Dana Glaeser Talks Slightly Alabama’s Handmade Leather Goods
Like many of today’s artisans, Dana Glaeser started his professional career before taking the plunge and founding Slightly Alabama, his own leather goods label in 2013. Slightly Alabama took off, and now customers can’t get enough of the line of accessories, especially the River Flask, which is comprised of a seven-ounce steel flask encased in a leather holder. The Manual quizzed Glaeser, who has an atelier in Ridgewood, New York, about how he started the brand, the elements of Slightly Alabama and where he would like to see it go.
What made you want to go from your day job to start Slightly Alabama?
I actually left teaching a long time ago and entered the advertising/marketing industry for about 10 years. I started as a copywriter down South and then was recruited to NYC as an in-house creative director. After many years in the industry, I had learned a lot about business, marketing and brand development. My passion for design and working with my hands was something cultivated in me from a very early age, but I never thought of it as a career. It seemed to be calling to me to build my own thing and when I looked back on the career I had had so far, I realized I’d developed some important skills that could help me make my passion into a business. Understanding how balance sheets and cash flow statements work and how to launch a brand and market it were all part of my career in advertising and then my years teaching gave me the skills necessary to build an apprenticeship program within my studio to foster and grow great artisan talent. It just seemed like all the necessary pieces were in place.
How does Slightly Alabama evoke the qualities of the South? How do you incorporate everywhere else you’ve lived into the products?
The name Slightly Alabama has more to do with me as a designer and artisan than anything else. First and foremost, Alabama is where I’m originally from. My mother, father, grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, etc… are all from two tiny towns on the Tennessee River in North Alabama. And I lived there until I was 10. But even after moving to Titusville, Florida, we’d spend every Christmas, Thanksgiving and summer back in Alabama. It’s the place where I learned to paint and draw and make crafts. Aside from hanging out with my family, there wasn’t a whole else for me to do, so I’d spend a lot of time figuring out how to paint and make things. My grandmother in Decatur, Alabama, had an interior design shop that I’d play around in. She always had tons of drafting pencils and pens that she’d give me to draw with. So my training as a designer really came from these places.
Years later, living in New York among the sort of chaos of the city and business life, I found myself daydreaming of those days back in Alabama and what made me happy as a person. I decided to make a push to build the kind of life I sort of had back then where I could just make things all day. Of course I had to recognize that having grown up in Titusville, Florida, and the travels I had done around the world as well as living in New York all also would have an influence on where I’d take the company creatively.
Slightly Alabama as a name felt like an honest foundation to what this brand is and where it started, but knowing that I wasn’t going to try to evoke some kitschy interpretation of the South. I want my products to be universal products that embody a sense of style and can be relevant and timeless. In many ways, my products come from this sort of juxtaposition where we feature the qualities of hand craftsmanship and the slow process necessary to produce something of this quality (you’ll see this in the stitching on every piece), but then we add the elements of refinement (i.e. waxed and burnished edges) and contemporary design.
What are the elements of Slightly Alabama that go into every one of its products? What are its signature markings?
The signature markings of nearly every product is the stitch-line. We use a type of saddle stitch that is done by hand (i.e. no sewing machines). You’ll notice a slight diagonal to each stitch, which is a hallmark of this technique so I look for ways to incorporate this into every design. Another element of design I play with is symmetry and juxtaposition. You’ll notice waved lines on the pockets of our wallets and sometimes exaggerated features of refined products. For example, our new line of briefcases are very traditional in design, but have this single 1.5″ strap closure to them as opposed to two tinier buckle straps.
Who is your target customer?
Our brand aesthetic is predominantly males, 30 and up, who appreciate a heritage brand. They might wear a suit and tie during the week, but they’re wearing boots, jeans and a t-shirt on the weekends and driving around in muddy trucks. However, all of our products are fairly unisex and we have tons of female customers buying for themselves. In fact, my wife uses many of our pieces for herself. Our trucker wallet was originally designed for men, but she loops the lanyard and uses it as a wristlet.
What are your best selling items?
Our best selling item is by far our River Flask. I’m really proud of the design of this piece and our customers love it.
How many employees do you have?
I have one full-time employee, one part-time, and one apprentice at this time.
Where would like to see the brand move forward?
Well, of course, we want to grow the brand as big as possible while maintaining our core strength of hand-stitched products. I want to add as many apprentices-to-full-time employees as possible because this is really what it’s all about for us: building a legacy and training great artisans so that the craftsmanship of quality goods never goes away. We’d like to open a retail shop with an atelier included in and then be able to move larger scale production back down to the Shoals area in northwest, Alabama where my family’s from. But for right now, we want to keep making great products and fulfilling all of our obligations to our customers.
For more information, visit slightlyalabama.com.