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Cal-Leathers Shop Visit, Ventura CA.

TooManyHatsOnlyOneHead

One Too Many
Messages
1,945
Originally was going tomorrow, but then was like, what the heck why not today.

I've been on a Cal Leathers wave lately, picking up 3 in the past couple months. Each has a slight variation (straight zip, cross zip, cross zip with gussets). The last one needed some TLC--male zipper pin fraying, some loose stitching, liner breaking down in some parts. Was just going to sell it and be done with it since I have a closet full of "perfect" jackets that want to be worn, but I guess the less than perfect specs didn't attract anyone and I definitely wasn't going to give it away. Something about the leather on this one really kept shouting out to me, so I decided to keep it.

Contacted Deena who was super helpful, but she wasn't sure if she could match just the male side since the Talon #10s tended to be a little wonky. So off to Cal Leathers I went. But this post ain't about the jacket or the repairs that will be done. It's about the shop.

Not the original storefront, but has so much character and charm. It's a side space attached to an upholstery business. The daughter of the upholstery shop owner bought Cal Leathers from the original owners over 20 years ago. But she's known the original family forever. Her name is Gwen, and Gwen is super cool. I talked to her and more importantly she talked to me for over an hour. Showed me some of the "museum" collection they have they take with them to certain trade shows. Wow what an encyclopedia of information. FYI, she works on all kinds of jackets, not just Cal, so any of us Socal people, you've got a local trusted place to bring jackets for repair and prices are super fair ($40 for a zipper replacement)

I literally could have taken 500 photos. Every square inch of that shop (maybe 10 feet by 25) had stuff hanging off the walls, but I didn't want to be one of those kinds of people LOL. She showed me some really cool G1 style jackets (didn't know Cal made those) and some of the fit jackets of the newer stuff they're making. I got to say, if I don't get lucky with a used 6 panel cafe racer soon, I'm just going to have to buy one new because what I saw was just amazing in quality and workmanship. Anyway, here's some of the stuff I captured.

Few of the shop:
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Star Glove leather D pocket:
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This was a repro of a jacket the owners made for their kid:
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Chicago PD jacket from the 30's
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Racing Sleeve so Cafe Racers could wear jerseys under some protection:
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Newer "classic" CHP. look at this grain. Cow btw, hand picked by Gwen:

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Brown straight zip that has worn off the top coat. Was this buttery suede sort of texture. Look at the detail on the buckle.

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TooManyHatsOnlyOneHead

One Too Many
Messages
1,945
I’ve often wondered if they are actually making new jackets.
yep. Super thick, rich leather. She said "I need to make sure if one of my customers spills at 70 mph all they're going to get is a scuff on the sleeve." Was really impressed. The 6 panel racers she had were out of this world. Almost bought on the spot LOL. And the G1, I forgot to take pic, was out of this world.
 
Messages
14,200
Location
Chicago
yep. Super thick, rich leather. She said "I need to make sure if one of my customers spills at 70 mph all they're going to get is a scuff on the sleeve." Was really impressed. The 6 panel racers she had were out of this world. Almost bought on the spot LOL. And the G1, I forgot to take pic, was out of this world.
That’s good to hear. I know some members here have had trouble getting in touch/ having orders fulfilled. No lost money or scams but just difficulty getting off the ground. TBH I assumed they were long gone. Their vintage pieces are outstanding. What little I’ve seen of the newer stuff left much to be desired imho. To be fair I haven’t paid much attention in the last 5 or more years. Would be very cool if they were a viable option.
 

TooManyHatsOnlyOneHead

One Too Many
Messages
1,945
It looked like it's her and that one other person working in the shop. My jacket has about a 2.5 week lead time to work on. So I could see it not being an ideal situation unless you're local. When I go back in a few weeks, I'll dig deeper. I haven't handled newer Vanson, can only compare to my 2000 model Enfield, but the stuff they had for the fit jackets was in that league, maybe even thicker, but subtle to touch. That shot of the stretch mark cow leather is a brand new jacket, although that grain was above and beyond and she noted she hand picked that out of a deep pile of hides.
 

