Mike on America

Langlitz Leathers: A True American Fit

What do Neil Young,Clark Gable,Andy Devine,Bruce Willis,Johnny Depp,  Geena Davis and Jay Lenoall have in common? The jacket on their back. The leather jacket. Benicio Del Toro owns 5 or 6. Those are the names of just some of the high profile folks that have worn or owned a Langlitz leather jacket.

Langlitz Leatherswas founded in 1947 by Ross Langlitz, and it operates today pretty much the way it always has, the American way. Make a good product at a fair price and take care of your customers. If more U.S. companies would have followed Ross Langlitz's credo there would be less outsourcing and more pride in the words, 'American Made'.

But it is those words that have kept the Langlitz shop going strong. They make roughly 1,350 leather garments a year, the majority custom fitted. They are worn and coveted by customers from Portland to Poughkeepsie, and from Tangiers to Tokyo. While you can only get a Langlitz domestically from the Portland shop and store, in Japan there are 55 dealers of Langlitz Leathers, with another in Munich, Germany. The Japanese in particular fond of the customer care and unique quality of something crafted by hand, fit to them specifically, and 'one of a kind.' They want that Langlitz label, and they want it to read, 'Made in Portland, Oregon USA'.

Ross Langlitz, working in the glove trade, started out to simply make himself a set of comfortable, utilitarian 'leathers' for riding his motorcycle in the perpetually windy, rainy Northwest. He couldn't find any he liked, so he made his own. And then a set for his wife 'Pinky', so she could ride her motorcycle. And he just kept making them in two basic styles. You don't have to ride a motorcycle to wear one.

Now Dave Hansen runs the business. Hansen, married to one of Langlitz's daughters, Jackie, inspects every jacket made by the 15 or so employees in this tight little shop. He's made changes in the business over the years. Expanding the Web site, protecting the brand in Asia, reaching out to new markets. But he'll tell you if you ask him, that he doesn't want to get any bigger. Expansion, except in the average size of the jacket as Americans have put on the pounds, is not a word bandied about.

Hansen wants the Langlitz name to mean the same thing now that it did in 1947. And he wants it to mean the same thing in 2047: American, quality and craftsmanship. Dave Hansen is convinced he'll see his father-in-law again 'on the other side'. And when he does he wants Ross to be smiling, proud of what the business was, and is.

Yes, famous people own and have worn a Langlitz leather jacket. But many more people you've never heard of have to. They're all in the same family, the same club. Ross Langlitz is smiling.

Questions?  Comments?  mikeonamerica@nbcuni.com