River City Leather, a family-owned shop in Gallipolis, Ohio, creates hand-made leather goods with a lifetime guarantee in their small town that sits along the Ohio River. Aaron found leather work as a hobby while recovering from a motorcycle accident–but it quickly became more than just a hobby. After Aaron made Erin a leather purse for her birthday, they found an overwhelming interest from their friends and community, and soon after, RCL was founded in 2011. Starting in their shed, they now work and sell in a storefront on the town’s main drag and employ 10 people. Their products have a beautiful, timeless design rooted in practicality and made to last.
Since opening, they’ve sparked a culture of entrepreneurship in Gallipolis, making way for others to create businesses and invest in their community. Erin, who is the company’s Creative Director, and Aaron, who leads the manufacturing and design, both wear a lot of hats outside their titles and are committed to learning, evolving, and creating for RCL. From starting a monthly sidewalk hop to raising funds for their city’s development board, they take pride in knowing they’re creating good jobs, high-quality products, and joyful life for their two children.
Aaron and Erin met in 2005 at the Art Institute of Philadelphia. Aaron moved there from a small town in PA, and Erin came from a small rural town in Ohio. After a brief time of dating, they went their separate ways. Aaron stayed in Philadelphia at the Art Institute while Erin moved back to Ohio and finished her studies at OSU. In the summer of 2009, Erin went to Philly for a concert and met up with Aaron. Later that fall, she moved back to Philadelphia, and they moved in together.
Their time in Philly together came to a quick halt when Aaron was in a motorcycle accident in June 2010. He was in the hospital for twelve days and had four surgeries. Right after he was discharged, Aaron moved in with his parents to recover and begin physical therapy, and Erin moved back to Ohio and took a job working for her parents. Aaron moved to Ohio in the fall of 2010 and continued his long road to recovery.
For most of his life, Aaron worked with his hands and loved making things. He was always very active riding BMX and traveling for photoshoots. Because he would be in recovery for a year and a half and unable to work, Aaron was looking for something new to do. Leatherwork was the new hobby to get him through this new period of his life.
Thankfully, he found the local shoe repair and leather shop. It took a few visits of begging, but eventually, the father and son duo took Aaron on. He worked there for free, and in exchange, they taught him leather working skills. While working at the shoe shop, Aaron made Erin a tote bag in the spare bedroom of their home. He gifted it to her for her birthday! She loved the bag and posted some pictures online to brag about her new one-of-a-kind, handmade leather bag! Friends from near and far began asking Aaron to make them a bag.
Later in the fall of 2011, Aaron got a real job working for the Auto Worker’s Union. However, he continued making tote bags, among other things, for friends and family. In the spring of 2012, Erin and Aaron found out they were expecting their first of two children! Because they only lived in a two-bedroom house, Erin kicked Aaron out of the spare bedroom to start a nursery.
Aaron made his new workshop space out of the shed in their backyard, and after several months of making orders in the shed, Aaron and Erin began looking at homes that could accommodate their growing family and growing side hustle. In 2013, Aaron left the security of his full-time job, launched the first RCL website, and bought a house. What a monumental year for us. It was there, he built out his first official office and largest workspace to date.
Within the first month of the website launching, Aaron had to hire help to keep up with the new demand. It wasn't log after that our individual sales presented an opportunity January 2014 brought our first opportunity to start manufacturing leather products for other companies. We had made a few small private label batches, but never at this scale. Aaron hired more employees that year and soon realized more space was needed.
They bought their first commercial space in May of 2015. It was an old restaurant in downtown Gallipolis that faced the city park and Ohio River. At the same time, the old shoe repair shop where Aaron learned leatherwork was about to close. They bought the business and moved it in the new space to continue doing shoe repair services and custom leather work. By August, the Buckley’s had finished renovations, including a retail store, and opened to the public!
The retail store was a major hit and had customers traveling from all over to shop their leather goods in person. After welcoming their second child, Erin quit her day job and began managing the retail store. At the time, RCL was still making one-off and custom bags. Through the years, Aaron and Erin realized they had to streamline to grow. They curated inventory that was always in stock and ready to ship. Over the years, they had tons of pop-ups, and two other retail stores and created community events that enriched the lives of the people in Gallipolis.
It started in their spare bedroom, and over the span of nine years, they bought a building and filled it with employees, manufacturing for other companies, and a buzzing retail store. Life was good, and then COVID came. Aaron and Erin quickly decided to close all operations for a short while to figure out how to move forward. They re-opened later in the summer, and all employees returned to work. Lots of new challenges were presented over the next two years – from employee shortages and supply chain interruptions to River City Manufacturing exploding with new business venture.
In the summer of 2021, Aaron and Erin decided to expand RCMFG Co and move into a larger, second location. Lots of new equipment was sourced across the country to meet the needs of our new customers. They took on lots of new leather customers as well as nylon and vinyl clients. RCL was growing online, and between that and RCMFG Co expanding, the Buckleys made the tough decision to close the retail store. Although bittersweet, this was necessary to keep growing!
Currently, Aaron and Erin are still at the helm, along with a few long-time, top-notch team members. Their kids are in the first and fourth grades. Their daughter, America, has taken an interest in pattern making and sewing keeping the family tradition alive. A few big new clients are in the works, as well as some exciting new equipment! and product lines, so stay tuned for 2023.