Pride of Dakota member Smitten With Mittens
by Candi Helseth
Working together at Pride of Dakota events and area craft shows, Keith and Leslie Ogden, Cavalier, peddle an unusual combination from their booth: Leslie’s handmade mittens known as Smitten With Mittens and Keith’s book, “Humor on the Highway.” The retired schoolteacher and state trooper are enjoying their entrepreneurial venture.
Membership in Pride of Dakota (POD) has been a distinct advantage in helping them develop and grow the business, Leslie said. Smitten With Mittens is among more than 500 North Dakota POD members. Formed in 1985 by the N.D. Department of Agriculture, POD provides small business owners in the state with business development resources, support and marketing opportunities.
Smitten With Mittens was born in January 2007 when Leslie, newly retired, crafted her first pair of sweater mittens. She brought samples to teacher friends and asked them to wear and critique the mittens.
“I’d seen some homemade mittens for sale a few years ago and I had thought I could do them better and for less money,” she said. “But I wasn’t retired then and didn’t have time. The idea hadn’t left me though. Everyone in North Dakota and Minnesota needs mittens or gloves.”
Leslie’s mittens are form-fitting to a person’s hand size, have heavyweight fleece lining, longer wrists to fit under the coat sleeve and decorative buttons that jazz them up. She said they are lower in cost than competitors’ and she is able to keep costs down by purchasing recycled cotton and wool sweaters at the Cavalier Presbyterian Thrift Store where she volunteers.
“My favorite ones are what I call heritage mittens,” she commented. “Family members give me a sweater that was worn by someone they loved and I make mittens from it. Their stories are endearing to me.”
For instance, an about-to-be bride whose grandmother had died ordered mittens made from one of her grandmother’s sweaters. Wedding pictures included family members wearing their mittens. The bride told Leslie it made her feel like Grandma was with them.
Keith worked with Leslie as she began selling her mittens at craft shows in North Dakota and Minnesota. Eighteen months later, they joined POD. “That’s when our business really started taking off,” Leslie said. “We have learned so much with our membership, like how to display and sell our products better.”
Two years ago, when “Humor on the Highway” was published, they added the book to their booth. Keith says the products are complementary. “Leslie’s customers are mostly all women and their bored husbands come over to my side of the table to talk about my book,” he quipped.
“Humor on the Highway” was eight years in the making. Keith liked to write and had written articles for a fishing magazine for 11 years. Friends and family members kept encouraging him to write a book about the fun and quirky things that he had shared with them relative to his experiences as a highway patrolman. He began jotting down his recollections and eventually put them into book format.
“Being a state trooper is a job most people think of as pretty tough or scary,” he said. “Bad things do happen out there. But there is a lot of fun or the funny side of life that you see as a state trooper, too.”
Keith appreciated POD membership when he began looking for a publisher. Networking with other POD members led him to the most reasonably priced publisher. Since then, he has also been a resource for POD members writing books.
Leslie is expanding her product line with monkey items, making red heel sock monkeys and monkey-themed baby accessories such as hooded towels and bibs. Demand is steadily increasing and she supplies several North Dakota stores with her products.
The Ogdens also appreciate POD’s vendor assistance program, which helps with advertising and traveling costs attending shows out of state. POD members also sell their products through the POD website.
Recently, the Ogdens sold their hobby farm south of Cavalier where they have lived for the last 25 years. They plan to spend more time in the summers visiting the North Dakota state parks, particularly Lewis and Clark State Park near Williston where their daughter, Katie, is the assistant manager. With less grass to mow, Leslie said, they will have more time to travel – and to continue developing their growing business interests.
To learn more about Pride of Dakota, go to https://www.prideofdakota.nd.gov.
Candi Helseth is a freelance writer from Minot.