Smith+Parka is a lifestyle accessories brand that is eponymous with its cross-body offering—the Solo Sling. Each Solo is laser cut and hand-sewn by Smith+Parka’s founder, David Lee. Born and raised in New York City, David Lee comes to the table with the experience of working in menswear design, and a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology.
In 2014, Lee founded Smith+Parka with the vision that good products embody function, impeccable design, and craftsmanship. With all those attributes, David emphasizes the need to focus on good materials, especially leather. As an ardent supporter of the use of natural leather and its imperfections, he says, “All the leather I use, it’s all natural. This means that natural leather has imperfections on it, whether it’s due to barbed wire, cows fighting with other cows or falling over, which results in the leather having scratches and dents in it. Most retailers will emboss a grain pattern on the leather to hide all the imperfections. But I don’t hide them because I actually find it more beautiful. I think it adds so much character to it. Also, natural top grain leather feels better, it feels amazing, you know? And you can smell it, it smells like amazing leather.” Along with this dedication to natural leather, Smith+Parka currently offers a lifetime warranty on their products as well as complimentary leather cleaning and polishing.
But it’s a tough job. Currently, Smith+Parka is run by a one-man army—David handles marketing to graphic design to salesmanship to ecommerce. Lee invests in guerilla advertising to drive publicity towards Smith+Parka. But previous customers also have a role to play—they’ve now become spokespeople for Smith+Parka. When David is probed about plans to expand his set-up, he is apprehensive about wholesale and the creative direction that potential retailers could take with his product. “They’re not going to put the care into what I want,” David says. “If I had this in your store, I would want it to be displayed in a certain type of way. A lot of stores will just kind of put it on the side. And it doesn’t really do anything when it’s just sitting. So when I find the correct partners to work with, I would like it to be smaller curated places.”
When asked about the future of Smith+Parka, David hopes to add more employees to his team, expand his product line, and maybe upcycle existing leather goods. “So let’s say you have a jacket that you just don’t want anymore,” says David. “You could bring it here and then I’ll cut it as long as it fits the shape of the Solo. But I’ll be very discerning with it—it has to be of a good quality.”
As a local maker, David knows that the challenge with making in NYC is the cost that’s built into every piece of raw material. “I’m getting all my materials in New York so I’m still helping somebody paying for somebody else’s rent through paying for the zipper. I’m still paying somebody else’s electricity bill for the leather,” says David. “So when people think it’s expensive, I’m like, this isn’t really that expensive. I’m charging what a normal retailer would charge.” He remains grateful for his current location at Essex Market and is well aware of how unsustainable it would be to have a storefront with all the bells and whistles of a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
David reinforces the sentiment that if something is made in NYC, it is the product of a tough endeavor and competition. “This is made in New York,” says David. “It’s expensive to live here. It’s expensive to just breathe here. So whenever you see something that is genuinely made in New York, there is a lot of effort and endurance that that person had to go through just to even get that in front of you.” He hopes that the city supports its makers in ways that lead to more exposure; maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see Smith+Parka on screens in the new subway trains someday.