BY Emilyn Teh
Dana Glaeser, the 37-year-old owner of Slightly Alabama, was among nearly 3,000 participants in the NY NOW Trade Show in late August. He showcased a collection of small, leather, handmade men’s accessories at the biannual event, which was attended by over 25,000 people at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.
According to statistics by NPD Group, overall sales for men’s accessories grew nine percent to $13.6 billion in the 12 months leading up to May 2014, including a 5 percent increase for small leather goods. “Today, more men are looking to stand out in a crowd,” chief industry analyst, Marshal Cohen said in a press release. “Accessories are a way to make a bold statement without having to overhaul their wardrobes.”
To participate in the trade show, exhibitors go through a jurying process, either by the sales team or by a third party of industry experts, according to Cathy Steel, NY NOW PR consultant. Once exhibitors were approved, they chose from exhibition packages that started at $3,800.
Glaeser, whose line runs from $30 for a bracelet to over $1,400 for a bag, also showcased a selection of women’s purses and lifestyle items. “The first item I made was the Dublin Tote,” he said. “My fiancée bought us a trip to Ireland for my birthday and I sketched the design of the women’s tote on the plane to Dublin. We put it on the web and it sold the next day.”
Glaeser has been both a high school English teacher and a marketing executive at New York Life. But he grew up in a creative environment – his grandmother was an interior designer and his grandfather was a woodworker – so in June, 2013, he started planning his company, which opened four months later. A month after that, he quit his job. He admits that he took “a total risk” and invested all his savings in his company.
Slightly Alabama has already received media attention from British Vogue, British Glamour and DailyCandy. However, Glaeser did not give much thought to showing his collection during New York Fashion Week, which would have cost at least $200,000, according to the fashion news site, Fashionista.
“I don’t see Slightly Alabama as a fashion brand,” Glaeser said. “I see myself as an artisan or craftsman and my designs come out of that. We’re producing products for a lifetime of use and not really focusing on trends or seasonal looks.”
Starting this month, customers can purchase Glaeser’s products from over 30 stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, and on the Slightly Alabama website. Grand Harvest Wines, which is located at Grand Central, is one of the stores that carries Glaeser’s products. Store owner Bruce Nevins said, “The products reflect the store’s image of utmost quality and that the wine caddies are of great design, craftsmanship and quality.”
Glaeser sources his materials from two U.S. tanneries, Horween Leather Company in Chicago, IL. and Hermann Oak Leather in St. Louis, MO, established in 1905 and 1881, respectively. His pieces are then stitched together by hand in his Manhattan workspace using a European saddle-stitching technique. The products are finished with sand-casted brass hardware.
Because in-sourcing increases the cost of production, Glaeser charges a premium for his products. “Our leather is very expensive and of the highest quality,” Glaeser said. “There is also a value proposition that comes with our product in terms of brand story and quality of craftsmanship.”
“It is up to small businesses to decide how they are going to market their products to their advantage and educate consumers,” Christine Helm, coordinator at the enterprise center of the Fashion Institute of Technology said. “I am among the many hoping we are at a turning point with the consumer, where they are willing to spend more for sustainable products, made in the U.S. and sourced in the U.S.”
“We serve a specific type of customer who is interested in more than a seasonal product,” said Glaeser, “who is interested in the quality of the entire production cycle and the origin of the hide. And we find that those customers are out there.”
Slightly Alabama hired its first employee, leather worker Rick Jones, last spring. Although Glaeser does not yet have sales figures for his first year, or projections for the coming one, he hopes to establish a concept store with a retail location, an operating design studio and an artisan program, to cultivate new talent and give the apprentices a platform to sell their designs.
Correction: An earlier version of this post spelled NY NOW in upper- and lower-case, and referred to PR consultant Cathy Steel as Media Inquiries & Exhibitor PR representative, which is how she was listed on the NY NOW website.