A Short History About Kirk’s Suede Life Leather Coats
I recently sold a Vintage Kirk’s Suede Life women’s belted jacket from the 1970s on Facebook Marketplace. The leather was brittle and it had some flaws, so it was priced accordingly low… other than the leather issues, it was in pretty good shape with the original belt and snaps and lining all intact.
I’ve added the pictures, including the picture of the Kirk’s Suede Life label below. If this extra petite jacket could have fit me, I would have restored it and worn it myself!
The history of some clothing can be most fascinating.
This is what I learned about the history of Kirk’s Suede Life, the maker and label on this vintage leather coat that I just sold:
Kirk’s Suede Life started humbly at the dawn of the Great Depression, when Clifford K. Kirkpatrick heard about an open position selling dry cleaning while getting a haircut. Kirk had no knowledge of dry cleaning, but he quickly learned the trade and stayed with it until the next summer when the barber dismissed him because there was not enough work to pay his salary. Not to be discouraged, Kirk used his small savings to buy dry cleaning materials and went door to door to farmers homes throughout Kansas, dry cleaning at night and selling or traveling the roads during the day.
Although he was subsisting, this way was clearly unsustainable, so Kirk moved to the big city of Chicago to get a job selling dry cleaning presses to cleaners and garment manufacturers. He sold more presses by himself than the rest of their company had ever sold. But bigger problems developed. The company was under-funded and couldn’t get loans to produce the dry cleaning presses that Kirk had sold. It was the Great Depression in full force, and he was fired for selling too much product.
After a time, and thanks to the help of his uncle who owned a leather tannery in SanFrancisco, Kirk came upon the idea to specialize in cleaning suedes and other types of leather. He researched and tested, and invented proprietary cleaning chemicals and machinery. His business boomed quickly and he soon had leather cleaning plants on both coasts and in Chicago.
Kirk’s first love was door to door selling, which he continued to do until his death in the early 1970s (even after selling the company to Arthur Andrews in the early 1960s).
According to the Suede Products website:
“In the late 1960’s two leather cleaners, Mike Selesnick and Joe Meir, developed a system that permitted filtered cleaning of suede and leather and heated drying. This process, which came to be known as Suede-Life, was eventually patented.
In 1970 a merger of the Suede-Life Co. with C.K. Kirkpatrick Specialty Company created Kirk’s Suede-Life, Inc. Kirk’s Suede-Life, Inc. became the world leader in the supply of chemicals, equipment and processes for the cleaning of suede and leather apparel.
In early 2006, Kirk’s Suede-Life, Inc. was purchased by Suede Products. Suede Products continues to serve Suede-Life customers with the same quality products, which are used daily by professional suede and leather cleaners on six continents.”