A Wichita woman thinks it’s ridiculous that so much casual apparel worn in the Midwest is made by Southern-based brands.
“We’re not Southern, so why are people here wearing a brand that tells a Southern story so well?” Lacie Leatherman said, referring to popular lines such as Southern Tide.
Leatherman launched her own clothing line, Heritage Heartland, last fall. She’s currently selling men’s long- and short-sleeve shirts and hats emblazoned with a bobwhite quail, the company’s logo, through a website.
She hopes to introduce more lines, including women’s wear, and find retailers to carry her goods as well.
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Leatherman was born and raised in Mulvane, where she says she had a “pretty fun childhood” as the daughter of parents who sold planes around the world for Beech Aircraft.
“They would take me out of the creek, and then I’d go to Crestview (County Club) for tennis lessons,” she said. “I always had that country-club, country-road lifestyle.”
She studied business at Kansas State University, then spent several years living in the South, which is where she first noticed that “all the clothing brands were Southern lifestyle brands.”
“Everybody down there was buying them up like crazy, but they didn’t tell my story,” she said.
She mentions Southern Point, Southern Property and Collared Greens as other lines that sell well, and not just in the South. For instance, she has noticed that at least one prominent state school partners with a Southern manufacturer to produce clothing.
Returning to Kansas, Leatherman worked in insurance and finance before deciding about two years ago to start her own clothing line – a business she admits she knew nothing about.
“I figured I was young enough, with no kids, and if I didn’t do it now, I never would,” she said.
She said there was one more incident that sent her in that direction. While dressing for a party, her boyfriend donned a nice pair of shorts and leather loafers, then tried to top them off with a T-shirt from Under Armour.
“I was like, ‘Um, no, let’s go buy a nice T-shirt,’ ” she said. “I’m really just trying to find the men in my life some appropriate, casual clothing.”
But all she could find seemed to get its inspiration from below the Mason-Dixon line.
“There wasn’t an option out there.”
Leatherman said it has been a learning experience in numerous areas, from details like the weights and other qualities of different fabrics to options for the actual manufacturing of the shirts. She worked with a couple of local designers to come up with the logo.
“I wanted something outdoorsy but still country club enough,” she said. “I wanted bird shooting, not camo and deer hunting.”
More recently, Leatherman hired a New York-based consultant. She said she also has received valuable help from an adviser with the Kansas Small Business Development Center and through participating in the e2e initiative.
“Those kinds of things have been more crucial to my success than I thought they would,” she said.
She initially hoped to display her line at big retail events in Chicago and Dallas this spring but now plans to do so in the fall. She said she has waited to do more extensive marketing until she had all the pieces of her operation – from ordering to delivery – in place. She staged a one-day, pop-up store inside Johnston’s Clothiers in September.
She plans to target stores in college towns – including Manhattan, Lawrence and Stillwater – because students tend to be early adopters of new brands, she said.
Leatherman said she wants to have as much of her clothing line as possible made in the United States. But even more important at this point is making sure it’s the best quality that can be produced at an affordable price.
She can’t help comparing her business to lines like Southern Tide – even if she can’t understand why Midwesterners would want to wear those competitors.
“The hardest thing about starting is comparing my chapter one to Southern Tide’s chapter 10,” she said.
“We’ve still got a few things to work out, but people can go online and buy a hat or shirt and tell their story.”
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Owner: Lacie Leatherman