On Wednesday, November 4, Midtown welcomed a little bit of the West to Detroit. Will Leather Goods opened its doors at Second and Willis in a 9,000 square foot space that smells as good as it looks. The store’s offerings, spanning from belts to bags, are all the products of owner Will Adler’s 30-year craftsmanship with leather and continuation of a family legacy.
In fact, the Detroit location, the brand’s seventh, serves as Adler’s opportunity to pay homage to his family’s roots and his Detroit upbringing. With parents and grandparents in retail, Adler broke away to pursue a career as an actor in Los Angeles. Yet following the actors’ strike in the 1970s, he opened Billy Belts on the Venice Beach boardwalk to support his family. With locations in California, Oregon, and New York, Will Leather Goods is bringing something special to the hometown. The Detroit store, according to Vice President of Retail Khari Walker, “is the culmination of [Adler’s] entire vision for retail all in one place. It’s our legacy store.”
Over three times the size of most of its locations, the Detroit store seeks to showcase all aspects of the brand. In addition to expanded product offerings, the space includes a photography gallery of “American Heroes and Dreamers” from Adler’s era. The exhibit shows rare glimpses of the Kennedys as well as civil rights leaders and music and film icons like Marilyn Monroe. The space may transform into a community gathering space or include local artists as the store develops.
Yet easily most impressive about the store is its center tipi, a display whose apex reaches far above customers’ reach and which provides another gathering space for customers that wander through the storefront. It’s a tribute, Walker explains, to the first American home and as such exists only in the Detroit location.
As the tipi suggests, Will Leather Goods takes hospitality seriously. While the company offers espresso or tea to customers at its six other locations, the Detroit store takes hosts its own coffee shop to serve a unique world blend of coffee and to encourage customers to enjoy their community. “When you bring guests into your home, you offer them water or coffee,” Walker explains. Likewise, everything in the store, from the chairs to the display shelves, is for sale, thanks in part to the company’s “Found” collection. “Found” brings Adler’s travel findings to the store: vintage bicycles, U.S. postman bags, and fabrics from around the world.
Walker is quick, however, to differentiate between Will Leather Goods and other handbags and accessories across the industry. Designed in classic styles, the brand does not seek to follow trends but focuses instead on what Walker refers to as “practical luxury.” He explains, “It’s not just about making things fashionable. The focus is on the intent.”
At the backbone of this intent rests the company’s Give Will program, which seeks to inspire children to dream with a tangible gesture. Over the next five years, Will Leather Goods hopes to give 500,000 backpacks to underfunded school districts in the United States. Each backpack boasts the words: “Give Will: a bag to carry your dreams” because, according to the company, “every kid should be able to carry their dream on their back.” With 40,000 backpacks distributed, the initiative is well underway, but the program’s display in the store allows customers to understand the intent behind the rest of the product line: items of quality and utility that encourage their recipients to do the same.