I recently traveled to Branson, MO in the heart of the Ozarks to visit Martin Dingman. Martin has been in the leather business for almost 30 years, and in that time – he has honed his craft beyond the expert level. To say that Martin is an artist would be an understatement. With leather as his medium, he constantly develops high-quality men’s accessories that stand up to the elements for many years. Not only that, he is a really cool guy.
One of the first stories he told me was about a State Senator visiting a Men’s Store (one that carries Martin’s goods). The Senator was in the store speaking to the salesperson, and said ‘I need a new belt’ and unbuckling/pulling his belt off, he continued ‘just like this one’. The salesperson looked at the label, and it was a 15+ year old Martin Dingman belt. 15 years.
Headquartered in the Ozarks, Martin Dingman has a studio in Branson, and a workshop in Northern Arkansas. In addition to spending time with Martin and his son Grayson, we visited both locations, where I got to see all the workings of the Martin Dingman company. You’ll see more on the trip in later posts, but let’s start in Martin’s studio. It’s in an unassuming building with an excellent view. As soon as we opened the front door, I was consumed by the aroma of leather. It’s his business, and it’s everywhere.
Set up like a true studio, there are multiple large wooden tables surrounded by stools with leather samples, buckles, shoes, tools, catalogs, pictures, and notes everywhere. It’s a very controlled chaos. In true artist-fashion, Martin knows exactly what he is doing. He had just returned from a trip to Brazil, and his mind was racing with new ideas for upcoming seasons.
Exotics and Prints
“Instead of a bit in a loafer, how about a knot?”
Leather bags (in development)
Also in the studio are his current line of footwear. The line is extremely nice – very high quality footwear made from a variety of leathers – anything from alligator to printed calfskin to wool tartan. It’s all there. What struck me is that the majority of the shoe line isn’t made to look ‘new’ for the shoe’s life – it’s made to age, which will give it a materially different look. Here are some views:
The current Spring line (and a few others)
Yep. Exactly what you think it is.
Some suedes – check out the chocolate longwings…
Natural leather loafers with a natural finished sole
There is inspirational material everywhere. The images and words surround you in the studio; it’s a complete feel:
Towards the end of the Studio visit, Martin showed me the ‘back room’, which had shelves of old shoe samples. Some of them had made the cut from previous lines, but some hadn’t:
These two immediately caught my eye. They are both waxed suede, and look like a million bucks. Hopefully (after my incessant pleading) we’ll see something similar in the future:
Martin was nice enough to give us some insight into his company. Here is the first installment…more to come:
Describe the Martin Dingman company We are a family of people who really care about our customers! As you saw when you were here, several of our employees have been here 10-15-20 years! There is little if no bickering, NO CORPORATE POLITICS, we all care for and cover for each other when necessary. At the end of the day we endeavor to make the finest product and take the best care of our customers. Decisions are not based on what is popular, what is easiest, or what is the least expensive. We make decisions based on the old fashion belief of just doing the right thing.
Who is the Martin Dingman customer? Although there are exceptions, the Martin Dingman consumer is 35-55 years old. We believe they are getting younger, as we are beginning to do a better job of making the ‘just out of college’ guys aware of the brand. The MD consumer has a much higher than average taste level. He loves tradition but aspires to push the envelope in his wardrobe. He is college educated, enjoys hunting, works out more than an average guy and is a professional. The MD consumer is not trendy, and he INSISTS on great quality.
From where do you draw inspiration? Who knows??? Back in the 1980’s I was on a train going from NYC to my home in CT, when I had to pull out my wallet to pay the conductor. When I handed him the cash, the picture of George Washington immediately hit me as a perfect image for our silk brace collection! That design was one of the best selling of all time! Inspiration is everywhere, wall paper, upholstery, old tack, brass door plates in Florence and even old ironwork for our buckle designs! In the end I must always give credit to God for my natural artistic ability, there is not another reasonable explanation.
#qualitymatters is a staple in your Tweets. What does ‘#qualitymatters’ mean to you? It means that no matter how I design it, no matter how well our sales reps sell it, no matter how well we ship it, no matter how well our Customer Care ladies service it, if the quality is not there, nothing else matters! Therefore. . . #qualitymatters
Who are your style icons? Why? That is a difficult question. I am sure the typical answers are Ralph Lauren, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, etc. Although those gentlemen dressed well, I generally do not consider those either who dress for a living, or who are in the business. This is because they get paid to dress well, or someone else dresses them. I consider men like the Duke of Windsor, who had his own personal sense of style, without being over board. Oddly enough, my father and grandfather made a tremendous impact on me as neither earned a lot of money in their lives, but both had a style about them that was obvious. Their style was not only about their felt hat, bow tie, work boots, or pocket knife; it also was reflected in their vocabulary, their interaction with family and their view of life.
How has style changed in the last 25 years? As always, it is repeating itself with new versions of the classics. I do not think genuine style (as opposed to fashion) never really changes. Has a houndstooth sport coat or navy blazer ever gone out of style??? How about a great cashmere cardigan? Not in my lifetime! The fringes change, and this time it’s about bow ties and wingtips, both a part of the very marrow of genuine classic style! So I guess to answer your question, thanks to the younger consumer, the real deal is back! Hallelujah! To use your term, there seems to be an “awakening”.
If you had to pick one – what is the ‘Perfect Shoe’? To me, a perfect shoe has to do with versatility. Today I believe a perfect shoe is one I can wear with jeans, a sport coat, or a suit. With those parameters, a double monk, a great cap toe, or a wingtip works. For me though, it’s the long wing!
What is playing on your iPod? I am so busy in and out of airports, answering questions with tannery technicians, our workshop manager, or marketing coordinator, I have no time to keep the ear buds in! However on my Mac, and among many (I’m a music freak) are: Johnny Cash, Vivaldi, Ten Years After, Shawn McDonald and Third Day.
Who is going to make it to the Final Four? It has been a fun and crazy year in D-1 basketball! Of course it is difficult to rule out the power house teams like Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Syracuse. However, this has been the year of the upset! I am picking Kansas, Syracuse, Wichita State and Missouri… Creighton hopefully of course!
I didn’t leave empty handed – Martin provided 20 of his hand-made card holders that we are going to give away to Red Clay Soul readers. These are extremely nice – you won’t be disappointed. Here are the rules:
~ Leave a comment to this post with your email address
+1 (2 total) entry for ‘Liking’ Martin Dingman’s Facebook page
+1 (3 total) for ‘Liking’ Red Clay Soul’s Facebook page
+1 (4 total) for following Martin Dingman on Twitter
+1 (5 total) for following Red Clay Soul on Twitter
+1 (6 total) for blogging about the giveaway
The winners will be picked via random.org next on Tuesday, March 6th. Good luck!
Special thanks to Martin Dingman for sending along the card holders for the giveaway.