We had the good fortune of connecting with Mary Esposito and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Mary, maybe we can start at the very start – the idea – how did you come up with the idea for your business?
I am a leather artist and dog collar crafter. I was inspired to create something special to mark the day my service dog and I graduated as a team. I struggled throughout my childhood with health issues and at 18, I received a wonderful service dog named Riley. He was trained to retrieve items, get help when needed, and even fetch a drink from the fridge! The tasks were a huge help to my independence, but it was his goofy smiling face and his friendship that really transformed my life. I grew up on a small ranch painting with my mom and working with my grandpa in his woodworking shop. I used those skills to make a leather collar for Riley, carved and painted with his smiling face and tennis balls. I posted the collar on Facebook and started to receive requests from friends and family. We have now been in business since 2012 crafting unique tooled leather pet collars and matching accessories for people. We are proud to offer discounts to working dogs and donate collars every year to rescues. My hope with each KoKoLati piece is that it becomes a keepsake, has special meaning, and triggers beautiful happy memories for the individual customer.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Leather tooling has been around for ages on western saddles, gun holsters, and belts. My approach to leather art is to take the conventional tools and techniques and apply them to create my own contemporary designs. Each product starts as a sketch before being carved, tooled, and painted onto the leather. I think a challenge for all artists is, how do we do what we love and not become a ‘starving artist’? As an artist, I just want to create what I want and move on to the next thing and keep it fun! With my art being my livelihood, I have had to dedicate myself to learning business knowledge and strengthening my discipline to maintain a healthy balance. The incredible community that supports me and my appreciation to call this my ‘job’ motivates me to work hard and continue to learn and grow!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There is so much to do in Los Angeles! If someone was visiting from out of town, I would take them to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and wander to find their favorite stars, take pictures, and enjoy the souvenir shops and restaurants on the strip. The various museums and the La Brea Tar Pits offer a great experience to learn and explore history in the middle of the bustling city. The Santa Monica Pier is also such a fun spot to grab an ice cream and hit the rides!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I am only here due to the love and support of so many people! Each person who supports our business with their purchase, many of whom I’ve come to know and love like family. My wonderful mom, sisters, and boyfriend dedicate countless hours to listening, encouraging, and helping hands-on. The knowledgeable volunteers for mentorship programs like SCORE, especially Elliot Wassarman who has mentored me in business and life! All of these people and more have been key to my success and deserve a shout-out!
Other: TikTok – @kokolatileather