Sat | Jan 19, 2019

Leather - Continuing a tradition of Timeless Fashion & Jamaican Artistry

Published:Monday | November 28, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Gary Matalon and Yaneek Page, hosts of The Innovators TV show, with Rohan Aikman.
Rohan Aikman and his son.
Rohan Aikman in conversation with The Innovators mentor, Dorrette Ubanks of D'NexStep Sandals.


It may not shine like diamonds, or feel as soft and smooth to the touch as silk, but leather has had an enduring appeal for the fashion-forward. Whether as jackets, or handbags, in cars or all manner of items, leather has always bestowed the owner with instant cool, prestige, and that little hint of rebellion.

It's that type of allure that has drawn former construction head Rohan Aikman. Jamaica has a long history of creating quality leather products from Leder Mode to Bridget Sandals to souvenir artisans. Aikman formed RLY Leather Apparel to take up the mantel, continue Jamaica's rich tradition, and tap into the mystique of brushed, cured, and stretched animal hides. The company produces handmade leather products such as belts, bags, wallets, cuffs/bracelets, gun holsters, watchbands, and watch band upgrades and a plethora of other goods.




The company also does custom orders, offer services in repairs, cleaning, reconditioning, reconstitution, 'leatherisation' of leatherette products to name a few. Aikman said he plans to add a clothing line, along with sandals and shoes. "The possibilities are great with this business concept," he shared.

And there's good reason for his optimism. The world's leading fashion houses all charge big bucks for leather clothes and shoes, with US$3,000 for a pair of high-end men's loafers certainly not unheard of.

But it will take lots of dedication and serious planning and management for Aikman to scale those lofty heights, and that's what has brought him back - for a second time - to face 'The Innovators.'

There is nothing inherently wrong in changing businesses, and enterprise history is replete with examples of companies - even big ones like IBM and Nokia - that either changed their business models or their core business focus (or both). But for community-based solo entrepreneurs, it is a path fraught with challenges. Eric Ries, the creator of the 'Lean Startup' methodology, cautions such business owners. "Don't get caught travelling as you jump from idea to idea without absorbing lessons learned along the way," he said.

Rohan Aikman originally garnered the attention of 'The Innovators' during the inaugural season while running his start-up construction business. Then, he was told by cohosts, Yaneek Page and Gary Matalon, that the needs of the business were greater than he had the capacity to fulfill by working solo. But, as The Innovators point out, there are some significant concerns. Not least of them is that the entrepreneur is again getting into a labour-intensive field, and will need a well-defined business plan.

Aikman has invested, over the three years, upwards of $500,000. Most of the amount was spent, he said, on raw material, hand tools, importation and operational cost and marketing. He intends on this go-round, to pay closer attention to the tips and strategic advice offered him by the hosts and their team.

While mindful of the challenges, Aikman is still optimistic that his switch from brick and steel to leather and sequins will pay off.