Highly diversified, big city leather company ‘sources the world’ for finest tanned leathers, suede and nubuck
By Lynn Ascrizzi
Global Leathers, a wholesale/retail distributor based at West 35th Street, New York, New York, carries a richly diverse array of tanned leather products sourced from around the world, including exotics, metallics, natural hair-on leather skins and much more.
The 36-year-old leather company is owned and operated by its founder and CEO, Paul Crystal. His business is set in the heart of the Big Apple’s renowned Garment District, one of the world’s largest wholesale fashion markets. The historic district, also home to Parson’s School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology, is a go-to place for artisan designers and fashionistas seeking amazing fabrics, accessories and apparel, and leathers for all kinds of trades.
A little over four years ago, Global Leathers opened a colorful leather goods storefront at West 35th Street, on the building’s main and second floors. Crystal’s office is also located on the second floor. The ongoing idea behind the storefront is to provide an accessible retail presence that attracts aspiring new designers, from artisans to home crafters — people with a passion to create articles in leather. “We have something to satisfy their needs. Sales are increasing every year,” he said.
“Leather is a unique item,” he added. “It’s not an easy sale over the internet. It needs to be looked at, so you can see the luxuriousness of the leathers. It’s a touch-and-feel business. The store provides the opportunity for people to come in here and to look at and buy leather. But at the same time, we do many wholesale/retail shipments throughout the country and internationally.”
In recent years, Crystal, 65, has witnessed a surge of interest in leatherworking among younger entrepreneurs. “The internet has changed things a lot. The younger people are starting to be more artisan and run their own businesses, instead of working for a large company. It’s definitely the future,” he said, noting that his no-minimum-required policy works well for these new designers.
The company is seeing a growing number of artisans and craftspeople among his customers, including startups, he said. “The big manufacturers have been on the decline in this country, as keeping a factory has become difficult in the past few years. About 25 percent of my customers are startups, people trying to create their own business. They need material. I think people want to use their God-given talents, and now they can, especially with Covid. People are staying more at home.”
His customers come from businesses big and small — from large-scale manufacturers to architects, studio designers and home-workshop enthusiasts. During the Covid crisis, however, the city was shut down for three months. “We didn’t know how long that shutdown would keep us out of work. It was very scary. But now, we’re back!”
The company’s 10,000-square-foot, single-floor warehouse is based in Secaucus, New Jersey. “Roughly, we’ve got hundreds of thousands of square feet of leather in stock,” Crystal estimated this past December. “We do some good volume business. The last six months have been very active and busy. People are showing up at the store, contacting us and buying from us through the internet.
“We deal with many different kinds of cowhides,” he continued, “and in calfskin, deerskin, pigskin, lambskin, goatskin, exotic leathers, double-faced shearling and many different thicknesses and finishes of leather.”
For instance, offered at their website are 10 different kinds of treated cowhide, such as “Gemini,” a midweight, pebbled leather with a semi-aniline finish, good for commercial use. And, there’s “GL Saffiano.” Manufactured at an Italian tannery, this cowhide is resistant to scratches, stains and water, hence, ideal for handbags, briefcases, totes and accessories. Other specialty leathers include metallic, pearlized, patent, printed, stretched, perforated, laser-cut, pebbled, distressed and embossed.
A soft and supple European luxury lambskin and a pigskin suede are available in 100 colors. Exotics, like python and lizard skins, ostrich and stingray are also offered. “Stingray is a very firm, very tough leather. It’s used to make boots, belts, tabletops and accessories,” he explained.
“You can make leather tough, soft, heavy, light, dull — it’s all in the process. Treat it differently and it performs differently. Customers use our leathers in furniture, handbags, leather accessories and shoes, interior design, garments and after-market autos (if someone wants to reupholster their car) and pretty much anything you can think of. We try to cater to everyone’s leather needs.”
The company website is easy to navigate and informative. For example, browsers will find an upholstery chart that clearly illustrates the number of square feet needed to cover about 55 different styles of chairs, sofas and stools. And, there’s a handy glossary that explains the meaning of 109 leather terms like “double butt suede,” “fat wrinkle” and “pull-up.”
For website users, the best way to contact the business is by email or telephone, he said.
Leathers are sourced from about 50 tanneries throughout the world, including the U.S. “We work with tanneries all over — mostly in Europe and in the Far East, and some in the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, India, Pakistan, China, Korea and Taiwan, and many other countries.”
Crystal is also fostering a growing interest in sustainably produced leathers. “There has been a change in the mentality of our purchasers. In the end, they want leather that is more natural and clean, manufactured with tree bark and natural ways of tanning, instead of chemicals. They’re aiming for more ecologically sound, more green, more organic. I see the future is definitely trending that way every year.
“We are growing that end of the business,” he added. “Now, people are coming up with olive-leaf-based leather tanning. It’s available in the European Union, right now,” he said. Indeed, non-toxic tannins are being used by leather manufacturers in Greece, Germany, India, Brazil, Mexico and more.
“We’re starting to go toward tanneries that are ecologically friendly in the U.S. and abroad. We’re starting to carry the ‘friendly’ leathers. It’s kind of new — the change to more natural ways of making leather,” he said.
SLOW AND STEADY
From the start, Global Leathers grew slowly. And, from Crystal’s point of view, that has turned out to be a good thing. “We went very slow. A lot of manufacturers and suppliers grew fast, and have gone out of business,” he said.
He launched Global Leathers with his former business partner Mark Loshen, who passed away five years ago. “We started working for big U.S. tanneries as commission agents. We’d sell leather and get a commission for sales. We realized we weren’t making ends meet, so we decided to start a distribution business buying and selling leather. So, instead of being agents, we ended up being distributors.”
To achieve that goal, they had to get a warehouse. “It was not easy for the first 10 years. But we got to be known very well. We diversified, to offer many different types of leather, and turned things around. To this day, I’m slowly developing the business. It’s very diversified. I sell all kinds of leather.”
Currently, the company has six full-time employees. “We’ve been very lucky. The people we have stay with us. We’ve been consistently increasing business from the start. We’re a good-sized business and growing larger ever year. “
He first learned about the dramatic ups and downs of the leather industry as a young man in his mid-20s, when the uncle of his friend hired him to work at his big leather company located in the New York suburbs. “It was a worldwide enterprise. He went out of business. I saw it going down,” he recalled.
The lesson was a tough one. To this day, Crystal is keen on keeping up with leather industry changes. “No matter how big you are, every day you have to stay on top of your business or you run into trouble,” he advised. “You always have to be very quick and change a lot. You have to be versatile.”
Paul Crystal, owner
253 West 35th Street (Store Front)
New York, N.Y. 10001
FAX (212) 594-7515