a fringe leather vest for his sister - totally Sonny and Cher.
Then, about 4 years ago, we both found ourselves at major career transitions, where we were asking, “What next?” We were both in between jobs, and turned to our hobbies to get us through while we figured out next steps. Jim started making leather goods again and doing some health care consulting. I headed for my sacred space... the kitchen. I used chopping and cooking as my therapy and happy place, and started to monetize my passion through catering.
We both focused on these hobbies, trying to see what would come of them. We did this until Jim’s hobby won - some of his stuff was picked up by Urban Outfitters. After that, things really started to take off, and his hobby exploded into a full fledged business. Catering and health care went on back burner; I traded my cooking knives for a needle and thread, and our business took off.
Today, Wolf River Leather creates custom made timeless pieces. Everything is done by hand, we have no machines. We get all of our leather from the local tanneries in Milwaukee, and find hardware (such as buckles) online and in antique stores. Anything on our website can be modified to fit the needs and wants of the buyer. We participate in art shows all of over Wisconsin and also Chicago. Art shows give us the opportunity to display a wide variety of our pieces, which are sometimes different than what’s on the website. Also, people come to our studio and choose a hide that they want their piece made. It's super fun - like having a custom suit or dress made especially for you!
Challenges of having your own business:
Creating balance. Having a home studio, we never really get away from our work. Also, we’re at the point that we may need to hire seasonal help. Now that our house renovation is complete, and we’re settled into our studio, business is exploding. Because all our pieces are custom made, we can get a bit crazy!
A day in my life:
I always start my day with a workout - either hot yoga or a run with my dog, Sully. Then I slide into my day. Since my mom moved in with us, I have coffee with her and then it’s on to business. I plan the menu for the week and/or prep for that evening’s dinner. Next, it’s on to the studio to see what Jim has in store for me to work on. I guess you could call me Jim’s sous chef. Along with a lot of little things, I sew, design, manage our calendar, and market our business. I’m learning a lot about the leather industry. Jim’s a great teacher.
If you could live anywhere in the world, it would be:
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Aspen, CO or Boston, MA. AND, I’d have a summer home on a lake somewhere. :)
Top Life Highlights:
* Eloping to Jackson Hole
* Hiking Torres del Paine in Patagonia,Chile
* Running 5 marathons with some of my very best friends
* Being maid of honor in my niece’s wedding
* Buying my house while single
* Running with my nephew in his first marathon, in Chicago. Jim and my whole family were along the course.
Biggest Life Dream:
To own a bistro in a mountain town or on the East Coast. It’d be the place people come in to get great food and wine. I picture a great atmosphere, with perfect lighting, maybe a fireplace. Very hustle and bustle kitchen.
Advice to younger self:
Be true to your heart
Investigate all possibilities
Listen carefully to old family stories
In five years I want:
My hope is that in 5 years we will have built a business that is scalable to sell and allows for a nice retirement. We’re fortunate because we’re doing something we love and creating something we both believe in. We’re also having fun together. The work that we put into it is worth it - we feel this when we’re out there selling our products and meeting our customers. It lights a fire under us because it’s such a complement when people love our stuff.
Biggest life lesson:
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to not judge others, because the thing is, you never know what that person is going through, or how you’d act if that were you in their shoes. You don’t know what you’d do in that situation.
Also, it’s so interesting to see that the events of my past prepared me for today and came into play for future life. Without even knowing at the time, the jobs and experiences of my past really prepared me for today, both in my business and in my life.
Trick for staying sane/biggest life hack:
Red or white?
Favorite meal to cook:
Dishes that take a lot of preparation. I’m not a crock pot girl. I love to cook from scratch. The longer the preparation, the better. I love to chop and prepare lots of different elements for a meal. I also love making bread - I love that it takes time, and it makes my house smell so good. I’m a home girl - for me, being home and chilling out with a fire, great wine, and good food/people is the best.
Three things I can’t live without:
Faith, love, adventure, and a dog (and, a bag from wolf river leather! lol)
Agenda Worthy Reads:
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
Words to live by:
doing the right thing
Finally, who is a woman in your life who you find to be an AWW?
My mom. I so admire her. So strong and beautiful. And delicate.
She’s all of the above.
Thanks, Kim for sharing your AWW life with us! Be sure to head over to Wolf River Leather and check out the gorgeous leather products made by Kim and her husband Jim! Or, shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.