New Orleans Brand Celebrates 10th Anniversary, Leaving Katrina Devastation Behind
Not many men can describe down to the smallest detail the belt they are wearing on any given day. But Tom Garner can, and today it is a 40mm Venetian calfskin belt in black with an etched Italian brass nickel coated buckle. He has a long list of favorites, including exotic skin belts like bison, alligator, crocodile, ostrich and lizard, but according to Garner, the calfskin belt he’s sporting today is “perfect for jeans.” He should know. Tom Garner is co-founder and co-owner of Torino Leather Company, a premier U.S. manufacturer and supplier of fine belts and leather goods, renowned for its old world craftsmanship.
The story behind the Torino Leather Company is remarkable, as are the men and women who work there. Epic Mens is proud to carry the Torino Leather brand, and at our request, Garner described the company’s early days. The New Orleans-based manufacturer of luxury leather products opened its doors on January 1, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina after its predecessor, Torino Belts, was permanently closed due to the devastating floods. Garner and his partners, Srini Pitikiti, Al Berger, and Diane Breland, are all previous longtime employees of Torino Belts, and together they represent 88 years of leather-work experience.
Despite their collective know-how, starting a business under such harsh conditions was a challenge. “The first 18 months after Katrina was a blur to all of us,” Garner recalled, explaining that labor was expensive and hard to come by. Much of the equipment had been damaged by sea water and had to be repaired or replaced. And then the Great Recession hit in 2008, followed by the BP oil spill in 2010. Still, the Torino Leather Company survived. In fact, it not only survived, it thrived – reporting steady growth each year.
Surprisingly, Garner said none of the partners ever considered moving away from New Orleans. “This is everyone’s home…it wasn’t even a conversation,” he asserted. “Fearsome weather-related catastrophes are becoming commonplace all across the country, so why move anywhere [else]?” Instead, a new, safer, more convenient site was chosen within the city’s boundaries. Eventually, employees who had been forced to evacuate moved back and took advantage of the new jobs created by Torino Leather Company. On October 31, 2015, Torino Leather Company celebrated its 10th anniversary. Garner credited the company’s success to the strength of its employees and to their realization that “day-to-day troubles lack meaning in the big picture.”
While talking with Garner, Epic Mens learned Torino Leather routinely turns out about 500 different products: around 75 belt styles and 25 leather accessories, all available in anywhere from two to eight colors. Cutting, sewing, finishing, burnishing and detailing the handcrafted belts is an exacting and labor-intensive process involving close to 40 steps. When pressed for more details, Garner further explained that special attention is given to the thickness of the lining, filler and outer leather so that the finished belt is neither too stiff, nor too soft. In answer to what gives a belt a formal versus casual appearance, Garner said it depends largely on the materials used. The smooth, soft, luxurious feel of Italian calfskin makes it a popular choice for dress belts; whereas, the distressed look of hand-antiqued leather is a nice complement to denim jeans.
Garner is the first to concede that a great deal of skill and knowledge goes into each Torino Leather product. Mindful that its staff of dedicated artisans is getting older, he said the company is continually bringing in younger workers who are being cross trained in several areas, adding that the learning curve is steep and a hands-on approach works best.
Given how very much our customers appreciate the Torino Leather Company belts and accessory products we carry, Epic Mens was particularly glad to hear that a new generation of Torino artisans is emerging. Hurricanes notwithstanding, it would seem the brand that is known the world over for its superior quality and enduring classic style will continue to be a leader in leather goods for many years to come.