9. Collins of Texas is Born
Ranching produced little income and with the setback of the bronze riderless horse that was to be the war memorial Fred and Enid began to look for new ways to make a living. Enid remembered a leather handbag of a friend of hers in Michigan. She had wanted one but couldn’t afford it so she decided to make one for herself. She drew the design, made a pattern, Fred cut it out on the kitchen table and Enid sewed the pieces together by hand. (In my workshop I have that old kitchen table riddled with awl holes, it was made by my grandfather from Michigan and gifted to them when they left for Texas.) She dampened the edges and rubbed them with the wooden handle of an awl to give them a smooth finish. To bring out the life of the leather she applied a thin coat of Neatsfoot oil; the kind used on saddles.
When their friend Miriam Webb saw the handbag she wanted one and they had their first order. Others noticed the unique design and quality craftsmanship and asked where they could get one. They became “conversation pieces” as Enid called them on a later hand sketched catalog. As conversations turned to sales, Enid created more designs and Fred with skilled hands and an engineer mind figured out how to put together the things she drew. He made wooden forms to mold the leather when it was wet. When it dried the shapes held and the leather was ready to sew together.
Their friend Marian Webb suggested they show their work to a retailer. In those days Neiman Marcus was the premier store in Texas and that is where they started. The buyer liked their work but wanted them to create a complete line with wholesale prices. They went home and Enid went back to her drafting table, now used by my daughter Lara in her design work; also riddled with awl holes, and created a line of handbags and belts with matching ornaments and closures.
Soon they were back in Dallas with their new line along with a wholesale price list and a hand sketched catalog. The buyer bought the line and kept the catalog to re-order. Spring Valley Ranch Studio, as it was called in the early days was on its way; it now had a $500.00 order. Soon other stores were interested in the line and they had more orders than the two of them could produce. Dad started sketching plans for a house so the old one could be a dedicated workshop and they hired Mary LeStourgeon who made the drive to the ranch five days a week to “help out.”
Mary was a wonderful lady. As a little boy I thought she was the prettiest and sweetest woman in the world. Sometimes when my mother was busy she would look after Cynthia and me at the shop. Her husband Murray was a builder and nationally known square dance caller. He was also a humorist, singer and guitar player. At Tom Finney's slab under a Pecan grove the community had dances where he played guitar with Sherrill Johnson on fiddle.
Mary worked for the company for over twenty years. In an interview with Dorothy Hatfield who wrote several books on the history of Medina Mary said:
“Collins of Texas went on to make fashion history. I worked for over twenty years in the business and saw it grow. I want to say Fred and Enid Collins were wonderful people who cared about others, the community of Medina, and their art. They certainly made an impact in Medina and the entire state of Texas.”Photo: Enid on the sewing machine, Mary, Lilly Baker, and Fred.