By Maria Halkias The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) "Leatherology" is an online superstore of men's and women's leather accessories. The company's specialty is painted-on monogramming and stripes which recently caught the attention of fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg.
The Dallas Morning News
Rae Liu and David Liu were born and raised in Far North Dallas and went to Plano schools. Then, like so many of their peers, they went off to find their places in the world.
Instead, the sister and brother discovered that they had learned enough to come back home to Texas and build a family business full time.
Leatherology, an online superstore of 200 styles of men's and women's leather accessories that come plain or personalized, is based in a 75,000-square-foot combination office/warehouse on Plano Parkway.
The siblings were raised in an entrepreurial household. Rae and David, with their father, David Liu, developed Leatherology as part of the Liu family business, DC International, in 2008. DC also owns Coverstore, an e-commerce business that makes and sells storage covers for outdoor furniture and equipment.
Rae, 39, came back to Texas in 2011 after working as an accessories development manager at Alexander Wang in New York.
Before that, her political science degree from Columbia University got her a job at the World Bank.
"I didn't love it," she said. "I wanted a faster pace of work."
She dabbled in culinary classes before deciding that the fashion business was her calling. She went back to school at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
"I was humbled as a 25-year-old to start over," she says.
David, 34, worked in consulting for Deloitte after graduating from Georgetown University, then spent six years at Google, where he led verticals in advertising solutions in New York and London. He, too, gained handy skills and experience for online retailing before he moved back here in 2016.
"I always knew I wanted to come back," he said. "And now I'm the marketing person with the checklists, and she's the creative one."
The younger generation has evolved the brand enough that it has grabbed the attention of fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who asked them to put a couple of her signature prints -- a leopard and geometric patterns -- onto leather.
Every item in the DVF collection, which includes wristlets, card cases and Leatherology's signature Belmont tote, is individually screen-printed by hand.
The merchandise is being sold on both companies' websites and in select Diane von Furstenberg stores.
Leatherology puts an emphasis on craftsmanship, and the Liu family owns the factory in China that makes its leather goods.
But the personalization happens in its headquarters in Carrollton, just over the Plano line.
The company's specialty is painted-on monogramming and stripes, and workers add monograms to "well over 100,000" items a year, Rae said.
One letter can take an hour to paint because some color and leather combinations require multiple coats.
The Lius are just beginning to take their show on the road with an old-fashioned embossing machine on wheels. They popped into White's Mercantile in Nashville last month. This week they're in Charleston, S.C., at the Fieldshop by Garden & Gun at the Dewberry Hotel, part of a collaboration with Garden & Gun magazine on custom prints.
In November, they'll be in New York's Meatpacking District.
Their approach is to offer affordable luxury, and the brand's labels are always inside the items. "No heavy logos," Rae said. "We want to be classic."
The siblings don't want Leatherology to become a wholesale business with merchandise sold by other retailers or to open their own branded stores.
"We like the nimbleness. We only met with Diane von Furstenberg in May," David said.
Running an online store and a physical store couldn't be more different, they agreed. Just moving a mirror from a corner into the middle of the pop-up space in Nashville led to multiple handbag sales as people tried them on, Rae said.
"Online, we change the color of an item on the home page and sales in that color increase," David said. But he also says the physical experience of a pop-up gives them a noticeable lift in business.
Leatherology's corporate business accounts for about 20% of sales, and wedding party gifts are also a significant category. All of the items are shipped from the factory in gift boxes, which prevents damage, Rae said. And the company uses high-quality hard cardboard like department stores used to use.
Asked about tariffs and how that works, even if the factory in China is American-owned, Rae said, "Oh yes, we write a check to the U.S. government every week."
But it's a little bit of a pet peeve for them that there's so much focus on manufacturing jobs. The ability to import their goods allows Leatherology to hire a lot of people in Texas.
"All jobs matter," Rae said. "It's super shortsighted to say that only manufacturing jobs matter. We have 80 employees." The brother-sister team works with headquarters staffers to design, personalize and ship merchandise to their customers and operate the business side, including the website and customer service. They plan to hire 15 to 20 more people for the holiday crunch.
The private company won't give out sales numbers, but it is profitable and self-funded with no debt, David said. "We're in it for the long term."
The Lius want to grow internationally next, first in English-speaking countries.
There's a strong bond between the siblings now, but that wasn't always the case. "No, he wasn't my best friend back then," said Rae, who is raising two children.
Both said they're impressed with how the region has grown and changed since Rae graduated from Plano Senior High in 1998 and David from Plano West in 2003.
They were like a lot of their friends who wanted to move away, Rae said, but now she sizes life up this way: "Shopping at Target here is amazing. Shopping at Target in Brooklyn is no fun."
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