Loyal Stricklin prides itself in handmade leather goods
By Morgan Bryce
Michael Stricklin, founder and owner of Opelika’s leather goods company Loyal Stricklin, is a self-described artist.
“I’ve always been an artist of sorts … when I was a kid, I was always drawing … I did throughout my younger years, woodworking or working with my dad, doing stuff with my hands,” Michael said.
A native of Homewood, Ala., Michael moved to the area in 2008 to pursue an architecture degree from Auburn University. It was during his senior year in 2013 that he discovered leather making.
“My grandfather had given me a couple-hundred dollars and I didn’t want to just spend it on just anything … I wanted to invest it in something that would last longer than a year or two. I bought some leather-working tools and some leather and just started making stuff,” Michael said. “I just taught myself though trial and error … it took about a year and a half to two years before I got really comfortable.”
Working out of his apartment, Michael handstitched wallets and iPhone cases. As demand increased, he started selling on Etsy, a website dedicated to selling handmade or vintage items.
In 2014, after completing his bachelor’s degree, Michael stayed at Auburn to pursue a master’s degree in Integrated Design and Construction, maintaining his leather business on the side. During this time, he said that he began to find the identity of his business, adding employees, like his wife Sarah, as well as new products, and choosing a name for the business, deciding to name it after his grandfather, Loyal Ellis Stricklin.
Perhaps the biggest change, however, was finding the right location for his business. Following unsuccessful attempts at finding a home in Auburn, he looked to Opelika. Thanks to a familiarity of the downtown area and connection to Opelika businessman Richard Patton, Michael began renting a building in the heart of the historic Cotton Warehouse District, located on North Railroad Avenue, in February 2015.
In May this year, the Stricklins opened up their store in downtown, at 711 Ave. A, keeping their space on North Railroad Avenue to use as a workshop. Michael said that having two separate buildings for his business is beneficial for both him and his clientele.
“The front of our warehouse here is a bit rough … so I wanted something a bit nicer for people to come and shop and check us out … and I also didn’t want to be bothered while I’m working. I love meeting our customers, but having people stop by here hinders me from my work and ensuring that whatever I’m making at that moment is up to our standards,” Michael said.
Thanks to the power of the internet and presence at national trade shows, Michael said that they have shipped products to various places in Asia and Europe, with their backpacks recently being a topic of a Russian blog post.
“I love seeing those international orders pop up. With a few years under our belt, and most of our business being online, it’s not as surprising anymore, but it’s meaningful to see people in other parts of the world buying our stuff,” Michael said.
The current selection of items that Loyal Stricklin offers include their popular Aviator (leather-wrapped) coffee mugs, wallets, backpacks, handbags, journals, key hooks and home and office supplies. Sarah said that plans are in the works to reach a more feminine customer base, by making and selling purses and makeup bags. “It’s mostly guy products that we sell right now, but we hope to have more women buy from us, and have products that appeal to everybody,” Sarah said.
The company’s consistent growth could be attributed to the recent addition of more sewing machines in the shop, to speed up manufacturing. However, Michael said he believes the biggest contributor and reason for their success is the quality work and materials involved in making their products.
“We pretty much use only American tanneries, particularly Horween Leather Company out of Chicago, which is a seventh-generation family-run business, as well as others … for us it’s all about the quality of the leather … how it feels and how it looks,” Michael said. “We try to make the nicest, most cost- efficient things that we can.”
The Loyal Stricklin team currently consists of Michael and Sarah, Seth Brown and Kelen Rylee, three part-time employees who run the shop on Avenue A, and “shop pup” and company mascot, Mason, who is half Cocker Spaniel and half Golden Retriever.
Sarah, who got her start making wallets at Loyal Stricklin more than three years ago, said that she and Michael enjoy the chance to work together in their own business.
“It’s really fun … I really enjoy being a part of this business. We love bouncing ideas off of each other. Michael is always thinking about work and products, and I like being a part of it,” Sarah said. “We don’t really talk when we’re at work. We kind of just get in our zones and do our thing,” Sarah said.
“I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but it works great for us,” Michael said.
The future of the company is bright, and according to Michael, the store has entered into deals with three major retailers who will soon be selling Loyal Stricklin products. But, he said their mission of producing quality products is something that will not change.
“We just want to keep making things that are beautiful, that are nice and that are going to last a long time. Your life is not going to become better just because you bought something expensive from us … but hopefully, our stuff will make your day-to-day life a little nicer,” Michael said. “We just want people to appreciate and love our products.”
Sarah said seeing customers wearing or using their products is meaningful to her.
“Anytime we are working an event like the Waverly Boogie and have a booth set up, and people come up and they have a wallet from us that they’ve been using, it’s always really cool to see. We see them go out, but we don’t always see them with people, so it becomes more real when you see people using them every day … it just gives me a sense of pride thinking, ‘hey I made that wallet.’ “
For more information about Loyal Stricklin and their products, visit www.loyalstricklin.com, or visit their store at 711 Ave. A in downtown Opelika, which is open Monday through Friday from 12-5 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.