Pristine, unscarred leather handbags and briefcases can be found in most upscale departments stores in malls across the country. Unscarred leather holds no history, no past; rather, it stands as a stark, unwritten canvas upon which the purchaser will create a future. While this is appealing to some, many prefer a distressed, scarred leather handbag, because it is softer to the touch, promises durability, and holds within it a wealth of history. It is within the scars that they see the leather’s beauty. Dave Munson of Saddleback Leather Co. agrees that the scarred leather is the best leather.
"We don’t believe that flawlessness equals beauty. Beauty is when we’re able to see something as it really is. This is true with humans too. There are lots of quality people who are really beautiful not in spite of, but because of the marks life has given them."Dave Munson
Dave and Suzette Munson believe in the durability of leather, quality craftsmanship, traveling the world, and good, old-fashioned missional Christianity. With a company infrastructure of 40 employees across the United States and Scotland and over 300 employees in Guanajuato, Mexico, caring for each one is more than a task; it’s a lifetime pursuit.
“We’re very casual,” said Dave. “We care about our people. Saddleback is a much bigger platform than just bags. We want to show business men and women that you can be a Christian and do good works and let your light shine before men while glorifying God in the workplace. When you have to tell someone that you’re a Christian in order for someone to know, that’s a red flag. In the business world, people will lie to your face if they think it will get them somewhere. What I would rather do is to say that I’m a hypocrite like everyone else, but I try not to be because I have a relationship with God. That draws more people in than putting a fish on my website.”
The Saddleback Leather Co. and Dave and Suzette Munson are all about raw Christianity, relevant ministry, and real people. “At Saddleback, we want to influence other companies to treat their people right; to be good employers; to not care about money as much, but to give more money away. The larger the platform we get, the more we are able to speak, share, and get other businesses involved in ministry,” said Dave.
The Genesis of Saddleback
It all began with a heart that was willing to do God’s work in God’s timing. While waiting for grad school to start, Dave, a theology graduate from Multnomah University, was approached by a friend to consider teaching English in Mexico. After prayerful consideration, he decided to put grad school aside and become an English teacher.
“I spent a year in southern Mexico,” said Dave. “I had a bag made there, because I needed to carry my books and couldn’t find what I wanted. I sketched it out and found a craftsman to make it for me. I roughed out the leather, sanded and oiled it, and it came out very nice—it was actually super cool! When I came back to the States, people went crazy over it. They’d stop me in the street asking where they could buy a bag like mine.” It was from this humble, unexpected beginning that the Saddleback Leather Co. was born.
As the demand for his bags began to grow, Dave started to consider the possibilities. “In 2000, I started to think that maybe this was what could support my ministry in Mexico,” he said. “I started having more made as the demand grew. My first storefront was the back of my Land Cruiser! I put the tailgate down and sold them off the back. After selling my entire supply in about 4-5 hours, I thought, ‘Wow! This is cool!’ Ebay sales began to pick up, I moved to Juarez, Mexico, sold my Land Cruiser, and started saving to start the business.”
But it was not an easy road for Dave. With any business, the start up was time consuming and fraught with financial pressures. “At that point, I had a mattress on the floor in a $100 a month apartment,” said Dave. “I had mice and no hot water, but it was exactly what I needed. There was a time when I got down to $19 in my bank account. I had no more bags and it would be three weeks before any came in. I remember thinking, ‘It’s no big deal! Jesus went for forty days without eating!’ My prayer life was most fervent at that time—more than it had ever been. As it turned out, in that month, I made more than I’d ever made in my entire life. Someone approached me about selling a Porsche on eBay because they heard I was good at it, and the money just kept running in.”
Through his dedication to a task, Dave learned that despite hardships, trials, and setbacks, God blesses those who put their full faith in His provision. Looking back on this time of his life, Dave is thankful for the somewhat stressful aspect of not knowing where the money was going to come from, because it taught him to trust in the Almighty.
The Beauty of Vocational Ministry
In keeping with Ecclesiastes 9:10, Dave Munson believes that whatever business God calls a man to do, he should do it with his whole heart. When God began to grow his leather business, Dave came to a crisis of faith and had to make what he thought to be a decision between vocation and ministry. But God had a different idea.
