When did you conceive the idea of Manuel company? What influenced you to focus on small leather goods?
The concept was conceived in late 2013 when I envisioned making a product in the USA from American made materials. I was laughed at and told such things can’t be done in today’s day and age because factories are now overseas. I started Manuel Company with one goal in mind: Build better versions of products here in the United States using American made materials, and that’s just what we’re doing. It just so happened that we build leather goods and accessories. We do so by partnering up with some amazing companies that have been around for quite some time. We’re not just a leather goods company. Manuel Company is a watch company. We’re also a bicycle and motion company. That phase of the brand will come over time. Right now, we’re becoming experts in leather goods.
“Avoiding risk is not possible. Knowing yourself and pushing your boundaries is the only real way forward if living your biggest dreams is something you care about.”
Could you tell us the importance of your products being made in America?
We believe that products should be built to last and made in America. It’s important that we stay true to that. Products made in the United States keep Americans at work. We will eventually put Americans to work. It’s also important that we work with retailers that are aligned with the MCo. Brand, especially the mom and pop stores, to place Made in USA products in their stores and boutiques.
What does the process look like from start to finish when making a product?
Every product starts its life as an idea. In some cases, the idea comes out of a brainstorming session, while other ideas develop as a direct response to a need in the market or a response to a competitor product. I knew in the early stages of Manuel Company that we had to control the process. When you control the process, you control the quality. We want our products to last a lifetime. That’s why we use the highest quality materials that we can source in the United States. Also, a part of the process is creating a wonderful customer experience. Since we’re online only it’s important that we establish great customer loyalty so they can follow us along our journey.
What led you to leave New Orleans for Atlanta?
That’s a million dollar question I’m often asked. Quite frankly, I can’t give a definite answer to that. For some, I’ll say the generic answer which is school or better opportunity. Really I’m from a small town called Hammond. Who in the hell knows where Hammond is, so I say, New Orleans. That’s when everyone is like “Oooh… did you move here because of Katrina?” No, Sandy, I did not move here because of Katrina. However, I’ve noticed a statement that’s followed and that is “I grew up in Atlanta.” It’s crazy because if you were to ask me 5 years ago would I have moved to Atlanta, I would’ve laughed and said heck no.
What made you feel like it was the right time to make the leap to pursue Manuel company full-time?
All my life I wanted to run trains. I loved the movement of trains, but ideas are cheap. You must do.
Manuel Company is something I’ve devoted a lot of hours into making sure things are right. Each day I spent on the railroad the vision was slowly slipping away until I made a comment to my friend Terrica, who also worked with me on the railroad. I said, “You know, we’re making all of this railroad money, I’m thinking about investing in a franchise.” “Invest in yourself.” She responded. Her response was the harsh reality I needed to hear. I realized that I spent an entire year without moving Manuel Company forward. The vision was nearly gone until she lit a fire under my ass.
That was in early 2016. Chesley “Denzel,” came on board in the summer of 2016. It’s interesting how our partnership came about. We used to work together as consultants for the Georgia Department of Transportation. Denzel is a Traffic Engineer. One day, while I was pretending to monitor traffic at my station, Denzel noticed I had stuff scattered all over my workstation. Of course, it was my leather swatches from Horween. “What you got there,” Denzel asked. I pitched him the whole made in America concept and from there he was inspired to jump on board. At the time I didn’t have my shit together with Manuel Company. In fact, I didn’t even have a name for the brand. Well, once I left GDOT to go work for the railroad, Denzel and I stayed in contact. I’ll get a call every now and again from him and he’ll ask, “How is the brand going?” My response was, “it’s going.” My God, he was persistent. It really wasn’t until we partnered up things got going for the MCo Brand. We linked up and finalized our partnership over Ying Ling and Whiskey sometime in August and the following day we starting transforming his basement into our workshop that was dubbed “The Layer.”
