Value Added: Does Ralph Lauren Do Whale Belts?

Here's Tom Heath's latest column on Washington's entrepreneurial set:


This is the Value Added that I look back upon proudly one day and say, "I discovered the next Ralph Lauren." Or it's the one where I say to myself, "What was I thinking?"
I am betting it will be the former.

Peter Smathers Carter and Austin Branson, a pair of 26 year old Bowdoin College graduates, don't just ooze preppiness. It's in their DNA. One attended Deerfield Academy. One went to St. Albans. They come from well-off families, they golf (no surprise there), play tennis and they present well.


Peter Smathers Carter, left, and Austin Branson have created a business selling preppy stitched belts, key fobs and dog collars. (Photo by Thomas Heath)

Smathers is from Maine. Branson from Bethesda.

Their firm is Smathers & Branson. Sounds like a white shoe law firm.

That's what they want. They know a good brand name when they see one.

In journalism, you are supposed to write what you know. In business, Carter and Branson sell what they know. Preppiness. WASPiness.

In three years, they have created a handsomely profitable business selling anchors, whales, dogs, school logos and whatnot stitched in needlepoint on belts, key fobs and dog collars. Their products are sold in upscale stores and country clubs from the Nantucket to Oxford, Miss., to Japan. The designs are colorful and classy. Who wears them? The sailing set. Golfers. Preppies. New Englanders. Southern Gentlemen. All those folks who summer in Hyannis and the Hamptons.

Chevy Chase Club sells them. So does Columbia Country Club. Harvard, Georgetown, Bowdoin, North Carolina, Ole Miss all have Smathers & Branson belts with their logos emblazoned on them.

Scroll back six years when Smathers and Branson were undergrads at Bowdoin. Their girlfriends at the time made them needlepoint belts that are popular in New England. The boys got lots of compliments around campus and investigated.

They learned the belts were expensive - $300 - and took 40 hours each to make, were difficult to find the right size and were not produced on a large scale.

"A lightbulb went off and we thought we could do this much better and make them for less and have have them readily available," Smathers said. "We thought it was a perfect product that was lacking in upscale men's stores."

The pair persuaded Bowdoin administrators to let them spend the spring semester of their senior year working on a business plan for the belts. They got school credit and advice from professors. They worked with an art professor to learn design.

"All our friends and family were killing themselves with miserable hours. Not Happy. And we thought if we could do this, we could be as successful or more successful," Branson said. "At the very least, we thought we could use it on an application to business school."

They moved into Branson's parents house in the fall of 2004. They lived off savings from summer jobs. Branson's mom fed them. They started the business in the attic and moved to the basement. They went out and found their own raw materials and constructed the kind of belt they wanted. They found the right leather. Dye.

Once that was done, a friend gave them a lead on import-export businesses where they could make the belts overseas. They had about $50,000 in savings between them to start the business. They looked in China and India but eventually found a middleman in Vietnam.

"You send a FedEx package with every single raw material for the belts and a detailed description of the technique and quality," Branson said. They finally went to northern Vietnam, where they spent three weeks working with a group of stitchers in a small village, instructing them on how to make the belts and establish quality control.

They kept costs low so they could keep the business for just the two of them. "People at Bowdoin said, 'Don't give away the equity. Don't let anyone own you,' " Smathers said.

They asked Branson's father, who runs a real estate firm, for advice each night at the dinner table. Branson, meanwhile, discovered he had a knack for art work. He creates many of the belt designs on computer. The belts are housed in a distinctive felt-lined, handmade wooden boxes with custom names like Shinnecock Hills for the country club selling them.

With around 15 samples from their Vietnam subcontractors, the pair started visiting U.S. stores in early 2005. They Googled places that sold similar preppie clothing, so they had a list of names to start.

"We went to Nantucket, Newport, Cape Cod, Charleston, S.C., Charlottesville, Richmond and Greenwich," said Smathers. "We made sure we had our bases. We wanted the right demographic: Affluent, year-round or summer communities. That was one thing we had done at Bowdoin, create a business plan to try and find our demographic. We originally thought it was Ivy League, prep school, country club members in the Northeast because that was who was wearing it before. But that changed from Ivy League to Old Southern families. We found that Southerners appreciate our product and the lifestyle that goes with it."

They have licensing agreements with a raft of colleges and universities. Kentucky, Georgia, Harvard, Louisville. Mississippi. The Tar Heels of North Carolina is their biggest seller. They are on Beacon Hill in Boston. They are in Florida. UC Berkeley. They are even in Japan, where a Classic American look is catching on.

