GentlemenCare: Superior leather goods

Conor Paulsen: GentlemenCare Co-founder/CEO

What product started GentlemenCare? What’s the story?

GentlemenCare started in the Spring of 2015 in an attempt to market fine goods that would help revive the lost gentleman. We researched providing “loud” dress socks, but ran into outsourcing quality issues. We then explored crafting a premium “sock belt,” but decided that creating the market for this product would be to difficult. Instead of calling it quits, we met a local leather craftsman named Kevin who believed wholeheartedly in our mission to revive the lost gentleman and began crafting and testing additional leather products, such as belts, shaving kits, and messenger bags. After a short time we realized that this would be our competitive niche in the market. Kevin, Lee, and I decided to raise our initial capital through Kickstarter. We were fortunate to finish our crowd funding campaign at 131% of our initial 30-day goal.


Having a high quality American product was important, what else inspired the creation of GentlemenCare?

Our mission at GentlemenCare is to revive the “true” gentleman. A true gentleman is the type of person that takes extra care to do the little things right, like, holding the door open for a stranger, using manners (i.e. please or thank you), and cares for others. We make the same extra effort to provide our customers with an exceptional product reviving the level of quality in leather products that cannot be found in present day. We don’t believe in taking shortcuts like the majority of our competitors, instead, we focus on the attention to detail making sure that we craft all of our products at the highest level of quality that passes our final control test.

At the end of the day our core mission is to revive the traits that we believe modern gentleman are forgetting (general manners like, “thank you” or “please”, or simply holding the door open for a stranger). We believe that the modern day definition of gentleman tends to be too focused on appearance, when instead we should encourage a lifestyle of helping others while maintaining a gents confidence.


Are all the products made in house?

Yes, all GentlemenCare products are crafted in-house at the GentlemenCare leather shop in Solon, IA.

*All GC products come with the “GentlemenCare Promise”- All of our products are hand crafted, fully custom/one of a kind, and guaranteed for life.


Who is the Gentlemen Care customer?

The GentlemenCare customer is anyone that appreciates premium quality, hand crafted goods, leather, fashion-forward trends, American made products, and strives to challenge the status quo.


What are your goals for the company?

At GentlemenCare, our core goal is to grow a business that we’re proud to call our own. Because if you can’t stand behind your own name, why bother. One day we would like to be the first name people think when they hear- “quality”, “custom”, and “premium leather”. We strive to provide not only the highest quality leather products, but to provide a one-of-a-kind customization experience that customers will remember!

Another team goal is to have GC featured in many of the top magazines, blogs, sites, and news that relate to premium fashion. We would like people around the world to one day reference our customer service, quality, and overall customer experience as the best in retail.


Do you see brick and mortar or wholesaling in the future?

Yes, I believe that a brick and mortar store front is likely within the next 3-5 years. Our current plan is to open a storefront in Kansas City, Minneapolis, or Chicago with the intent to create the perfect show room for a one-of-a-kind customization experience. The store would be designed with the customer’s understanding in mind, providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Imagine- walking into a premium leather store that’s purposefully designed to provide a “dream like” experience. A similar business model to the world’s top suit tailors but focused on customizing the highest quality leather goods. Example: A customer enters and walks to room #1 aka the “Hardware room”. This is where the customer would choose their desired hardware for their product. This room could look similar to a Rolex dealership that’s brightly lit, crystal clear glass, and Sinatra’s soothing voice playing throughout each room.

Wholesaling: Yes, if the opportunity is mutually beneficial. Our current focus is to provide the highest quality leather goods and to maintain this level of quality, it’s important to insure that each customer receives a similar experience. As GentlemenCare continues to scale, it’s critical for our team to continue building and maintaining our products exclusivity as a brand. For the right price, wholesale opportunities are definitely an interest of ours and a possible end goal down the road.


Lastly, what sets you apart from your competitors?

GentlemenCare is different than competitors in a handful of ways, one of which is that we don’t focus on creating products at the cheapest prices in attempt to improve margins. Instead, GC’s sole focus is crafting the highest quality products that are backed with our lifetime guarantee. Offering the highest quality leather products isn’t fast or easy, and this why competition struggles to compete. It starts with our collective values at GC- all of our products are handcrafted from start to finish inside our leather shop in Solon, IA to insure the highest level of quality control.