“When I lived in Juarez, I was working for Young Life, but I got too busy with the bags to do the program,” said Dave. “I was conflicted because of this feeling that if I wasn’t in the ministry, I was compromising. I couldn’t comprehend that it isn’t about how much you do for God, but about your heart being right with God. God doesn’t need a bunch of mindless soldiers; He wants people who are close to Him! I thought that I couldn’t have a business and do ministry. Turns out that my business is the biggest ministry I could gave imagined.” Once he grasped the concept of successful vocational ministry, Dave began to see doors opening through his business endeavors, and the company began to grow. Today, the Saddleback Leather Co. operates with the same mission: to influence customers for the Gospel of Christ through quality leather products and to carry on the mission of vocational ministry.
“We give away most of our money to ministries all over the world,” said Dave. “We’re leading our company in missional work. We’ve seen a lot of businesses that try and have purpose, but fail because their heart isn’t in it. Our hearts, my wife and I, are in the ministry. We’re about furthering the Kingdom. We’re about loving people around the world through the means of a high quality leather bag. If God were not using our business for ministry, we would get rid of it. Lives are too short; we’re not going to waste our days without expanding the Kingdom.”
His Girl Friday
From their initial correspondence, Suzette changed Dave’s life. As a partner in the business, a spiritual equal, and a faithful friend, she has stood by his side through their whirlwind courtship, the initial stages of Saddleback, and their vast, worldwide travels. With a heart for those in need, Suzette launched the successful sister company, Love41, an online marketplace that donates 100% of the profits to support the work of Africa New Life Ministries.
“Honestly, I’ve never heard of a better, cooler, funnier woman than my wife,” said Dave. “She’s great! I prayed for years for her. I didn’t know her, but I was praying that she’d have a good day. I had a big long list, and my family said that I was way too picky and should settle, but I got everything except for her height. She’s not 5’8”! We got married, and she joined my business. After an eye-opening trip to Rwanda in 2010, God put a deep burden on her heart for more than just Saddleback Leather, and as a result of that trip, she started her company, Love41.”
Based on Psalm 41:1-3, Love41 exists to assist Rwandan women, children, and orphans in need of food, clothes, and love. With all the proceeds going to support Africa New Life Ministry, Love41 customers know that their money is directly influencing lives. The company also offers a sponsorship program where children and teenagers are matched with sponsors for $39 a month.
“People find Love41 through Saddleback and are excited about the opportunity to sponsor a child,” said Dave. “God has used Suzette and Love41 to sponsor over 250 hard cases. She connects them with their sponsors and they correspond via email and Facebook. We also facilitate trips to Rwanda to introduce the kids to their sponsors. That’s when real life happens for these kids; when a sponsor actually visits them. It shows that they’re valuable. Through the sponsorship program, we’re starting to merge Love41 and Saddleback into one. Our businesses are all for God’s glory.”
The Splendor of the Scar
People are hurting, the world over. Saddleback Leather and Love41 are attempting to make a difference through vocational ministry. Dave and Suzette Munson realize that God uses individuals who are willing to lay aside their personal goals and dreams for the furtherance of the Kingdom. Everyone has a past; everyone has a story; the Munsons are using their unique history to influence not only the fashion industry, but also unknown, unloved Rwandan villages.
"Scars are beautiful. Some scars are intriguing and most have a story that you remember, as opposed to a bruise that goes away. For our bags, I use leather that has character to it. It’s excellent leather; it’s beautiful leather. You can see the life of the cow. If it’s been scraped up against barbed wire, if it’s been gored or kicked, or bit by bugs, you’re going to see it on our bags. It’s not extreme, but it is beautiful. You’re going to develop your own stories about your bag and they’re going to add to the stories that were already there from the life of the cow. There is something that’s drawn me to that from the very beginning—making bags that have tons of character to them."Dave Munson
For the Munsons, their successful leather business is more than a source of income. The Saddleback Leather Co. and Love41 are a means to an end: Dave and Suzette possess an overwhelming passion to reach the world with the gospel of Christ. What better picture of ultimate love and sacrifice than a beautiful piece of scarred leather? I Peter 2:24 states, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Through His life, we learn to serve; through His scars, we are healed; through His resurrection, we are made alive.
“We’re finding a lot of people who are hurting. More than I ever dreamed,” said Dave. “There are a lot of people with a lot of scars and I had to learn how to lead people spiritually. I realized that it’s not just about asking them if they’re doing all right; it’s telling them how I was growing and learning. I share my life. I don’t want to be just reaching people in Africa, I want to reach our credit card vendors, our employees, everyone.”
That is why the Saddleback Leather Co. is making a difference.