In 1974, Mike Van der Sleesen set up shop on Thayer street in South Boston selling custom motorcycle jackets. Almost 40 years later, Vanson Leathers has established itself as the world’s premier, purpose-oriented leathers brand, building custom leather jacket designs for elite clientele that includes the Pentagon Police, Motorcycle speed-record holders, the Boston P.D. Special Operations Unit, Connecticut and Massachusetts Motorcycle State Police, and even legendary Comme des Garcons designer Junya Watanabe.
Mike and crew have since outgrown their original spot, and his operation now inhabits a stone monolith- reminiscent of a Cold War Era bomb shelter- in the sprawling factory town of Fall River, Massachusetts, about an hour south of us here in Boston.
Last Tuesday, my buddy Konstantinos (who recently moved from Paris where he worked in marketing for Maison Martin Margeila, and now holds a special role at Vanson) picked me up from the Middleborough Commuter Rail station, fed me a greasy, delectable Philly Cheesesteak, and then turned me loose in the building for the next several hours. First, he showed me the whole operation; he introduced me to each member of the crew as he walked me by their workstations and let each explain their role in production, from R&D to hand-painting, to supervising work flow. Then Kontantinos showed me all the high-tech machines Mike invested in to give his manufacturing a sophisticated edge- like CNC Routers and Robotic Waterjet Cutting for intricate details like zipper pulls and custom lettering. After letting me wander around the factory floor for another hour or so just snapping pictures of whatever looked neat, he took me back downstairs to the archives, where I was allowed to excavate- and found some incredible gems. There was function, form, fashion, and flash. There were the State Cop jackets that weighed 25 pounds each, the wild camo Prints from Junya, the leather so thick it creaked and squeaked when it bent at the elbows- and the smells of fresh and old leather mixing with the smoke from Mike’s little cigarillo he kept pinched in the corner of his mouth as he worked over stacks and stacks of paperwork- and surrounding it all was this very profound sense that these people took their jobs seriously- they regarded their work as craft. It was humbling.
We will be very pleased to carry a few select classics from Vanson Leathers in the coming months- and even a custom piece just for the WW. The quality of Vanson Leathers is self evident in every product, the company’s in-house design team is adapting incredibly well to emerging fashion trends, and the price is very reasonable compared to other brands in the marketplace. And best of all, you can feel good about owning something a whole team of really great people poured their hearts into making- right here in Massachusetts.
Thanks for reading,