Donovan Jackson is the gifted hands of handcrafted leather goods. His Atlanta-based company, Smith and Lee Handmade, has posh leathers prized from exotic species including, the Mississippiensis alligator, the South African ostrich, Southeast Asian python, and shagreen from the great depths of the sea. He has made luxury more affordable by creating a business that takes purchased tanned leather, recycled major fashion designer bags such as Prada and Hermes, and transforms them into newly designed, authentic and original high fashion item. Established in 2015, Donovan’s product line has grown to consist of wallets, passport holders, watch straps, luggage tags, leather bracelets, key chains and fobs, lighter sleeves, and phone cases customizable by color, threading, engraving and most importantly, quality leather. A master tanner, product authenticator and leatherworker, he is not new to the game – Donovan has made hustle into a luxury (or is it luxury into a hustle).
Don, how do you define hustle and how has it changed over time?
I define hustle as a particular set of initiatives that generate financial rewards tailored to the goals of the individual who initiated the hustle.
Who is Smith and Lee Handmade?
Smith and Lee is named after my parents. Smith is my mother’s maiden name and Lee is my father’s middle name. I wasn’t the easiest person to raise, so naming the business after them is my way of thanking them for their amazing efforts.
How did you discover that you wanted to make handmade luxury goods?
It was a hobby. I started off simply making leather wallets for myself in 2015. The wallets were horrible, but because they were for personal use only, I was happy as long as it could hold my cards and cash. In terms of luxury goods, the hobby simply snowballed into what it is today.
In a world that sees luxury goods as expensive and highclass, you’ve made it affordable and personable, what is your motivation?
The funny thing is, only the items on my website and Instagram are “affordable”. I have clients who are purchasing $1,000 alligator wallets. However, I know most people cannot comfortably afford those items, so I do not post them or promote them. Honestly, most people have a skewed understanding of a luxury good. For example, if you consider something handmade a luxury good, then a Louis Vuitton wallet is NOT a luxury good by definition. If you consider something expensive a luxury good, then anything out of your tax bracket is technically a luxury good and a “normal” good for anyone who can afford it with ease. People really forget this part.
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Custom made for “all the ladies in the place with style and grace!” No, seriously, the puffy hearts make great bag charms and additions to your keys. You pick the thread, edge paint and up to three initials, I’ll do the rest. SWIPE OVER to see how they look with the new hardware! Handmade by a true artisan... . . . . . #Custom #Bespoke #handmade #customleathergoods #bespokeleathergoods #bagaccessories #luxury #bagcharms #charms #luxuryhandbags #Artisan #art
Do you feel as if you are competing against established major fashion designer companies such as Gucci and Louis Vuitton- or starting your own market?
No, I’m not competing with them at all. There are over 300 million people in America, to date, I’ve had over 2,000 clients and over $200K in sales. That’s nothing in comparison to them. I’m literally a small fry. However, my method of creating my items is exactly modeled after Hermes. The ENTIRE process is done by hand.
NOT ONE MACHINE is used in the production of my work. Not many can appreciate that and those are typically the people that I do not want as clients. Lastly, with so many distractions, staying focused is tough, but I left my corporate job in 2019 as a Content Specialist. It paid quite well, however, I wanted to focus all of my efforts on my business. I truly believe in the fact that you only live once, and you should do all that you can for the best life you can live. Side note, if people knew how much plastic was used by these brands, they wouldn’t buy anything. The monogram canvas is plastic. I wish people knew this.
How do you define your success?
I don’t have a definition for success. I measure my life by happiness. If I’m not happy, then I’m not successful. For example, I’m now extremely financially well off and I can PROMISE YOU, the money makes living more comfortable, but it does not bring happiness. I felt more successful when I had less, but that’s an entirely different conversation, but it needs to be stated.
Do you have any influencers to your work?
Dapper Dan and Hermes.
What is one resource our viewers can tap into today to get them started in your field of hand crafting and building a business?
YouTube would be the best place for people to start if they’re interested in leather crafting. There are way more resources there than when I first started in 2015. However, it is a very difficult process. I can’t sugarcoat that. It’s extremely time consuming and took me two years to master the stitching alone.
Donovan Jackson is soon to release “Ready-to-Ship” items. These will be premade items in his store that will ship next business day, hand stitched with initials personable to the customer. Be on the lookout for his 25% off Black Friday sale and 10% off until Christmas. You can connect with Smith & Lee Handmade for purchase and inquires on his IG account at @SmithLeeHandmade and website www.smithandleehandmade.com
The Hustle don’t stop, it’s just beginning.