Boston fashion designers forge connections at Vanson Leathers event in Fall River

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FALL RIVER — Celebrities and style icons from Ralph Lauren to Kim Kardashian have long coveted the gear made by the master craftspeople at Vanson Leathers. Now the Fall River manufacturer is helping younger people interested in fashion connect with each other and learn what goes into making their unique gear. 

Vanson — known for its pro motorcycle racing gear and leather jackets prized by musicians, athletes and celebrities like LeBron James, Jay Leno, Nicolas Cage and many more — invited over two dozen fashion designers from the Boston area to a private networking event on Thursday at its store and manufacturing center on Broadway.  

Gregory Molinar of Stay Bizze helped organize the event. He’s friendly with the owners of Bogosplit, a fashion business collective featuring items from independent designers and artists with a shop at Copley Place in Boston. 

Molinar said the event was about “bringing a group of 30 designers from Boston to Fall River, instead of the other way around — really trying to reclaim the position that Fall River once had.” 

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Vanson event highlights manufacturing in Fall River

Michael Van Der Sleesen, founder and owner of Vanson, said the event started as just a few people meeting himself and his wife, Kim, and getting a tour of their facility. “It morphed into ‘Oh my God, we might have 50 people showing up here,’” he said. 

But Van Der Sleesen said he was more than happy to share with other designers what Vanson has been doing right for the past half-century. 

“These are generally young people looking to get traction. By definition, they don’t have a huge amount of experience with manufacturing,” he said. “We’re opening our doors to show them what we do.” 

The networking event featured guests from Boston not only meeting the Vanson team and seeing their manufacturing floor, but also connecting with people from Fall River’s New England Shirt Co. — another local manufacturer making stylish, high-end clothing in small batches with handmade craftsmanship. The Path restaurant provided the evening’s food. 

“The idea is to get all the designers together, network, and allow them to meet Kim and Mike, hear about the history of Vanson, hear about what goes into building something that will last 50 years,” Molinar said.  

“Everybody has a common interest, and you just never know what comes out of that,” Van Der Sleesen said. “It’s going to be fertile ground.” 

Molinar said everyone who attended left inspired.  

“It’s just the first step in bringing awareness to a lot of the manufacturing going on in Fall River,” he said. “We can use this momentum and keep building, and use Fall River as one of the sparks to bring Massachusetts’ fashion scene the love that it should have, right up there with New York and LA and Miami.” 

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What makes a Vanson Leathers jacket special 

Molinar said he has an interest in clothing design. Last summer, he held a fashion show in Fall River, which led him to connect with designers in Boston. 

To him, when you put on a classic Vanson jacket, “you feel like you’re putting on a bulletproof vest.” 

Van Der Sleesen’s jackets have graced the shoulders of some of the world’s most famous stars, from Steve McQueen in motorcycle racing gear to Alica Keys in a classic Vanson Star jacket.  

“We’ve had some recent relatively good profile stuff with Jaylen Brown and LeBron James,” Van Der Sleesen said. “What we do fits with the people who appreciate the finer things.” 

Part of the designer networking event involved talking about marketing, Molinar said — how to build brand awareness and cultivate a following among taste-makers.  

It isn’t a matter of only being popular, but being good. Van Der Sleesen said part of what makes Vanson so popular with celebrities is that the DNA of motorcycle racing is present in each piece. Every piece Vanson makes is unique, made by hand, using a blend of traditional techniques and the latest technology. He said that translates into respect for craftsmanship. 

“It’s evolved from what we do and what we’ve been doing,” he said. 

Dan Medeiros can be reached at Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Herald News today. 

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