From that point on my vision for Manuel Company enlarged and that’s when I knew a time would come where I would have to choose to between the railroad or Manuel Company. I approached that crossing like a speeding hotshot pig-train, nonstop to destiny. I made my mind up in December and it wasn’t until February 1, 2017, I gathered my savings and hand delivered my resignation. In addition to that, life is far too short to feel anything but pride in your work and to feel respected in your workplace. If you don’t — get out. You will find something else. My something else was Manuel Co.
When you think of the Manuel company customer, who is he or she? what activities do they enjoy? which cities do they live in?
Before I used to think that our customer was a guy living in a metropolitan area that commutes to work. Over time I realized that our customer can be anywhere and anyone with an adventurous mind and a soulful spirit. Manuel Company is a reflection of us. I am Manuel Company. Denzel is Manuel Company. Soon we will be touring the country like the adventures that we are to tell our story.
Now that you’re working on Manuel company full time, does your process come pretty naturally, or do you find yourself fighting against creative block at times?
When Manuel Company first started, it wasn’t hard to find the time or motivation I needed to get everything done. Now that I’m putting in 80+ hours per week just to keep from working 40 hours for someone else things don’t come as naturally. But, I have a solution! When I get stuck, I do what I did best as a kid. I play! Or sometimes I’ll take the 7-hour drive to Louisiana. I love that.
Have you taken any big risks to move forward?
Avoiding risk is not possible. Knowing yourself and pushing your boundaries is the only real way forward if living your biggest dreams is something you care about. I think me quitting my good ass job with the railroad was my biggest risk forward. Everything now is somewhat expected. Despite delays, setbacks, sidetracks, and turnarounds, hanging in there, even when it isn’t looking good for you is a risk forward. The real test is now, 9 months later, when starring at the computer, checking emails, impatiently waiting to reap the benefits from all the hard work we’ve put in over the last few months. We’ll get there. In fact, the distance between where we are and where we want to be is closer than we think.
Do you feel a responsibility to contribute to something greater than yourself?
Absolutely! Especially now in this current day in age. It’s important that we focus on revamping poverty-stricken communities. Not just gentrify the area so the people can’t afford to live there anymore, but actually, enable change and empowerment. Where I grew up it’s very hard for anyone to make it out. It’s very little opportunity. Our communities are better than Metro PCs and liquor stores. Gentrification is happening faster than ever in Atlanta. The people that once inhabited the rich and soulful communities are being pushed out and forgotten about. My goal is to bet on the people of those communities. Bet on the people who look like I do and more importantly bet on the people of America.
How does living in Atlanta influence your creativity?
Atlanta is an ever-changing city! Living in Cabbagetown has had a strong influence on my creativity. The Uber/walkable community features street art that’s embedded into the fabric of the hood. While the street art can be seen as more of an in passing experience, some view it as a destination. I’m actually more inspired by the companies and corporations that are here — Delta, Georgia Pacific, Coke, UPS just to name a few. Also living in Georgia has played a part in my creativity. During the fall I usually spend most of my time in the Georgia Mountains, which is a rejuvenating experience.
What does a typical day look like you for?
Live, Dream, Achieve, Repeat.
What type of legacy do you hope to leave?
If you want to live a life of success, a life of complete success, happiness and fulfillment, you must find your purpose. In February 2017, I started “betting on America” by launching a manufacturing company. I decided that I wasn’t going to stay where I was so I took the first step in getting to where I want to be. For far too long I’ve allowed someone to write my script and shape my legacy. At 25 I’m shaping my own legacy by carrying out my purpose. Sometimes the journey can get lonely and cold. And there are days where everything seems to get out of control. I’m never giving up on my purpose and dreams. I’ll be lying to you if I said it’s easy. It ain’t! The best advice I can anyone who’s chasing after their dreams or a dream is: Be You. Be Raw. Be prepared to risk it all.
People will remember the impact I had on them or the memories they have with me. I want my legacy to be on the same level as some of the greats like Henry Ford, Sam Walton, or even George Washington-Carver. I started identifying what is important to me and that is revamping manufacturing in America. I realize that if I focus on what’s important to me, chances are that it’ll be important to someone else too. This is my legacy and I’m going to continue to Bet on America.