Kathleen Murphy (KM): What is your history?
Christina Campagnoli (CC): My business partner Arturo founded this company in the early 1980’s in the Garment District of New York City. He immigrated from Lebanon, and New York was supposed to just be a quick stop on his way to reunite with his family in Canada. Long story short, he ended up working with a cousin who was already making bags and decided to stay in the states. After working for other manufacturing companies, he started his own where his main business was manufacturing briefcases. The business and manufacturing industries in general have changed drastically since the ’80’s and I’m happy we are still open and operating in the USA. Arturo and I became business partners in 2016 and I am the COO here at Leatherworks.
My focus has been to expand, market, and promote LBA as an industry leader. I always loved working with my hands and started learning about pattern making and sampling for accessories at age 13. I earned my BFA in Accessories Design and Fabrication from the Fashion Institute of Technology and also studied footwear pattern making and construction at Arsutoria in Milan. I have always worked in the handbag manufacturing industry, everything from patternmaking to product development and strategy consulting. I work to improve the business’ solid foundation every day by updating machinery, training employees, and working closely with our customers and our in house team to develop well-made products.
KM: What are your values?
CC: At LBA we value integrity, innovation, grit, attention to detail, open mindedness, and efficiency. I want our customers to feel comfortable and confident working and building a relationship with us. We work with many designers that require us to innovate new techniques to construct a design and bring it to life. When our customers know and truly feel that we are a partner to them and that their success is our success, I am happy.
KM: What do you most want to share with people about your work?
CC: I want to share that we are very communicative and can assist with all aspects of the process. We work with everyone at all stages of the design and development. Everyone is treated with kindness and respect whether they are a big brand with large volume production, a designer trying to build a collection, or a person with a handbag or accessory idea. We specialize in pattern making, sample making, sourcing, consulting, and large and small scale production. I do not want someone to feel discouraged just because this industry is new to them, that is why we are here.
KM: What should people know about sewing with leather? How does that affect the cost of goods?
CC: Working with leather is truly an art and I have always loved working with leather. There is nothing like the sweet yet earthy smell of a beautiful vegetable tanned hide. I also love how leather, especially veg tan leather, develops a rich, unique patina over time. It really wears with the customer and the patina will vary for each individual.
There is so much to understand about leather to make educated decisions; the grade, grain/ texture, weight, tanning process, origin, etc. Leather can either work with a design and compliment it or work against us while constructing the design. It is important to understand what leathers are great with certain handbag constructions and which will not give us the desired look for that product.
CC: Working with leather in general is more time consuming compared to fabric. The cutting process is more involved and requires further attention to detail. Working with leather also requires additional production steps like skiving and splitting that fabric does not require. We work with industrial sewing machines to stitch leather properly, change the machine needles depending on the leather we are working with, and do a variety of finishing techniques on leather such as folding, painting, burnishing, beveling, and creasing.
Leather products retail for higher price points because leather is a genuine hide and requires more time and expertise to develop the finished product. When someone supports a brand that makes leather goods, especially in the USA, they are supporting a long supply chain and many skilled artisans and designers along the way. They should feel great about that purchase and will enjoy the product for many years to come.
KM: What are the challenges?
CC: Some people look down on leather and feel that it is not made sustainably. Instead of purchasing a leather bag, they will purchase one made of polyurethane or polypropylene material. Those man made materials have a huge carbon footprint and are petroleum based. They require countless chemicals that are indissoluble and truly terrible for the environment, employees working with those materials, and the entire supply chain in general. I encourage education about sustainable leathers and tanning processes that are natural and date back to many ancient civilizations. Many people would be surprised and their buying habits and opinions may change.
KM: There are many terms used in the leather goods industry. How do you define the commonly used, and sometimes misused term – craftmanship, handmade, luxury?
CC: In recent years, many words that leather workers use commonly have become buzzwords. Some companies do a bait and switch with consumers based on using terms such as hand crafted, artisan made, and hand detail in their descriptions and branding. Brands that focus on trends and fast fashion have tried use these words in their marketing and I hope consumers do not fall for it. It takes away from companies and brands that truly value those traits and really take the time and energy to make their products properly and sustainably.
Another misconception is that a product does not have to be hand made or hand stitched to warrant a luxury price point. Many leather handbags and accessories require machine stitching for durability and precision. The term luxury should focus on the materials used, how the product was manufactured, and the supply chain behind the product. Luxury has become synonymous with high end brand names, and consumers that follow that logic are missing out on some amazing, very well made goods and brands that they would feel great supporting.
KM: How would you describe your manufacturing process?
CC: At LBA we are a currently a team of 15 people and do everything in house. Our pattern and sample makers develop paper pattern sets by hand, and once the design is approved for production, we create die mouldes. Production is die cut on the clicker machine by a person, not a mechanized robot. From there the cut leather, lining, and fillers move to our assembly tables where all the assembly happens. We have a large variety of sewing machines including flat beds, high posts, cylinder, cowboy, biding, and extended arm post machines. The bags will move back to the tables for cleaning and packaging. Throughout the process there are quality control checks and the work that is being done is reviewed step by step.
KM: What are your goals?
CC: My goal for LBA is to expand the strong foundation we have; always to be improving and changing for the better. I want to help our customers succeed so we can also succeed and continue to grow. I am proud to manufacture in the USA and that LBA is a woman co-owned business that encourages the continuation of this industry. There are not many handbag or accessories manufacturing companies left in the US, and I am proud that we are one of them.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share information about my business. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or inquiries!
KM: Thank you Christina!
Featured Photo by Ron Fernandez