Each customer at GentlemenCare can expect a quick call from our team if a new reservation has been made. We believe in building a lasting relationship with each of customers before discussing products. The products enter the production cycle after being designed. Before the first cut is made, we lay the entire hyde flat and check for the perfect balance in grain to insure the highest quality and consistency. The hydes are sourced from one of two renown American tanneries, either in Pennsylvania or Chicago, IL. After each cut, we then edge, wax, and burnish the edges by hand to strengthen the leathers prolonged quality.

(*products are exclusively made using the world’s highest quality full grain leather. All GC leather is sourced from two of the world’s top tanneries that are both located in the United States.)

Visit the website to preview all the products or schedule a consultation today!

State and Liberty Clothing Company

Lee Moffie: Co-founder of State and Liberty Clothing Company

Tell us the State and Liberty story.

In the fall of 2014 my business partner and I started having conversations about how we felt that no one on the market was making an off the rack dress shirt for athletically fit guys like us. That fall we started making dress shirts for us, and eventually our friends wanted them. After time, word spread and friends of our friends also wanted them so we started ordering and selling more and more shirts.

State and Liberty

We like that you are targeting a specific demographic, was this your personal influence or just an observation?

Definitely personal influence. We felt like no one was making a tailored shirt for the athletically built male. On top of that, we were looking to make a shirt that was made from this new style of athletic fabric that would offer so much more than your traditional cotton dress shirt.

State and Liberty

What makes State and Liberty special? Sets you apart?

 3 specific aspects make our shirts special.

Fit- more room in the shoulder chest and arms with a slim waist.
Feel- Athletic performance fabric that is stretchy, moisture wicking and lightweight. Also extremely low maintenance, wrinkle free and don’t need to be dry-cleaned.
Professional look- Double fused cuffs and collars that leave the cuffs stiff and upright giving the shirts a crisp professional look.

State and Liberty

Who is you ideal customer?

Our core customer is an in shape young professional ranging anywhere from right out of college to the mid 30’s. Our customer is a guy who is serious about their fitness and looking for a shirt that can keep up with and compliment their life on the move.  Although our core customer is certainly leaning toward that young professional our shirts are still loved by guys of all ages that are in great physical shape.

State and Liberty

With such a unique niche, do you see yourself breaking into bigger markets and selling to department stores?

Definitely want to eventually break into bigger markets at some point but right now our focus is to be the go to brand for physically fit guys.

What’s next?

We are going to continue to make sure we are doing everything in our power to ensure that our customers are getting the best possible product out there and make sure that they have a fantastic experience every time they deal with State and Liberty.

Shop for dress shirts, t-shirts and pocket squares on the State and Liberty website.

RAYGUN- The Greatest Store In The Universe

Mike Draper: Founder/Owner of RAYGUN


How did RAYGUN start?

I started selling t-shirts in college at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 — just on campus out of a bag. In 2005, I moved back to Iowa and opened the store at East 4th and Locust. Now we’re bazillionaires and come to work via helicopter.


How did you come up with the name?

It used to be called SMASH and then a clothing company in California also called SMASH threatened to sue us, so we had to stop that. I wanted a noun, 4 or 6 letters and spelled properly. RAYGUN made it on the list and we could trademark it!


Where do you get all the ideas for the shirts? Do you sit down once a week with employees and just shout them out:)

We try and have regular brainstorming sessions, but sometimes get too busy. Still, a lot of the ideas come out of group idea sessions, just trying to come up with as many slogans on a topic as possible. Other times there is a just a “flash of genius” — and we use “genius” veeerrrrry loosely — where an idea occurs to someone and we start on that.


Do you see the brand going nationwide? What’s next?

We’ll never go physically nationwide. We’ll keep the brick and mortar stores only in the Midwest (so Nebraska to Ohio, Missouri to the Canadian Border). We’d like to be exclusively Midwestern. So not in NYC or LA or Austin or Portland. So kind of a lame exclusivity. Like a members-only Applebee’s.


What is your favorite t-shirt that has been made past or present? Why?

Des Moines: Hell Yes. is still my favorite. We sell a lot of it and you don’t pay rent with sunshine. However, it was the first shirt that started to really capture the voice of the store, and also showed that other people in Des Moines were “in on the joke.” that we all love Des Moines, live here, but no one should be THAT excited about Des Moines!