JMax

I'll Lock Up
Messages
7,650
Awesome and thanks. Of all the shops in all the world, this is one of a very few I actually “need” to visit. Due to the history, probably top of my list.

@ton312 another Chicagoan on this site had a new LAPD and raved about it. I can’t recall his username and I haven’t seen him in a bit. But the jacket looked amazing.
 

tmitchell59

I'll Lock Up
Messages
5,683
Location
Illinois
Thanks for this great post! So interesting to see behind the scenes. Would be interested how much she knows about Trojan Sportswear and California Sportswear Co. both in the LA area. There were a host of other small shops in Southern California long lost to time.
 
Messages
14,200
Location
Chicago
Awesome and thanks. Of all the shops in all the world, this is one of a very few I actually “need” to visit. Due to the history, probably top of my list.

@ton312 another Chicagoan on this site had a new LAPD and raved about it. I can’t recall his username and I haven’t seen him in a bit. But the jacket looked amazing.
Yeah I remember that too now that you mention it. Would be great to see more of the current offerings. Off their IG....
Current:
88F5F74C-C993-4B95-B014-5FE6AB3CCA17.jpeg

Vintage:
E4D4AC72-61E5-4CBC-8F63-5703C2C2B837.jpeg

Personally, I think the vintage stuff looks better but would be curious about what they can do and have access to as of today. I’m no stranger to these jackets. One of the nicest jackets I ever had bore the CAL label. This one in particular:
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A full review of a fresh CAL would be a welcome sight.
 

JMax

I'll Lock Up
Messages
7,650
Yeah I remember that too now that you mention it. Would be great to see more of the current offerings. Off their IG....
Current:
View attachment 307105
Vintage:
View attachment 307106
Personally, I think the vintage stuff looks better but would be curious about what they can do and have access to as of today. I’m no stranger to these jackets. One of the nicest jackets I ever had bore the CAL label. This one in particular:
View attachment 307109
A full review of a fresh CAL would be a welcome sight.

I do like the older stuff more. Though the gear they made for Leatherman, etc., not too long ago is great. Different though, looks more like your first picture. Heavy, thick, but not stiff. My hope is that the most recent stuff is like this.
 
Messages
14,200
Location
Chicago
I do like the older stuff more. Though the gear they made for Leatherman, etc., not too long ago is great. Different though, looks more like your first picture. Heavy, thick, but not stiff. My hope is that the most recent stuff is like this.
I haven’t seen a single review of a modern cal in my time here. I do wish someone would do one. The process, hide, fit etc. Its long overdue. I don’t have HQ pics of my best CAL but I will say it was the best Horsehide I’ve ever handled. Made LW feel like Carl budding lunch meat vs a 10lb slice of prime rib. I’ve never had another leather jacket like it, and never will.
 

TooManyHatsOnlyOneHead

One Too Many
Messages
1,945
Thanks for this great post! So interesting to see behind the scenes. Would be interested how much she knows about Trojan Sportswear and California Sportswear Co. both in the LA area. There were a host of other small shops in Southern California long lost to time.
She mentioned that in the Cal Leathers hey day (before she owned the shop), Cal also had an LA office, well office was putting it lightly. One of the owners was getting regular treatment in LA (about hour drive from Ventura), and basically set up shop in a relatives house that had an alley. She says she has people come in all the time telling her they would knock on a door in this dark alley, fork over cash, and out would come a jacket from the door. LOL. At their peak, there were 6 jacket makers sewing 2.5 jackets each per day. That's when they were in all the uniform catalogs. Lots of jackets out there with no labels, but interestingly enough, she said no one ever really did a straight up copy. The little details like the across the front stitching off the hand warmer pockets, the fur in the sleeves, and even the waist band. She said that Cal has a certain pattern with how far the stitch lines are spaced and even how the pattern of the stitching. She said Langlitz was probably the closest copy she ever saw as far as details. So if you see something that looks like a Cal, chances are it is. That Chicago PD jacket she said was on it's way to a dumpster until someone spotted it and realized what it was.
 

Doctor Damage

My Mail is Forwarded Here
Messages
3,706
Location
Ontario
Excellent photos and visit comments, thanks so much for posting. I love places like this that are small and not retail-facing.
 

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