Tell us about your business.My story begins in north Alabama, where my family's from. It's where I spent my childhood learning woodworking and handcrafting. Most importantly, it's where my passion for making things was cultivated by my grandparents. I created Slightly Alabama in 2013 as a passion project, rising from a lifetime of working with my hands and a desire to build a brand, products and a company dedicated to quality over speed and timelessness over passing fads. After leaving a successful career in corporate America, I set out to build a team passionately committed to building the best possible brand we could. Today, we're a small team—i.e. two people and several friends who have leant their talent to help me grow the business I've dreamed about. More than a brand, I want to cultivate a team of artisans the way my family cultivated the passions within me.
Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.Currently, we work out of my 600 square foot apartment. Like most startups, we work with what we have, but it actually serves the brand and the product in a surprising way. We only use hand tools, so being in a small space allows us to focus on the micro details of the craft of each piece. Rather than having a large setting with machinery everywhere, we're never tempted to take the faster, cheaper or mass-production route. That being said, we use nearly 100 hand tools, a small sewing machine for fabric lining, silk screens, and have nearly 1,000 sq. ft. of leather on site at any time. We have to be structured, highly organized and purposeful to meet the demands of our customers. And that, in turn, lends itself to the product design and craftsmanship—intentional and thoughtful. We'll move to a larger space as we grow, but our business will always be about where we came from so as to ensure we continue to produce thoughtful and intentional design.
What inspires you?From a product and brand perspective, I'm most inspired by the tools and techniques of traditional leather making. I love tools and objects that were expertly engineered without the use of precision machinery. My product design generally starts with a hand tool or single technique that I want to feature in the craftsmanship. Everything comes from that. From a business perspective, my inspiration comes from those closest to me who seem to be as passionate about my success as I am. I never expected so many friends and family to freely give their support, encouragement, talent and time when I started planning this business. I had always planned to have to build it alone. When you combine the support of friends with the positive customer feedback we've received, it's hard not to be inspired everyday to continue pursuing the vision we started with. Quitting a corporate gig to pursue a small business like this is intimidating. Your passion gets you started, but others keep you going.
What makes your business stand out?The size of our business is unique, even for a small business startup, considering the place we're going after in the market. Given our size, it might seem to be a more natural fit to produce really small leather goods, which we do provide some of. However, our passion is in larger products with more refined finishes. The kind of products you give considerable thought to before buying and intend to keep for a lifetime. Bags are often produced using a sewing machine for many practical reasons. But we choose to make them completely by hand with a needle and thread, using traditional saddle stitching techniques. There are a lot of great artisans who still use this technique and we want to pay homage to that, continuing to do things the slow way. Because our hands are actually pushing the needle and thread through the leather, we are able to produce pieces with character that are much more durable.
What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?Rather than being only a creative who works for someone or an entrepreneur who hires creatives, you wear both hats. If your strength is on the creative side, that's a lever you can pull with relative ease at any time. Therefore, it's important that you focus your time at the beginning on being a business person. You can have a great idea, but if you don't have a sound business in place, you'll never get to pursue your passion for very long. On the other hand, if your strength is in being an entrepreneur, you're probably really good at doing a lot of things across the spectrum of running your business. This can spread you too thin and not give you enough time to design or create. Early, you'll want to bring in people who can do tasks that you think you should be doing as a business owner. Delegate and oversee, but spend your energy on your creations. At the start, you'll have to solicit the support of friends. If you believe in your vision, others will too and will want to help.
What does American Made mean to you?To me, American Made is actually a more universal celebration of individuality—most importantly of the individual who pursues a business with passion, purpose and integrity. Regardless of where a product is from, it's the people behind it that gives it value. The key is to get as close to the source of the product and understand the entire cycle. In doing this, our purchasing decisions have more significance. Being American Made is about getting close to the source by buying close to home. By doing so, we begin to celebrate the individuals who create not just at home, but all over the world and who live up to the same integrity, passion and purpose. Ultimately, it's about being thoughtful about our purchases and knowing the value of not just the product, but the producer. For the American maker, the sense of trust our customers put in the American Made product can inspire us to continue to live up to a high expectation and so it becomes a powerful cycle.
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VOTING BEGINSSep. 21, 2015
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WINNERS ANNOUNCEDOct. 23, 2015
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