Artifact A Legacy of Leather: Langlitz Has Kept Riders Safe for Over 80 YearsThe story of Ross Langlitz and Langlitz Leathers.
- Words Michael Hilton
At age 17, Ross Langlitz lost his right leg after a drunk driver hit him on his motorcycle. Langlitz ignored his doctors and threw his leg back over his bike, because he loved motorcycling. Speedway racing, specifically, which is why he needed a jacket that would protect him in the event of a crash.
In the early 1940s, his best option was a leather flight jacket from Sears that didn’t fit well in a riding position. Using the cutting and sewing experience he gained while working in a glove factory, he decided to reverse-engineer the Sears jacket with thicker leather, diagonal pocket zippers, extra-long sleeves, and zippered cuffs.
Friends started hounding Ross to make jackets for them, so he set up shop in his basement. It didn’t take long before he was struggling to keep up with demand, so, in 1947, he hired two seamstresses from the glove factory, rented a larger space, and opened The Leather Garment Shop. His first clothing tags read Speedway Togs, but that was quickly changed to Langlitz Leathers, a name that would become synonymous with high-quality motorcycling apparel.
Langlitz Leathers has made its home in Portland, Oregon’s Southeast Division Street neighborhood since 1972. A staff of 15 produces made-to-order motorcycle clothing using made-in-America materials. Each piece is cut by a single cutter, is sewn by a single seamstress, and is a unique, handmade work of art; a set of custom leathers takes roughly eight weeks to complete. While customers can order online or through snail mail, many prefer to travel to Portland to be measured for a perfect fit.
The environmentally conscious business uses 100-percent renewable energy to offset carbon emissions and sells scrap leather to other businesses instead of sending hides to the landfill, and its customer base includes an impressive list of celebrities including Bob Dylan, Ralph Lauren, Bruce Springsteen, and Clark Gable.
Ross Langlitz passed away in 1989, but his legacy lives on. Today, Langlitz Leathers is run by Ross’s granddaughter, Judy, and together with a small group of passionate employees, she maintains a tradition of making impeccably designed and crafted clothing for motorcyclists who understand the importance of both form and function.