By Ginger DeShaney

The amount of leather Kathryn Rizzo watched get tossed during her time working for a luxury handbag designer in New York sparked a passion.                       

She had a boss who handed her a full leather hide – you could still see the shape of the cow – and asked her to get rid of it or make something out of it.

At the time, Kathryn didn’t have the space in her tiny apartment or the know-how on what to do with that hide, but it stuck with her for years. “I think about how much I’ve thrown out now and it hurts my soul,” she said.

During her time in the New York fashion industry, she learned about the tanning process and fell in love with the craft and quality of great leather goods. When she moved back to Boston, she knew she had her next project.

After watching endless YouTube videos, stitching all hours of the night, messing up and starting all over again, and gaining confidence, Kathryn started Rizzo Leather Co. in the middle of her South Boston living room surrounded by roommates. 

“I would say it took about four years to really get to a point where I felt confident selling the product,” said Kathryn, a full-time product marketing manager for Reebok. But it was one piece of advice from a crafter she followed that kicked her into gear: If you wait until your product is perfect to sell, you’re going to be waiting forever.

“When I heard that, it was such good advice for me.” A year ago she officially launched her Instagram and her side hustle.

Those first few posts on Instagram propelled people to start messaging her about wanting her products. A woman reached out to have her set up a table at the Bunker Hill Day Parade and things took off. 

She set up a table at the South Boston Street Fest and sold out in hours, her biggest day in sales. 

Kathyrn, 27, handcrafts leather coasters (her biggest sellers), key chains, wallets, key chain card slots, handbags, and more. Probably more than half her items are custom: She gets many requests for wedding and engagement gifts.

Her products are crafted from genuine leather, cut, sewn, and finished by hand, and made with love. “RLC aims to bring high-quality goods that can take you anywhere and celebrate all of life’s moments,” she said.

After being caught by surprise selling out at the Street Fest and a hectic holiday season of orders, Kathryn realized she needed to take time to stockpile inventory. “I was working very late into the night on all my projects all the time so that I would have a full table for every festival or fair that I wanted to do; this year I tried to take some time to really prepare for that.

“I’ve spent the last couple of months building up inventory since there’s so many craft fairs and outdoor festivals that happen in the spring,” she said. Stay tuned to Kathryn’s Instagram page for her upcoming Spring Launch.

In addition to pop-ups and festivals, Kathryn has items at Kait McKenna Radkowski’s In Good Company and she’s working with Marisa Carlini at LUXE home interiors to do a Sip & Shop coaster-making workshop. She’s gotten great advice from Marisa and Kait and made many connections through South Boston Chamber of Commerce networking events.

“I’ve just been blown away by the South Boston business community and how helpful everybody is and how supportive everyone is … just boosting each other up,” said Kathryn, who graduated from Marist College with a degree in fashion merchandising. “It’s really nice and I so appreciate it as somebody that’s just kind of side hustling out of their apartment but hopes to someday be more than that. It’s really appreciated.”

Kathryn’s process includes batching the work. “I’m hardly ever sitting down and working on one project,” she said.

She breaks up the tasks over the course of several nights, often while listening to audiobooks. Those tasks include: cutting out 3-4 projects; etching those projects; cleaning up the edges; punching all the holes; hand stitching each project. “I do it entirely by hand.”

After years working on her living floor on West Eighth Street – and getting back spasms from it – Kathryn has moved about a mile down the road to Savin Hill and now has a dedicated space for her side hustle. 

“But Southie will always be home for me,” said Kathryn, who is originally from Wakefield. “It will always be my home.”