Please give us a brief history of Italo Leather and your experience in the leather industry.
Italo leather has been a leading leather skin supplier on the West Coast for over thirty years. In the last few months they had a desire to open a new location in New York City’s Garment Center and approached me to set up, organize and run that operation. I’ve organized the showroom and the warehouse in a way that I can operate it solo for the first few months and once we start getting our firm footing in the market here we will hire more people.
Before Italo, I was working with Libra Leathers Inc, the premier leather skin supplier here in New York City since 1977. For the last 18 years I ran the gamut from from sales to manufacturing to production to administrative work. I was a key person there for many, many years.
Does your family have a history in supplying leather in New York City?
My father was a leather cutter, born in Argentina, exposed to leather at a very young age. He was raised in a town where there was a big slaughter house and tanning facilities. In the early ‘60s he decided to take an adventure and move up to New York where there was a mecca for manufacturing, especially in leather. He decided to come here for a few months before bringing the whole family and became a master leather cutter in the garment center around 1964.
What was the Garment Center like at that time?
The vibrancy of the Garment Center back in the mid ‘60s to the end of the ‘70s was something to behold. You could not walk down any of these local streets without seeing 10-20 racks being pushed up and down the sidewalk. You couldn’t push the merchandise fast enough out of these factories. There were those racks going out to the trucking companies who were all stationed here between 9th and 10th Avenue from the high thirties down to the twenties. All of those consolidated trucking companies were there to receive leather and wool coats on racks ready to ship to the stores.
Has your industry changed since you started 18 years ago?
It’s changed dramatically over the last 15 to 16 years. Before the advent of the internet the world wasn’t so small and a lot of these designers, unless they actually traveled to Europe during the leather fairs, never had direct contact with the leather tanneries. Designers used to come almost exclusively to people like us, who basically are leather middle men, and we would expose them to all these great leathers from Europe and other parts of the world. Since then you have designers and manufacturers buying directly from tanneries. That has brought a lot of tanners, who before never used to travel to New York, to show their collections.
How have you adapted to those changes?
You definitely have to adapt. We have to work on much higher margins, we have to try to show leathers that are perhaps very different from what the designers may be seeing when they travel, so it’s really ramped up the efforts on our part. You also have to be a lot more tolerant with the demands from the designers in terms of color and quality. If they see a particular leather in a particular shade of red and that red comes in 5% too pink, you better be able to adjust before shipping those goods. There are a lot more testing protocols, there are a lot more compliance issues that you have to deal with today. A lot of buyers and manufacturers are very concerned about the tanning processes, about what type of chemicals are being used to make sure that everything fits with the compliance regulations especially set by the EPA here.
Why should manufacturers buy from a supplier rather than directly from a tanner?
Designers and manufacturers want to buy from the tanner primarily because of price. What’s the advantage of buying from somebody like us? Number one, we’re here. Whether we bring skins here or whether we ship to a manufacturing facility in the far East, we stand behind the leather. We take financial risk. If there’s a claim, we’re here. If a customer calls me and tells me they got a garment in from China and the skins don’t look the same, in a subway ride I can get to the customer and take a look at the garment and examine what the issue may be and try to resolve it. Whereas when you’re dealing with a tannery direct, you have language barriers and you may not get the result as fast as you want it.
What is the best part of supplying in New York City?
The beauty of supplying leather here is that the fashion district is so concentrated. I love it when a customer calls and they’re looking for particular leathers and I can say ‘I can be up to see you with 50 skins in half an hour”. Whereas if they call a tannery in Europe, they’re not going to get that kind of service, it may take 2 to 3 weeks to get a sample. And they may not be able to get the variety of skins that they’re looking for. Also, I just like the interaction of working with the New York based manufacturer and designer.
Do you feel like there is anything the City could do to help your industry?
One of the things that can be done is promoting the fact that we’re here. The other day I got a called from a teacher at FIT because she saw one of the listings that I did with the Garment Center District and she had never heard the name before, so she called to ask questions. I gave her some of the background and now she’s going to be sending her students up here to buy skins. That sort of promotion really would help.
What’s next for you all?
We’ve only been here a couple of months, what I’ve been doing in these first few months is planting the seeds to get our name out there. I feel that Italo can find a niche here that is moderately priced. We’re trying to help the small designer or the emerging designer, who perhaps can’t afford to pay for high leather skin prices especially when they start out sampling. We will tend to be very competitive when it comes to production quantities and our production minimums won’t be as high. I think that if we reach out to the small and emergent manufacturer and designer the word will pass around and we’ll get a more firm footing in this market.