Grace. Grit. Authenticity.

Those three words describe an Iowa entrepreneur determined to make a place for herself in the luxury leather goods market.

“The challenge is to find a way to stand out,” says Jill Dobson, “and for us that means creating a top-quality, original product and providing Iowa nice customer service.”

Dobson is owner of Jill’s Homestead, a Chariton company that makes unique items from fine Italian leather, perfect for gift giving — to yourself or someone else. Her original designs include minimalist clutches to handbags and duffels along with earrings, bracelets and bag accessories, all designed with functionality in mind.

“Some brands use a lot of extra decoration and bells and whistles,” says Dobson. “I’ve always wanted my designs to be simple, yet beautiful, featuring our gorgeous leathers and hides as the star of the bag with options to dress up or down with fringe, tassels and other items.”

Many of the bags sport a signature 24-inch layered fringe (a fan favorite). Everything is a work of art that redefines statement piece.

Smaller items like wallets, checkbook covers, keychains and lip balm holders round out the line.

The Modesto Clutch, a slim wallet with a wrist strap, perfect for concert-going, is a popular item. “It’s perfect for holding your ID, tickets, ChapStick, phone and cards or cash,” says Dobson.

A line of home decor goods includes coasters, valet trays and cowhide rugs.

Dobson uses fine Italian leather, cowhides, bison hides, axis deer hides, embossed leather and logo-printed leather, with most of the line-up exclusive to Jill’s Homestead.
Custom options to create a version of a bag or accessory are available.

Farm grown
Jill’s Homestead started in a spare bedroom in Dobson’s farm home in 2018, when she began making leather earrings for herself. Then she began to get requests from others, followed by invitations to farmers markets.

Before long, the spare bedroom workspace expanded to a basement workshop, where she watched the goats and chickens roaming the barnyard through the basement window while she worked.

In 2021, she purchased a historic storefront in downtown Chariton that now houses a workshop for Dobson and four full-time employees as well as storage and retail space.

The store hosts an open house once a month, and Dobson says customers from around the Midwest and beyond are sometimes lined up down the street.

“Not having a full-time open storefront is hard for some people to understand, but it can be done,” says Dobson. She promotes through social media and sells primarily online through her website,, with additional on-site markets to come next year.

Dobson grew up near Elkhart and says she understands the dynamics of small towns and wondered how she would be accepted in Chariton.

“The folks here, from the city council and the business community to our customers, have been welcoming and supportive,” says Dobson.

She has restored original elements of the old building, bringing back memories for many townsfolk. She likes that her customers check out the local restaurants and shop the other stores while in town. “I love seeing the other businesses supported on our open house days.”

Lessons learned
The road hasn’t always been easy. Dobson recalls late nights filling orders while nursing a premature baby, COVID and riding out the economic waves of the past couple years.

“Working all hours, spending Saturdays at farmers markets, it all took time away from my kids and family, and I often wondered if it was worth it,” says Dobson. “But it is, and I hope my daughters look back and remember how their mom followed her passion and her dreams.”

She says she is completely self-taught. She entered the genre with little sewing or leather working experience beyond making a few baby blankets on her home sewing machine. “I call myself a lifelong student of leather craft,” says Dobson.

Early products were made from patterns printed in pieces on her home office printer and taped together. She purchased her first industrial sewing machine soon after.

She watched a lot of instructional videos. “And I asked a lot of questions online to other makers, as well as signed up for virtual leather business classes.”

“I ride and show horses, and I’ve always liked the leather tack and equipment,” she adds.

A line of tack may be coming in the future, as well as a line of men’s items.

She credits her horse-owning experience as well as rural upbringing, including 4-H and FFA, for her perseverance and grit. She learned from a young age that to accomplish a goal, you have to work hard and be consistent.

“I learned a solid work ethic, to get dirty and to ask questions,” says Dobson. “I learned to do the work and to always have humility, graciousness and help others whenever you can.”

Risk and passon
Dobson creates the original designs for her work and has several patents pending for elements. She has a trademarked phrase, Look Rural Nice, that embodies her brand and its country roots.

She travels to Tuscany, Italy, once or twice a year to work directly with tanneries in creating the leather unique to her brand.

“Some may think I’m crazy placing large orders of expensive leather,” she says, “but you have to be willing to take risks. You have to put yourself out there. You have to have the passion for it, and trust in yourself and your brand.”

It may be risky. It may be scary.

“But I wasn’t raised to give up,” says Dobson. “I was raised to work hard and make smart decisions in times of stress. I guess it’s my cowgirl and western spirit.”

Queck-Matzie is a freelance writer from Greenfield.