Check out all the t-shirts, onesies and koozies on the RAYGUN website.

OOZZ Clothing

OOZZ Clothing. A contemporary mens brand with modern aesthetic.

OOZZ Clothing

How did you get your start?

I’ve been in the fashion industry over 8 years and after I worked for some leading Scandinavian, and British fashion brands. I decided to start my own journey last summer and launched my first AW15 collection in August.

OOZZ Clothing

What inspires your designs?

Textures, nature, deconstructed silhouettes, objects, new printing techniques.

OOZZ Clothing

You use fabric, texture, and print in an interesting way, how would you describe your designs?

 I am trying to create a new forward thinking modernity and timeless silhouettes with the combination of unconventional materials, new printing techniques, distinctive details and unusual proportions.

OOZZ Clothing

What kind of guy wears your clothing?

Bold guys into new contemporary casual-chic choice.

OOZZ Clothing

Who are your favorite designers right now? Past? Overall? And Why?

Rei Kawakubo. She is a true visionary for me.

OOZZ Clothing

Where do you see your brand in the future?

I see OOZZ in a refined international audience in the contemporary menswear industry in the near future.

Be sure to check out the OOZZ website to shop online. Free shipping worldwide!

Luis Francisco, creator of VALVOELITE

VALVOELITE, luxurious, durable menswear.

How did you get your start in the industry?

As a kid I became completely infatuated with the design and construction of clothing. My brother use to paint on Tee shirts. I remember seeing that and going “wow I can make my own clothes”. I went from graphic designing to sewing my own samples. I started painting on tee shirts but it wasn’t enough. It drove me to heat pressing tee shirts. When I got my heat press is when I started doing custom tee shirts for people. Eventually I got bored of it and took some time to learn graphic design and got into screen-printing. I went and got an internship at a screen printing shop in Brooklyn. When I first started graphic designing tee shirts it was horrible. I remember trying to sell my designs to people and getting that, I don’t want to break your heart, face lol. But after years of doing random graphic design jobs and buying books and self-teaching myself, I developed my own style. I started paying attention to design composition which made me fall in love even more. I was a kid just hustling Tee shirts in NYC. Someone saw my Tee shirts on a band that played at SxSW and I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I’ve never been to Texas but my clothes have. I picked up sewing and started selling my own cut and trim pieces. By this time I established my own clientele base.I was a teen becoming and adult, not knowing what I wanted to do in life I took some time off and went to school for engineering. After I got my A.S in engineering I didn’t continues school because I wasn’t passionate about it. I started working on fashion here and there. Through some networks I got the opportunity to design for a few brands. Many of them were used at their fashion shows. After that I decided that this is my life’s journey.


Can you tell us how you started your own brand?

I started selling custom designs to people, and then eventually decided that I was a part of a culture that was missing in fashion, the perspective of fashion from my background. I came up with the name Valvoelite when I was 14. That was the first name that popped in my head and it was so different and weird. I think that’s when I was my most creative. I use that name to remind myself why I do this. I built a reputation for selling quality goods. Lil by lil, one customer at a time a brand was built.


Where do you draw inspiration?

I go to a lot of trade shows. I like looking at fabrics and I can spend hours looking at fashion shows. But sometimes the most inspiring thing is to live. When you have a story that can relate to people and you express that in your art, people instantly become attracted to it. I designed a shirt that had circles on the lower half of it. The inspiration came from trying to find myself. Comparing the circles to life, everyone is one individual circle but when we all come together there is a bigger picture. We can’t see it until we all come together. It’s kind of like, why do giant circular planets exist? We don’t know why but there is a reason.


Are there any particular trends or designers you absolutely love right now and why?

I’m a big fan of Thom Browne and Tim Coppens. They are both very different but I like the wearable fashion they design. Thom’s style is more a high end professional aesthetic. Tim has this street culture with high fashion elegance style.


What are your plans for the future of the brand?

We care going to start working on collections very soon. By next year I see us doing runway shows.


Who is your ideal customer?

The ideal customer would be someone who takes their time to learn about Valvoelite products. We enjoy customers that take their time to investigate why we do things a certain way. A man who enjoys quality, style, and durability.

Ellison Sunglasses: Featured Brand

Ellison Sunglasses

Handmade eyewear artistically designed


The idea was born in Iowa, can you tell us more about this? What’s the story behind the brand?


