Voices of the Bay: Leather Expert Mary Lotuff

The Bristol-based CEO of Lotuff Leather on local commitment, the tradition of making, and dedication to the craft

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Mary Lotuff, CEO of Lotuff Leather, is no stranger to manufacturing. She grew up immersed in her family’s textile businesses, which produced goods ranging from women’s clothing to blankets. These days the Bristol resident who graduated from Babson College and Roger Williams Law School, is involved in the production of individually handcrafted leather goods, from bags to belts, at the company’s Providence studio. Opened in 2011 by Lotuff’s two brothers, Joe and Rick, Lotuff Leather does all of its work on site and is committed to being a Rhode Island business. With rave reviews in GQ Magazine, product placement in the Hulu hit series Only Murders in the Building, and a who’s who of customers, Lotuff Leather is getting noticed far beyond the Ocean State. LotuffLeather.com 

Penny Wage: My first job, when I was around 11, was working for my parents who had a womens’ clothing manufacturing company. After each garment was inspected, my job was to put the plastic on the clothing. To this day, I can still hear the swish of the plastic. I loved it. I got paid a penny for each one. 

COVID Scramble: The shutdown happened, and only five people were in the building at a time. I was like, “We know how to do this. Remember we have been manufacturing in America for four generations. The world needs people to make stuff.” We stopped making leather goods and switched to face covers and face shields for six months.

Rhody Made: It’s a really hard and important commitment. One of the most fundamental things we can give back to the community is an opportunity to build the business here and develop the skills and problem solving it takes to make it work. There’s a ton of talent, but manufacturing is different than just talent. It’s about being purposeful, that you are going to do it efficiently. It uses all the puzzle pieces in my head to manufacture efficiently.

Waste Not: A lot of creative talent works in design studios where everything is made offshore; they never have the experience of knowing how many hours it takes to paint or how many bags you can cut in a day, or how much waste there is. We spend a lot of time looking at the cowhide, and saying “we’ve got this bag – great; now what’s left over so it doesn’t go in the dumpster?” 

Makerspace: In many ways, we are a teaching studio. We’re happy to bring in people who have a passion for working with their hands and want to be part of a team. Most people in the studio are skilled at one, two, or three of the nine operations. They are good at woodworking, sewing, and painting. They are handing the bag back and forth, so the magic is how many opportunities a human being has to make an aesthetic decision.

Quality vs. Quantity: We make small batches: two to 10 bags. The amount of time that goes into every bag is amazing. All the edges are ground on a grinding wheel, then painted, buffed, painted, buffed, painted again, double checked – does it need another coat? My favorite part is when a bag comes to the end of the studio. It takes your breath away.

Purpose: I have thought a lot about why I want to work at an expensive bag company when the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I realized it’s important to be a part of a tradition of making things like a bag, which for thousands of years has been one of the most foundational functional things that a human has carried, from coin pouches to satchels. Our philosophy is to make the best-quality bag that is a timeless forever carry. 

Know someone who might be a good fit for Voices of the Bay? Email Nina at YourHomeWithNina@gmail.com

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