Michael Stricklin’s start in leatherwork came from dissatisfaction. An architecture student at Auburn, Stricklin loved designing but never saw his ideas come to life. Out of that desire grew an idea for his brand, Loyal Stricklin.
Stricklin began leatherwork to design and create the conceptualized projects he was ideating. By starting his own brand, he got to do just that. With this outlet, he finished his bachelor’s in architecture and got a master’s in integrated design and construction.*
He’s proudly part of the maker movement — a movement of average Joes chasing their dreams and living life on their own terms. Loyal Stricklin is driven to hand make a difference in the U.S. With roots in the South, you can feel the pride in each item. There’s American heart, hours of sweat and passion from all five employees.
Read more about the brand, the man and the designs below.
What ignited the spark to start Loyal Stricklin?
I originally started working with leather while in architecture school at Auburn University. I loved everything about design school except for one thing: I never got to see my designs fully realized and completed. I wanted a way to step back and simplify my thinking and restructure my design skills.
Leatherwork turned out to be relatively easy to start, only needing a few tools and a hide of leather. I had $500 in the bank, so I spent it all on what I needed and got to work.
What drives you each and every day?
Growing up I would start things and give up before giving myself a chance. I grew tired of that a couple years ago and realized that if I didn’t motivate myself I would never get what I wanted out of life. I hold myself to pretty high standards of work these days. I’ve come to find out that running a business, paying five employees, and still trying to build a good life on top of that is pretty expensive, so that’s a pretty hard motivator to miss.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
It’s all about how you look at and categorize failure. Failure isn’t the end, it’s just a way you now know doesn’t work. Get back on up and try again until you get it right. Don’t give up. If you’re burnt out, work on something else for a while. Often times you’ll find the solution you’re looking for when you least expect it.
How do you generate new ideas?
I keep a couple different sketchbooks on me all the time — a field notes in my wallet and a couple large sketchbooks in my bag. I usually spend a few days sketching my ideas from various angles and getting down the details I want. If it makes it as far as the large sketchbook, then I usually commit to it and make it a reality. When you start to create it physically, you really know what works and what does not. Sketching will only get you so far.
How would you define success in this business? Have you reached it?
I’d love to be able to put a number on what I think success is, but as long as I’m paying bills, keeping a staff to help make everything and sending orders out the door while still be able to save a little, then I’m pretty content and stress free.
Any words you lived by while you were getting your brand off the ground?
Talk is cheap. If you have an idea, just shut up and work your ass off to make it a reality. People will notice you’re doing something worthwhile eventually. It’s always better for people to see what you’re capable of rather than talk about what you can do.
How do you build a successful customer base?
The internet really is a wonderful thing. Instagram is just about all the active advertising I do. I push every post to Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter, but other than that I try to keep the website updated and feeling fresh every week or so.
How did you decide on the location for your business? Does it influence your brand?
I went to school at Auburn, which is just 15 minutes away from our studio. Opelika was a pretty sleepy city for a few decades, but there has been a lot of work going on down here in recent years, and we’re excited to be a part of it! A lot of culture is developing in the area, from coffee shops to a distillery and brewery next door, it’s an exciting place to be right now.
What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
I love being able to set my own hours and do the work that I want to do. If I feel rushed or stressed, it’s my own doing. There’s nobody else breathing down my neck or imposing deadlines. There are ups and downs, but it’s so rewarding and worth the constant work and sweat I put into it.
To what do you most attribute your success? Who are your motivators?
My folks did a damn fine job raising me, and I love them for being tough. They raised me to love Jesus and work hard. They taught me that I had to go after whatever I wanted in life because it’ll never be handed to me. They showed me my worth by always being there for me even when I probably didn’t deserve it.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I’m always most satisfied when I’m creating something new. I love that feeling of having drawn out a design and seeing something complete at the end of the day that I’m proud to have made with my own hands.
What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
Good insurance, 401k, stability, need I go on? Ha! I’ve found the best investment I can make is exploring new skills, creating more and experimenting with different ways to design. I have had to empty my savings several times before to buy more leather, pay taxes or hire new employees, but it’s all been worth it and will pay off in the end. It can be tough, but I don’t consider them sacrifices as much as I consider them investing in a life well lived and worth living.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
I’m a huge fan of the legacy of Filson. I’d love for Loyal Stricklin to last even half as long as they’ve been around. They make beautiful goods right here in the U.S.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own creative business?
Just start. The first step is hard. Don’t think about it. If you know you want to do it, give it a try.
What’s on the horizon for Loyal Stricklin?
We’ve got some big plans over the next few years, but like I said — it’s better to show than it is to talk about. When people need to know, they’ll know. We’re just getting started and aren’t planning on slowing down anytime soon.
To learn more about Loyal Stricklin and purchase products, visit loyalstricklin.com
Images and Interview courtesy of Loyal Stricklin
This interview has been condensed and edited
* A previous version of this story misrepresented Stricklin’s level of education.