I recently toured the small factory in Sonoma County, Calif., where Occidental Leather makes what are probably the best-quality tool bags money can buy. That’s what I thought the first time I saw another carpenter wearing some 25 years ago, and what I think now that I have seen how they’re made—and heard the unlikely story of how this iconic company came to be.

The company was founded by Darryl Thurner, a building contractor who wanted a better toolbelt than he could buy off-the-shelf. After seeing the customized framing belt a fellow carpenter had paid to have made, Thurner convinced a local saddle maker to produce something similar for him. Other carpenters saw it and wanted to buy ones like it, so he went into business, designing and selling belts and paying the saddle maker to make them.

The saddle maker eventually lost interest in tool bags and went back to making horse tack. Thurner, with time on his hands due to a serious slump in construction, decided to learn the trade of leatherworking. In the 30+ years since that time, Thurner converted an old lumber mill into a leather factory and built a nationally known business that employs 40+ people. In keeping with his original desire for custom-made tool bags, many Occidental products can be mixed and matched to suit the needs of lefties, righties, and the tradesman who wants to configure his rig a particular way.