Updated: Feb 23
There are MANY operators out there who call themselves gunleather makers (actually they use the term 'holster makers'). Here's a list compiled by a third party but it's not particularly helpful -- because the makers are not rated as bad/fair/good/better/best/finest.
Of that list there are only a handful who make their own designs and make them superbly. Yes it's been a long time since I've personally handled the goods of the smaller makers but I nevertheless have handled millions of holsters in my time -- and the makers who existed by the end of holstory's saeculum (mid-1980s) who are still around can be counted on still.
If they don't make their own designs and make them well, why should you buy from them at all?
So here's my recommendation list. I'll flesh it out at some point to tell you WHY as to each. And in the meantime, consider that a mere brand recommendation is far less useful to you as a consumer, than the recommendation of a particular MODEL that the company makes well. Even the smallest maker might have ONE model that it copied, such as the pancake, that it does well while its avenger or underarm shoulder holster is not 'optimized'. While a larger, well-established maker has had the benefit of decades of consumer experience to hone its holster models.
Recommended, in alpha order from the PDF above:
Below DeSantis in NYC, which produces its renditions of Paris Theodore's 1969 range because it was the marketplace that Gene DeSantis inherited early '70s (Federal agents liked Paris' goods but he could not deliver at first, then failed circa 1975, so they came to Gene). He still sells some of my designs for his company; and has some of hist own designs that are quite good. Quality of construction and materials is excellent. Gene was an engineering student when opportunities in gunleather came knocking so he understands that holsters are not the product of a craft but of a science. And he full well appreciates the importance of industrial design which is the melding of ergonomics (the interface of objects with humans) and styling (sex appeal).
This one below is 'vintage' and a direct copy of Paris' horizontal shoulder holster. The latter were new beginning with Chic Gaylord's invention of them for NASA's space program and yet Chic's were a bit on the crude side. Refined by Bob Angell mid-60s for Chic at first then for Paris, these became very functional and eye appealing.
Below El Paso Saddlery in TX, which produces its 'homages' to the early 20th century gunleather of the likes of Shelton-Payne Arms. Less well it has efforts at the Sunday scabbard, and then of late 20th century originals such as Bianchi's. Quality of materials and construction is excellent.
This one below is best associated with Shelton-Payne Arms of circa 1900 after Shelton himself sold off the original El Paso Saddlery and the new owners failed in the face of competition from SPA which even sold to Pancho Villa during the Mexican Revolution. Notice now the effort at duplicating the genuine EPS maker's mark which nevertheless fell short in its details; and today the stamp the company uses is merely similar. Important to know if you think you're buying genuine vintage EPS -- almost none survived but SPA holsters are not that uncommon -- but unimportant if its 'the look' you're after.
Bellow Galco in AZ, which originally was copies of Seventrees, then Bianchi and Safariland's designs in the 1970s. Galco has inherited the first-quality construction once used by Bianchi and abandoned when Bianchi's production was shifted to Mexico early 1990s. Galco very much adheres to the Bianchi/Safariland method of construction that is Wester School, aside from several of their designs that carry pistols far too high and so require too-thick/stiff/wide trousers belts the company has stayed on top of great quality of materials and construction. Today's Galco is the equal of the '70s Bianchi and improvements such as their injection molded paddle are superb advancements for consumers.
Below Milt Sparks in ID has been making the same darned designs for a half century. But they sure do them well. However there is no good reason to pay their prices nor wait out their delivery dates. Quality of materials and construction is excellent. It's unfortunate that the Sparks company has credited itself incorrectly with the innovations of others and that their people make only the now-ancient designs of the '70s. But if these designs are what you want then there is no better craftsmanship available in the concealment designs.
If your favorite maker is not listed it's most likely because they're no longer a first-quality maker that is still in business. Examples would include Alessi and Shoemaker in which cases both men have died.
So I say: if necessary BUY VINTAGE. The original makers were first rate and it's not unusual to find a 50 year old Bianchi -- I have several -- or Bucheimer-Clark that is as-new! One can't beat the Bianchi Model 9R-2 for a Chief's Special or Detective Special and it is available only vintage (no longer made by the company). Below, the brown thread shows this one was made after the company's sale to outsiders around 1990 and the lack of 'Made in MX" indicates before around 2000.
Read more in my book titled "Holstory -- Gunleather of the Twentieth Century -- the Second Edition" that is available at www.holstory.com and printed for you/shipped to you in USA.