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.
He didn't know it at the time, but ending up unemployed and on the Venice Beach boardwalk was perhaps the best thing that ever happened to William Adler. When an actors' strike pushed pause on a career that included appearances in films and hit seventies television series – Wonder Woman, Welcome Back, Kotter – Adler began selling colorful belts from a stand on the boardwalk. "I was selling three, four, five hundred web belts on a weekend, and that's what got me back into my family's business," recalls Adler, whose father and brother both worked in the retail. Now named Will Leather Goods, Adler’s brand is a full-fledged family affair, with son and daughter both employed by their father, who now operates the business out of Eugene, Oregon.