With roughly $300 billion in sales predicted for 2014, the fashion industry is a big business dominated by big businesses looking to become even bigger. When smaller houses are gobbled up by conglomerates, their connection to their craft and product is often treated as an asset rather than a legacy. But, for family-owned businesses, that sense of connection with the product and the customer is so deeply personal it becomes almost sacred. Compromising on the creation of shirts, blankets, glasses, jackets, bags, or shoes is one thing if you're in the apparel business and something else entirely if you're part of a longstanding tradition.
We talked to two generations of America's six most prosperous family-owned style companies about where their companies came from, where their companies are going, and the most memorable product they make.
The Will Leather Duffle
With its rugged combination of vegetable-tanned leather, 18 oz. cotton canvas, and steel-molded hardware, the Will Leather Goods Traveler Duffle in canvas and leather is a prime example of the Eugene, Oregon, brand's approach, as well as evidence of the eldest Adler's evolution as a designer. The bag is a far cry from the brightly hued "Billy Belts" Adler made popular in the early eighties before founding Spirit Leather Works, spending a long time working with Nike, and – six years ago – establishing Will Leather Goods.
Today, the Adlers' employ some 150 people in Eugene and more in a number of facilities abroad. At the Oregon flagship and the second store on Venice's Abbot Kinney Boulevard, sturdy, classic totes, tablet sleeves, and belts share shelf space with horsehair keychains and messenger bags made of repurposed coffee sacks. The feel is both rustic and aspirational. With the company about the open its first outlet in New York, Will Leather Goods is expanding rapidly and Will has all the more reason to take one of his beautiful duffles on the road. [$395; willleathergoods.com]
Credit: Photograph by Michael Pirrocco