Handcrafts, environmentalism, natural products, and houseplants. Sound familiar? To me it sounds like today, and it also sounds like the seventies. In those younger years of mine, I drove an orange VW beetle, started keeping bees, canning my own food, and making things out of leather.
My relationship with handcrafting and leather started when I dropped out of college to pursue the life I craved – a creative one. Growing up, I wrote songs, played guitar, and idolized Joni Mitchell. After leaving college, I worked odd jobs and gigged at a small restaurant between waitressing shifts.
I soon apprenticed with and bought my first industrial sewing machine from a local leather craftsman. It’s with that old Singer stitcher that I started my custom leather goods business. My business shifted a little bit when the Independence Day Derecho hit Flambeau River State Forest, where I was living with my family in 1977. It produced 115 mph wind speeds, damaged nearly 850 acres of hardwood forest, and brought a slew of loggers to the area.
Those loggers needed their leather work boots and chopper mitts repaired, and my Singer stitcher and I obliged. In addition to repairing their leather, I wanted to prepare it for the elements. That’s when I ran across a reference to a paste of Neatsfoot Oil and Beeswax in an old book.
Unfortunately, no recipe was listed.
I began experimenting with pure Neatsfoot Oil and the beeswax that I had saved from my beekeeping days. After some trial and error, I cracked the proportion code. The lumberjacks loved it for protecting their boots and mitts. I loved it for the patina it created on the leather products I was making. Soon, I made the leather paste for family and friends, too.
A few years later, I took a leather working hiatus and returned to college, eventually graduating from law school, and working as a labor attorney for a teacher’s union. Not surprisingly, I longed to return to the creativity and fulfillment of working with my hands.
After a dozen or so years of lawyering, I returned to leather work by apprenticing with a master cobbler for three years. Immersed in the world of shoes and leather care, I once again found myself in need of a waterproofing product. It needed to be easy to use, natural, and free of petroleum additives.
Nothing on the market met my standards.
So, I began to produce my old leather paste again. I made it in my kitchen and packed it in little tins. I printed the round labels on my home computer and cut each out by hand. In 2006 I opened my own shoe repair and custom leather shop in Madison, WI. At the shop I continued to put my leather paste to the test, using it in-house to winterize customers’ shoes and boots and to finish newly made leather goods. I also used it on leather items that needed restoration or conditioning.
Customers started asking what I was using to make their beloved leather look so good, so I once again started making and selling my leather paste. Word got out, and it started flying off the shelves. In 2008 I began making larger batches to keep up with demand and stopped printing my own labels.
In 2011 I trademarked the paste as MooBuzz® All-Natural Leather Protection. In 2014, I moved to a larger shop, and in 2018, I retired from shoe repair and cobblering to focus on MooBuzz® and family matters. My blog and monthly newsletter passes on what I have learned at the cobbler's bench to anyone who is interested in taking good care of their leather.
Isthmus article about the MooBuzz® Leather Protection early days by David Medaris