Charleston’s Long History Inspires “Generational Leather Goods” for Local Entrepreneur
Published Spring 2016 Issue #4
George Ackerman has me staring out of a restaurant window and considering the specific arrangements of windows on the front of two downtown Charleston buildings. He says, “To me, there is just something more aesthetically pleasing about six-over-six windows.” Across the street are the two neighboring buildings appearing to possess similar facades, both portraying Charleston’s antiquity. However, there is one deceptive, understated difference: the older building has two stacked rows of six windows, while the one next door, undergoing renovations, has two stacked rows of four. Now that George has pointed this out, I feel there really is something subtly dignified about the six-over-six windows that purveys a sense of timelessness that’s not easy to explain. Turning back to my lunch partner, my eyes straining to adjust to the dimness after looking out into a sunny January day, I ask, “Your attention to detail, is this what makes 79 Ashley unique?” “Yes,” George begins, “but that is just a part of it.”
George Ackerman’s luxury leather goods company, 79 Ashley, is quickly becoming well known in Charleston. Less widely known is the story of the man who holds the title of Founder and CEO (that is, “Curator of Extraordinary Objects”) and the inspiration behind his “generational leather goods.”
George moved to Charleston without any intentions of starting his own business. After an extensive and successful career with many of the major U.S. fashion houses (e.g., Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren), George felt like a few mentorships were going to provide enough professional satisfaction for him to happily retire with his wife, Louise. They moved here in 2013 “or maybe it was 2012… I don’t remember,” George begins, “But it was Charleston’s beauty that inspired me. I felt reinvigorated. I wanted to create the world’s greatest blouse, the world’s greatest shirt, the world’s greatest jeans.”
Shortly thereafter, George was back in front of his New York friends and investors sharing his newly discovered vision to a group that could help him get up and running with the single stroke kof a pen. “They told me, ‘Focus on one thing in particular, something that you care very strongly about and develop a brand around that.’ ” Well that one thing was an obvious choice for George.
During his years in the fashion industry, George spent a fair amount of time in Italy, where he discovered vachetta (“va-ket-ta”) leather. “I saw plenty of it there, particularly on the bags of many of the gentlemen walking to and from work.” The history of vachetta leather is rooted in Ancient Rome, where the natural tanning process was first developed and continues to be the preferred method of the skilled craftsmen who produce the leather hides today. In this process, the skins are immersed for days in a nontoxic mixture of animal fats, chestnut tree rinds, and mimosa extracts and hung from the ceiling to dry naturally. In contrast, most of the mass-produced leathers we see in everyday consumer products are treated with toxic chemicals during the tanning process.
While this age-old technique speaks to the quality and tradition of 79 Ashley leather, the real history of the goods begins once a customer buys them. “We create generational leather goods. You not only buy them for yourself, but you also buy them for your kids and your kids’ kids. Every wrinkle, every imperfection, every worn spot, even every stain is story in and of itself,” George says, recalling the story of a stain on his own bag which happened at a memorable lunch in Italy. “You just don’t forget those types of things.”
George hands me his 79 Ashley bag. Take one look at vachetta leather and you can see its uniqueness — but one touch of the leather’s softness or one smell of its genuine aroma is how you know it is unique. This leads to a question about a storefront here in the downtown area. “We live in a time when most consumers value status over quality, which makes it difficult for us… I was actually a part of this while I worked in fashion earlier in my career! We wanted to keep the little guys out!” George laughs at the irony of his situation. A storefront is a longer-term goal for 79 Ashley, but for now, George wants to focus on his online business.
George’s attention to detail, his vision, and his passion for quality sets 79 Ashley apart from any other brand of leather goods. The true value of 79 Ashley products is rooted in personality, memory and the experience, much the same as the city that inspired them. In the world of “fast-fashion,” styles come and go before we can really live in the clothes we buy. So the next time a new wallet, belt or bag makes its way to the top of your or your significant other’s list, connect with George and 79 Ashley, and invest in something that, like Charleston, will stand the test of time.