Middle Tennessee designer makes high-end heirloom leather products

LYNNVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – An upscale leather designer in Middle Tennessee is making items for some of the biggest stars and best stores in the country. The small town of Lynnville is home to Colonel Littleton.

“I got to thinking there are no heirlooms anymore,” said Garry Littleton, better known as the Colonel. “I don’t think cell phones and laptops are going to be family heirlooms. I just don’t think they’re going to make it.”

Some might call him old fashioned, traditional or maybe just a bit nostalgic, but the Colonel might be more progressive than you think.

Garry Littleton, better known as The Colonel.
Garry Littleton, better known as The Colonel.

“When I grew up, everyone had a pocket knife and if you had your granddaddy’s pocket knife that was a real keepsake!” he said.

With that in mind, he started dealing in pocket knives decades ago. The Colonel’s desire to help mold traditions eventually turned into an upscale leather business in the 1980s with people like Alan Jackson, Robert Redford and Dave Ramsey donning his creations.

Littleton’s rolling farm is about an hour south of Nashville in Lynnville, a city with a population less than 300. The day started with the Colonel walking us through his leather supply room. It’s stocked, end to end, with a variety of leathers. Most are from a tannery here in Tennessee, but there are also buffalo hides from the Midwest and alligator from Florida.

SLIDESHOW: Colonel Littleton leather
SLIDESHOW: Colonel Littleton leather

All of these are used in products made in Lynnville and there are no assembly lines here.

“There is no secret to make it cheap, but very few will make it better because it takes a lot of effort.”

That effort comes from Colonel Littleton’s 40-plus employees who carefully use thousands of dyes to cut each piece. They meticulously seal the edges of the leather and glue and sew every seam. If there are any mistakes, the Colonel points them out.

“We set it aside and cut it up. It will not go in a product,” he said.

These top of the line leather goods are sold in a retail store in downtown Lynnville, online and in a handful of select high-end stores. The goal is for them to last forever.

“Whoever gets this, their grandchild could carry this one day and it would just have a look about it,” said Littleton, holding up a bag.

The Colonel’s items are sold here in Knoxville at M.S. McClellan. You can also find them in upscale hotels like the Omni and the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

More online: Colonel Littleton

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