by Michel Miller
serialcommakiller@gmail.com

Location, location, location

With popular cocktail spot Ventiki below and surf-chic boutique Betty B next door, T&A LeatherWorks is part of a cluster of hip shops on the eastern edge of downtown Ventura’s entertainment district. Colorful leather scraps share space with one-of-a-kind handbags and other accessories designed and crafted by Anthony Valadez, whose neat display of  tools can be seen from Main Street. A self-described clean freak, Valadez keeps his work space orderly and the shop welcoming with dark woods and local art on the walls. On a clear day, a sparkling ocean can be seen from the large front windows.“It definitely beats the garage,” he laughs.

All dat jazz

Though a Southern California native, Valadez spent a good spell living in New Orleans, his allegiance to which is evident in the music playing in the store, his fleur-de-lis tattoos and the matching pendant he and his partner in life, love and business, Todd Sellers, both wear. After losing everything to Hurricane Katrina, Valadez returned to his home state where, among other things, he managed a Buffalo Exchange. As a gifted designer and craftsman, his lifelong passion for fashion along with his customer service acumen made it a no-brainer to start his own line and open a retail space for it. Having Sellers to run the business side of things affords Valadez the time he needs to create. It’s a true win-win.

Skin trade

Every item in T&A’s product line is handmade using up-cycled, high-quality leather remnants. Old belts are reborn as cuffs, holsters and guitar straps. Sexy clutch bags and wallets are pieced together using various animal skins. Thrift shop finds are deconstructed and reconstructed, dyed and re-imagined into fashion-forward accessories or commissioned pieces. Point to any item in the shop and Valadez can tell you the origins of the materials, many of which are donated by the folks he and Sellers have met during their extensive travels, including buttery scraps of hide left over from a rock and roll tour-bus upholsterer.

Pleasure principle

In addition to T&A’s stock of everyday accessories, there are various fetish accoutrements to satisfy the kink community at home and elsewhere. (They attend Pride festivals from Santa Barbara to San Diego, Palm Springs to Vegas and more.) Collars, restraints, harnesses and other bondage gear can be purchased at the store or made to order. (Collars and leashes are also available for furry pets.) Having hosted his share of fetish balls, Valadez is not only comfortable with the subject, he’s thrilled to be of assistance. As someone who “used to wear 21-inch corsets and walk around with bullwhips and knee-high boots,” he says he appreciates people who want to spice things up and reinvigorate their intimate relationships. Thanks to the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, which he says has created a surge in interest, especially among straight couples, people are more comfortable talking openly about their kinky proclivities and curiosities. “As long as it’s safe, sane and consensual, I’m all about it,” he says.

Crafters for life

When the Craftcation conference returns to Ventura on April 7 (this time at the Ventura Beach Marriott), T&A will teach a leather craft workshop in addition to hosting the opening-night mixer. Valadez and Sellers have history with Craftcation co-founder Delilah Snell, whom they met while living in Orange County. Snell has been a friend and business mentor since the formation of T&A. In just one year, the outgoing entrepreneurs have made quite the splash, both inside and outside their Ventura store. “We’re social butterflies so we’ve gotten to know everyone around here,” says Valadez. They will also have a booth among fellow local artisans at Ventura Rancho Days on March 13 at Olivas Adobe, where their DIY table will equip kids to make their own key chains. With classes planned for the store, a growing clientele and a knack for being awesome, it’s only a matter of time before Todd and Anthony have the whole town hell bent for leather. F

Visit T&A Leather at 8 N. Fir St., Ventura. For more information, go to www.TandAleather.com or call 585-5804.