Will Leather Goods’ legacy store occupies some 9,000 square feet in the heart of Detroit and while the brand’s strain of Americana and forgotten soul mirrors that of the Motor City, one doesn’t need to be familiar with Detroit to understand the appeal of Will Leather Goods’ wares. There are stores in New York, Venice, California; Eugene, Oregon and nearby Portland.
Inside the Detroit flagship, a leather hide is branded with the company’s credo: “Will makes products to inspire your journey.” With that in mind, T+L sat down with founder, Will Adler, to talk about his travel style, the inspiration he gets from being from Detroit, and what it’s like to work with artisans across the globe.
Q. You grew up in Detroit, what inspired you to come back?
A. My memories of Detroit are extremely positive and extremely powerful. When I was growing up in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s, it was one of three cities in America that were great. It was always New York, Chicago and Detroit. I lived in a blue-collar neighborhood where there was a mix of a lot of different people from all over the world. People were going to the Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler factories, the first shift started at 6 o’clock in the morning so people were waking up at 5 and I would hear the roar of engines.
When I was 8 years old I started going with my older brother on a bus from the northwest side of Detroit to what they call the Motown Review, at the Fox Theatre. At that point, I was seeing acts like Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops when they were beginning in their career.
When I was living in Detroit, there was 2.5 million people living in the city. Now there are less than 500,000. So there’s a big upsurge especially in the area where our store is, Midtown. You’ve got some cool, great brands like Shinola, Fellow Barber and this new restaurant Selden Standard. They were so welcoming.
Q. How does travel influence your work?
A. We say that people who appreciate Will Leather Goods enjoy traveling over vacationing. There is a big difference, vacation you like to go sit by a pool or an ocean and have a drink and relax. Traveling you want to get into the culture, the people and you want to get into the uniqueness of places.
From a young age, I have been interested in newness—and I use that as a lens when [meeting with] artisans [and discovering] new materials. [For example,] we have developed a relationship with some weavers in Oaxaca who are making these rugs. We’ve learned how to take the rugs and laminate them in a certain way for our bags. Traveling to these places, you really get into the workshop of these artisans; you really get into the culture of these cities. I’m traveling to Bali, to Africa, to parts of Indonesia to parts of Japan where we make products, to Thailand where we get materials. It’s not bullshit; we are really working with worldwide Artisans.
Q. When it comes to bags, what’s your travel style?
A. Well recently my personal travel bag is a leather tote. You can move very quickly with a tote and you can open it up in a hurry. When I am going on a more of a business trip I use the new William collection Guardian bag, a smaller briefcase made with leather from Tuscany.
Mariah Tyler is a digital photo editor at Travel+Leisure. You can follow her on Instagram at @mphbox.