Women turn leather industry scraps into bikinis
Miami, Brazil seen as market for skimpy designs
NORTHVILLE Leatherworking is not a new business in Fulton County, but a modern spin on cowhide merchandise probably would have made early 20th-century glove-makers blush.
POM Beachwear is a Northville-based company that provides unique, leather bikinis. The company that touts it’s “made for women, by women” appeal began its journey less than a year ago.
Last summer, while discussing the fate of leftover scraps at the few remaining leather companies in Fulton County, a group of outdoor-loving friends started to play with the idea of luxury leather bikinis.
After many months spent toying with designs that co-owner and company spokeswoman Wendy Hotaling referred to as “primitive,” the group of four women and their families pulled together to find the right type of leather for their bikinis. Their focus was to find a treatment that would allow the suits to hold up against chlorine, salt water, and other summertime wears and tears, while remaining comfortable and fashionable.
“We were wearing them ourselves, to see how they felt, to see if they made us feel hot, because they are leather. One of the girls took a suit with them on a trip to the Dominican Republic to see how it reacted to suntan lotion, if it could be washed out, things like that. The whole process has been trial and error,” Hotaling said.
Another of the company’s co-owners, Bart Avery, is also the CEO of Perrone Aerospace, a Fultonville leather company that manufactures, cleans, repairs and designs aviation leather products. He is a third-generation leather worker who has seen the industry change tremendously since the days of his grandfather’s tannery.
“The garment end of the industry has nearly faded away completely in Fulton County, but we’ve come together to do something really unique,” Avery said. He hopes the specialty leather bikinis will be noticed in the fashion industry and bring some steam back to leather work in the region.
Early in its history, Fulton County became a national center for glove production, giving Gloversville its name. But in the latter half of the 20th century, when labor became too expensive, Avery said, many leather companies went overseas.
He said POM Beachwear’s American-made standard should appeal to a niche market. Currently, all of the leather treatment, dying and trimming is done at Perrone Aerospace, and the suits are sewn and assembled by hand.
Since the business’s official opening in February, it has sold 12 bikinis. The company hopes to expand manufacturing as sales increase, but want to remain completely American-made. Right now, their roundtable “work parties” are enough to fulfill their orders.
The current designs are not modest, and Hotaling says that while the company’s target demographics are women in Florida and South America, they are working on designs that cater to the regular consumer, as well as swim accessories.
“Our suits are definitely not something people would wear up on Sacandaga Lake, but in places like Miami and Brazil, if someone wears a thong on the beach, no one even thinks about it,” Hotaling said.
The result: unique and individually designed swimwear worthy of high-profile pool parties and centerfold photo shoots.
In less than six months since its official opening, the company has already seen its suits in Chulo Magazine and was a serious contender for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit edition.
Out of more than 2,000 submissions, POM’s specialty suit was one of 200 that made it to the shoot for model fitting. Ultimately, it didn’t make the final cut, but in the company’s first year, just being recognized was “almost” was good enough.
“We laugh about it now because our designs have come quite a long way since we submitted the Sports Illustrated design,” Hotaling said.
She also thinks the business could bring new interest to an industry that has deep roots in Fulton County, and even the possibility for rebirth. The technology and chemicals used by POM Beachwear are cheaper and more efficient, according to Avery, which he said could bring a booming business back to Fulton County.