Starting A Leather Goods Brand and Manufacturing Your Own Products

Published: July 27th, 2018
Jacques Flynn
Founder, JAQET
from Kawartha Lakes, Ontario, Canada
started March 2012
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Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hello! My name is Jacques Flynn.I am the founder and owner of the leather goods company JAQET.

We produce a variety of leather goods, but focus mostly on slim, tailored and meticulously handcrafted wallets and card holders. I started the company 6 years ago by myself with about $500.

We now consist of a small team based in Long Beach, California where all our products are hand made under one roof. We currently sell our products in boutiques across the globe as well as through our website.

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I am a car designer by day (I still work full time as a car designer). I am always looking beyond the automotive design world to satisfy my creative needs.

Designing cars is a dream come true, but we are a large team and it is very much a team effort. I wanted to create something that I had 100% control over, and see where that might lead me.

I think it’s very important to first establish a very clear vision… What is it you want to accomplish? After that, it is very important that all efforts go to supporting that one vision.

I was very interested in seeing the entire product creation, design and manufacturing process from start to finish. With a car being such a complex and intricate product, it is impossible to see the entire process first hand, but I was always interested in the areas I was not responsible for.

Fashion has always provided lots of inspiration for me, and i thought it would be great to try and design some sort of fashion accessories or line. I felt wallets would be a great start, as I had trouble finding the one I wanted and saw a bit of a gap in most of what was being offered.

Most of the wallets I saw available for a reasonable price range were rather large, bulky and lacked a sense of quality and craft. All I wanted was something slim with some style and well made!

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

I started the process much like I do my day to day work as an automotive designer, beginning with simple pen sketches. I created a few paper mock ups just to see the proportions and make sure cards fit. As I was doing this I was also creating the packaging to the wallets. I was very interested and excited to create the boxes and the brand to my product. The logo went through several iterations around this time.

After I had decided on what the design was going to be, I contacted some factories in LA that I thought would be able to make the pieces. I worked with them for a few weeks but then realized that the quality I wanted and the price I wanted to pay was not going to work out. I wanted all our pieces to be hand stitched. A stitch done by hand, called a saddle stitch, is much stronger and more durable than the typical machine stitch.

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So, after realizing that the LA factories would be unable to support us, I began to learn the skills I needed to make the wallet that I wanted. I practiced for weeks to get the perfect saddle stitch and kept refining the design at the same time.

After getting comfortable with the skills I needed to produce a wallet, I made a few of them and gave them to friends (to test). I also used one and simply tested over and over again until the right one was achieved! Everyone seemed to really like the design, and since none of them fell apart, I knew I was on to something. I even started getting requests for wallets at this point from others that had seen the test pieces of my friends.

I knew I had a good product, design and function were well flushed out. I then decided on what the initial line would look like. I didn’t just want to have 1 wallet in 1 color. I designed 3 wallets in 4 colors; a total of 12 items. We had the Landscape wallet, the Portrait wallet, and the Coin wallet. The colors we initially offered were Blaq, Redwood, Midnight, and Saddle.

The colors were also a very unique part of the Jaqet brand. Unlike most leather goods companies, we hand dye all our leather in house. This process is long, extremely dirty and very hard to keep consistent. The process of mastering this step in our manufacturing was almost the hardest. We tried many different colors over and over and many different sealers to keep the colors bright. We finally settled on the 4 initial colors, but have since expanded our line to include another 4 JAQET specific colors.

The tough part came next. I needed to create some inventory! I only created about 4-6 of each SKU at the beginning. This way i could sell some and see which ones were popular and react quickly. This also was not very expensive. Two good leather hides provided all the leather I needed to create the initial inventory for the entire company.

Describe the process of launching the online store/business.

Launching the actual online store was pretty simple. I used a Shopify store and bought a cheap theme. I bought it much earlier then when I planned on launching.

I feel we had a very curated and professional appearance on the web right away. This helped get the attention of some very popular fashion and design blogs. When they wrote and posted, we got flooded.

This gave me time to customize and tweak the store to exactly what i wanted. I learned a ton in this process, as I had never coded or done any kind of web design. The support staff at Shopify and the 3rd party who designed the store theme were very helpful.

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The store cost was cheap, about 60 bucks to get it started.

I also TradeMarked JAQET, LLC through a lawyer I found online. She was extremely helpful and ended up doing some of the work for trade. She also helped me create an LLC later on. I think in the end the Trademark and LLC creation cost me about $700.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The most traffic we get is from journalists, blogs, media coming to us, learning about our brand and writing about it. I feel we had a very curated and professional appearance on the web right away. This helped get the attention of some very popular fashion and design blogs. When they wrote and posted, we got flooded.

We have a Facebook and Instagram account, and also run some web ads, and while these do work, they don’t work as well as the genuine reviews and stories about the brand.

How is everything going nowadays, and what are your plans for the future?

Currently, JAQET is in a place where hopefully all small businesses get to but at the same time can be a difficult spot to navigate.

We are small and can keep up with the current demand but in order to really grow we need to make the financial and time commitments.

I hope that in the next year or so we can make the larger investment and continue to grow while expanding our product line. I would love to move more into a fashion line while continuing to develop world class leather goods.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Doing the work up front to get the product to its absolute best is key. If the product is not up to snuff then all the other efforts can only do so much. With a product that has been refined and thought out properly, all the other things like branding and marketing will simply support all the up front work.

Having said that, I was not prepared for how much marketing and publicity is needed to really get things going, especially when it comes to longevity. We hit the ground running and got some great exposure early, but the challenges really came later with maintaining that exposure and interest.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Shopify is the platform we use and it has been top notch. Very easy to use and helps with bookkeeping immensely.

We use Quickbooks for the book keeping, and while I did it at first to learn the basics I know outsource those efforts.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I can’t say there have been many books or things like that but any kind of travel is always quite inspiring. I was recently in Portland, and the amount of small businesses up there doing incredibly creative stuff was very inspiring.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

I think it’s very important to first establish a very clear vision… What is it you want to accomplish? After that, it is very important that all efforts go to supporting that one vision.

It sounds simple, but I think it is very easy to get distracted or even discouraged and quickly depart from the initial thought and idea. If you are confident in your design/product/service then you have to stay that confident throughout the entire process. No doubt you will get push back or feedback that doesn’t quite support your vision, but just stay the course and see it through to the end.

Where can we go to learn more?

Facebook: @jaqetbrand/

Instagram: @jaqet