Whether you like the feel of a harness buckled tightly around your shoulders and chest or some tight leather chaps that leave little to the imagination, it’s always leather weather in Houston. Two leather shops, The Montrose Forge and Sir Rat Leather, have both moved to new locations, and the local leather community is about to get a whole lot kinkier.
“Leather shops have evolved so much. Before, for the gay community, a leather shop was a store selling fetish leather clothing. Nowadays, I would describe it as a store that has not only leather and fetish clothing, but a lot more items for all your needs.” says Luis Bratt, 37.
Bratt and his partner, Randy Suratt, 51, recently opened Sir Rat Leather inside Ripcord, the famous Montrose leather bar on Fairview Street. They will also be opening a larger main store in the coming months after finishing renovations.
The Montrose Forge is also expanding its operations, and has relocated to White Oak Drive after several years at various locations on Fairview. “We are already open and welcoming our regular customers,” says owner Chip Ware, 43. “The new space is a cute cottage with a unique charm on a corner lot—half boudoir, half dungeon. We want to give everyone the opportunity to explore.”
For Sir Rat Leather, this will be their first store in Houston after building a reputation doing pop-up shops in Austin, Houston, and South Padre. When deciding on a new permanent location, they were torn between Houston and its rival city Dallas. Obviously, they made the correct decision in deciding to open their doors here.
“Houston has always been a community that we wanted to be a part of,” says Bratt. “Personally, I love the bars here. We have lots of friends who were always asking when we were going to open a store here. After a year of researching, we were between Dallas and Houston, and in the beginning of September I got an email saying that the previous store at the Ripcord was having a sale and moving. At that point I tried to contact the owner of the Ripcord persistently, until I finally got a reply. Luckily, we got the place.”
The Montrose Forge, on the other hand, has been a longtime presence in Montrose and its leather community.
“We opened at the beginning of 2016 in response to an iconic local business, Black Hawk Leather, closing their doors at 711 Fairview St.,” Ware explains. “We immediately contacted the landlord and expressed interest, because we did not want to see anything other than a leather/fetish shop in that location. As members of the leather community, we felt a responsibility to keep the tradition alive. My husband and I are co-founders of the Bayou City Pups. We’ve competed at international-level kink and leather events and are supporters of other local leather and kink organizations.”
Both of the store’s owners agree that the leather community is one that celebrates inclusivity and liberation.
“The leather community is complicated to define,” Ware notes. “It is a subculture that exists within and beyond the LGBTQ+ community. Everyone is welcome! Leather plays the role of the underlying sexual energy that exists within the LGBTQ+ community. It is a means of self-expression and rebellion as we discover who we are and how we fit into the community at large.”
During the lowest points of the pandemic, when many LGBTQ performers and workers were struggling, the leather community stepped up where it could.
“Leather people have always been involved in LGBTQ causes, regardless of being leather-related or not. During the pandemic, when all the bars were closed and performers lost their stage, our local drag queens performed inside our store and streamed the show live on our Instagram/Facebook page for tips,” says Bratt.
Indeed, these shops cater to a wide range of customers and sell a wide range of products beyond leather gear.
“We sell everything from T-shirts to lube to leather chest harnesses to full leather outfits like pants, shirts, and skirts. We also have latex, lingerie, gender-neutral lingerie/underwear, bondage equipment and accessories, and other fun adult toys.” says Ware.
“We sell a little bit of everything that will make you look and feel sexy,” Bratt adds.
Both stores want to be places where everyone is comfortable coming in and exploring the merchandise—and themselves.
“We are a boutique for everybody, and every body,” Ware concludes. “That said, we are here to help people feel sexy exactly as they are. We want to help them discover what brings them pleasure and what excites them. We are gender- and body-inclusive, and work hard to make sure that everyone finds this to be a safe space.”
This article appears in the November 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.