While attending the University of Iowa I was approached by a friend about this great organization giving sight saving surgeries to those in need. After exploring the organization, and looking further into the eyewear industry, I made a shocking discovery. I found out that the eyewear industry is one of the largest monopolies, controlled by a couple key players. What they do is pay royalties in exchange for the rights and use of name from designers such as Ray Ban, Oakley, Channel, Prada, etc., while artificially inflating the prices 10-20x the cost to manufacturer. Not only that, they own the distribution outlets too, Foreyes, Sunglasshut, Pearl Vision, etc. So when you think you’re buying an authentic designer product, you’re essentially buying a massed produced, overinflated piece of plastic, with the only differentiator being the logo.

So, the idea was simple, bring authenticity to an unauthentic market through true craftsmanship and artistic expression. While providing a great value, and social impact.

With over 4 years in development, traveling to and from Chicago/Iowa. My team and I, after much consideration, decided it would be best to make the move to Iowa, while keeping a small team handling warehousing/fulfillment in Chicago. Though, it may seem contradictory, given my industry (Eyewear) the resources, energy, nurturing start-up atmosphere in Iowa triumphs the offerings in Chicago. With low operation/living costs, unparalleled networks, and more importantly, the ability to be seen is much greater than that in a bigger city.

Ability to recruit students, as little to no cost, is an added bonus. Developing a strong base is essential to the success of any business. With a great deal of resources, and limited distractions, it is easier to build company culture, and a strong team in Iowa. Where in Chicago, it is more difficult to establish a foundation (and costly!).

Overall, Iowa has proven beneficial to my team, and company. We look forward to building and capitalizing what Iowa has to offer in its ever-growing entrepreneurial scene!

Ellison Sunglasses

What is your favorite pair of sunglasses right now? And why should we buy them?Ellison Sunglasses


Personally, I jump around from my favorites. As you can imagine, it’s hard to choose between what I would consider my children. However, one of my favorites this spring is the Dark Walnut, Howard – when I was in Italy choosing the types of Mazzucchelli accetates, I absolutely fell in in love with the richness and depth of this material. After seeing the craftsmanship that went into it from our facilities in Greece, it always has been one of my favorites. It’s a very European/retro take on the aviator with a unique keyhole nose bridge, exposed hardware and signature Ellison logo engraving.

You can feel the quality in the weight, though it’s very comfortable and versatile in looks. Definitely a hot buy this Spring/Summer.


Who is the Ellison customer?


On a material level, our customers want high-quality products. We provide them with the highest quality products at the best value. On a deeper level, Ellison’s products have attracted consumers who want to help change the world. With that in mind, we give our customers a tangible way to aid in the fight against preventable blindness. We also work to fund and promote artists who help create the story our products tell through their unique designs. We allow our customers to satisfy their desire to do some good in this world while walking away with a fashionable pair of shades.

Ellison Sunglasses


Ellison Sunglasses 








Ellison SunglassesWe think it’s amazing that you back such a great cause; can you tell us more about it?


We believe in corporate social responsibility. That’s why a portion of Ellison Eyewear’s profits will be donated to our give partner that works to save or restore the eyesight for deserving people in developing countries. Vision is essential for education, socioeconomic mobility, high quality of life, and general well-being. Ellison’s philanthropic contribution will be applied towards spectacles for children, building Vision Centers (Primary Eye Care centers) so as to provide primary/preventive care and for training eye health personnel.

We also believe in promoting up and coming artists. Artists like to think outside the box, so we decided to let them think on the box.  We treat our products as a vehicle, and our boxes as canvas to expose artwork. Art is meant to be seen and enjoyed. Our products act as a medium for artists to get their work into the world. Every model has a unique box that will only be in circulation for a limited time. We want to help artists tell their story, and give you a piece of art you’ll never throw away.


What is next for Ellison?

We are a bunch of rebels, adventurers and explorers here at Ellison. In the next year we are excited and hope to keep expanding our artist community, build our first Ellison hospital and continue to provide authentic quality products to consumers who see the world through a different lens.

Ellison Sunglasses

Check out all the dope shades Ellison Sunglasses has here.

Here is way back when… Taelor Thein is one of the models featured in Ellison’s add, she modeled for us in our very first editorial post.