Quality is a word that gets bandied about a lot in the fashion industry, but that doesn't mean it's actually a common feature amongst the goods on offer at your local department store. On the lower end of the totem pole, the proliferation of has made clothing cheaper and more disposable than ever, and according to Dana Thomas's 2007 bestseller "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster," many of the priciest luxury brands have cut corners when it comes to material and construction, too.
While some may be too distracted by sparkly advertising, popularity among Instagram influencers and celebrity endorsements to notice, others — like Lindy McDonough, creative director of Lotuff Leather — are determined to quietly combat the decline in genuinely high-caliber goods.
"Our goal is to make the best bag you'll ever have," she says in an interview at Lotuff's light-filled studio in Providence, Rhode Island. "And the last bag you'll ever have."
McDonough and her colleagues at Lotuff are so attuned to the makings of a quality bag that they're the kind of people who walk into Prada's Milan showroom and find themselves critiquing stitches or edge-painting techniques. It's not that they want to bring other brands down, it's just that they've logged countless hours training themselves to notice the little things.
"We're maybe a little bit on the controlling side," McDonough laughs, "but I think if you care about a great bag, that's probably a good thing."
Founded in 2012 by Joe and Rick Lotuff, a pair of brothers with years of experience in American manufacturing, the brand makes an array of men's and women's leather goods that prize quality of design, materials and construction above everything else. After initially launching in partnership with a Connecticut leather workshop headed by men who have been in the business for decades, Lotuff has since invested in its own studio and brought about 70 percent of its production in-house.
"I've seen bags that one of the Connecticut leatherworkers made that are 40 or 50 years old," McDonough explains. "He's an important part of that process in terms of how things are going to age, how they're going to perform [over time]."
But the leadership at Lotuff is just as proud of the younger talent on the team, which is culled from prestigious art schools like RISD in Providence and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Lotuff offers a 30-hour workweek and full benefits, making it easy for employees to maintain an art practice outside of work, and the employees in turn offer Lotuff the precision and skill of trained artists. The outcome is a workshop that is full of the wackiness, camaraderie and intensity found in an art school shared studio space the weekend before portfolio critiques.
"It allows for the quality to be just insane," McDonough explains of the employee demographic. "It's a quality that you wouldn't be able to get anywhere else."
The skill of the craftspeople is just one element that contributes to the caliber of Lotuff's pieces, however. Another comes from the way the tight-knit team works together on every detail. Rather than designing on a computer, sending an image to have patterns made on the other side of the world and then sending that pattern to another factory to have bags constructed, Lotuff does it all in one large room. Designers can and do construct their own patterns, and they're just feet away as other Lotuff employees select what parts of a leather hide to cut or begin to stitch edges. Each bag is individually numbered as a way to keep tabs on who worked on each product.
"As we grow, we're trying to develop a true house," McDonough says. "That's the only way to really maintain quality. You're in charge of all the different levers that could be an issue... If we could be the American Hermès a hundred years from now, that'd be pretty cool."
Another set of carefully controlled variables in Lotuff's formula for excellence involves the materials used. From Japanese zippers to American thread to solid brass hardware ("you could put it on a sanding wheel and it's brass, that finish, all the way to the core," says McDonough), each element of a Lotuff bag is carefully vetted.
RESOURCE - WHITNEY BAUCK