Alex Realmuto (right) was doing the workaday thing at Target corporate. Now, alongside Adam Blitzer (left), he’s part of a movement bringing manufacturing back to the USA with Maryland-based Blue Claw Co. The fledgling company’s top-quality luggage offerings aren’t retro; they’re timeless. We asked the 26-year-old Pennsylvania native about his transition from office guy to entrepreneur, what makes Blue Claw different… and the hardworking people of New Jersey.
It’s so incredibly rewarding to see a tangible product come all the way through the design and production process. Seeing something come to life like that is a real high.
MADE MAN: You used to work for Target. Now you make luggage. How did you work that transition?
ALEX REALMUTO: I started the company with my friend Adam Blitzer, whom I’ve known since grade school. I think we started our first joint business venture when we were 10. After college he went to Argentina and noticed that people had much more stylish and quality luggage, in particular polo players. We decided that we wanted to be the anti-roll-aboard. We started the company with one bag, the Worton Weekender. We wanted an American-made bag that would last decades, not just years.
MM: Why made in America?
AR: When I worked at Target corporate I became quite familiar with how overseas production works. I can’t tell you how many times we had products held up. We wouldn’t be able to get the product to our customers. But also, Adam and I wanted to be able to oversee things closely. We’re down at the factory once or twice a week to make sure the bags are being made the way we want. The amount of returns we see is almost minimal. It’s a testament to our quality control, which would not have been possible if we made the bags overseas. We’re able to watch the production and oversee the detail of design and give our customers the best possible bag for the best possible price.
The Worton Weekender: the original and still the champ.
MM: There are a lot of materials in your bags. Are those also made in the USA?
AR: We source most of our materials in the USA. For example, the nylon. Keeping jobs in America is a priority for us, but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of leather tanneries left in America, so some of our leather comes from overseas. Everything else is made in the USA.
MM: Where’s the factory? Where are these made?
AR: They’re in New Jersey. New Jersey sometimes has a bad rap, but there’s a long history of quality bags being made in Jersey. No doubt about it, Jersey is full of a lot of hardworking people.
MM: What’s a typical workday like for you?
AR: There really isn’t one. I could be handling bags or heading down to the factory to play with materials, silhouettes and designs, planning for our next line. I could be out there pounding pavement trying to get our bags into new stores. A lot our time is dedicated to managing our relationships with stores.
Yup, they make messenger bags too, like the McCarren here.
MM: What’s designing the bags like? Walk me through the process.
AR: Well, it’s a bag. You’re not reinventing the wheel. You have an idea of what you want to do. Then, me, Adam and the team start to brainstorm ideas about what types of bags will be most functional and will most appeal with the customers we already have. This is a bag we want people to be able to hand down to their kids, so we want a bag that’s never going to go out of style. So we look at every bag on the market and ask what the next big style will be. Then we sample bags, take them with us and test them for three months. After that, we make small tweaks. How’s the zipper, for example. Once we really know that the bag works, we bring the product to market and manufacture it on a large scale.
MM: What’s been the most surprising thing about starting up the company?
AR: Navigating the manufacturing world is quite different from managing any other aspect of business. At Target things were a well-oiled machine, though we did have manufacturing issues from time to time. Logistics are a real challenge, though. Putting all the logistics together is far more difficult than we probably realized when we first started.
Now that is one fine-looking product of America. Nice bag, too.
MM: Why are people interested in U.S.-made products again?
AR: From a macroeconomic standpoint, the global recession has led to people valuing American manufacturing and American craftsmanship. That was definitely a catalyst. There’s also an economic climate that’s allowing people to pursue and explore their ideas. The ability to sell products online has really empowered people who might have been afraid to do that before. That’s allowing people to pursue that passion and turn down a corporate job, or maybe they can’t get that corporate job and they’re doing this instead.
MM: What would you say to other people looking to manufacture quality goods here at home?
AR: It’s so incredibly rewarding to see a tangible product come all the way through the design and production process. Seeing something come to life like that is a real high. If you want to do something like that, put your whole heart into it and do your damn best. There are certainly lows—you’ll second-guess yourself—but that’s the name of the game. I could have just stayed at Target and kept an even keel…