Smathers & Branson belts sell for around $165 at 300 stores stores and country clubs like Sherman Pickey in Georgetown and at North River Outfitters in Beacon Hill, the upscale section of Boston. Smathers and Branson's wholesale price is $75. Their costs to make the belts and deliver them is a carefully kept secret.

They grossed $300,000 in 2005. That tripled to $900,000 in 2006. Revenues rose to $1.9 million last year and are expected to break $3 million this year. The two businessmen will only say they will earn "healthy margins" on that $3 million.

They have three full-time employees and a couple of interns from Georgetown. They have two full-time interns as well. The company has expanded from belts to dog collars and key fobs, and they are considering other product lines as well, but declined to say which ones. All told, they expect to sell 75,000 products this year.

Smathers and Branson don't take salaries, but they do take occasional draws from the profits.

Smathers bought a house. Branson bought a wedding ring and paid for a honeymoon.

They have been called by venture capital firms, who say they are keeping an eye on them. They aren't interested in selling, but "any business would sell at the right price," said Smathers.

Even if the company's growth slows, Smathers and Branson said the business is here to stay.

Tune in five years from now.

By Dan Beyers  |  July 15, 2008; 4:36 PM ET  | Category:  Value Added
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Comments

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Great stuff. check out Smathers and Branson's full line at www.smathersandbranson.com

Posted by: Michelle | July 15, 2008 6:54 PM

Smathers & Branson belts are awesome! Their quality and craftsmanship is unbeatable. And I can't wait to see their new designs for this coming fall/winter season!

Posted by: Rachael | July 15, 2008 7:27 PM

Great idea. I'm impressed with the growth in such a short period of time.

Posted by: Rob | July 15, 2008 7:34 PM

Love these belts! I've got six and counting. Everytime you wear one out it becomes a topic of conversation. Keep the designs coming!

Posted by: Sam | July 15, 2008 7:35 PM

I just got a custom made one with a friends initials as a groomsmen's present for his wedding. He loved it and it really looked sharp.

Posted by: Stewart | July 15, 2008 7:36 PM

These belts are great. I have four of my own and love to give them as gifts. Sounds like these guys are poised to keep growing and they deserve it.

Posted by: Will | July 15, 2008 7:38 PM

The key fobs are fantastic. Perfect gifts, at a great price-point, and so many adorable designs. I have given 5 as gifts in the past 3 months. Not only do they make a high quality product, but Smathers, Branson, Barker & Hermanson are awesome people. I look forward to seeing where the company goes and excited to see the new patterns.

Posted by: Pendleton | July 15, 2008 7:51 PM

The lobster key fob is classic. Love it

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2008 7:52 PM

These guys have really got it together. Great product.

Posted by: Julia | July 15, 2008 7:58 PM

These guys are the consummate entrepreneurs who have proven that the truly great path to take advantage of the opportunities in this country is to create a business. They also have done so without involving venture capitalist's, which will certainly prove to be beneficial to them in the long run. The belts are excellent as I have four of them and wear them often. Great product!

Posted by: Matt | July 15, 2008 8:15 PM

Cool story - will have to check out the dog collars ...!

Posted by: Audrey | July 15, 2008 8:15 PM

You guys are sooo... preppy! Great product, great guys.

Posted by: Larry | July 15, 2008 8:26 PM

Great product - makes a perfect gift! When's the women's line coming out?

Posted by: Laura | July 15, 2008 8:38 PM

Nice job Tommy. I'm telling you, this is what we want. Your stories, when written with such rich detail, are business primers. The best part is they aren't as bland as textbooks. You're on a roll.

Posted by: Greg | July 15, 2008 8:51 PM

One more thing Heathy,

Think visually when taking photographs. It would have been nicer to see some of the products up close. Much more interesting than a couple of dudes in the background.

Think close ups and interesting images. I know you're not Annie Leibovitz but you can do better.

Posted by: Greg | July 15, 2008 8:54 PM

you can't deny your true preppy self...these belts helped me realize that. Thanks Smathers & Branson!

Posted by: Brian | July 15, 2008 9:20 PM

Class and quality never go out of style - S&B products are now and will be a testament to that for years to come.

Posted by: Lynne | July 15, 2008 9:23 PM

The belts are great, unique and of high quality. Dan you should buy one!

Posted by: Dave | July 15, 2008 9:23 PM

Sweet belts. They are all I ask for every Christmas and birthday. I've got 8 and counting. How about some Croakie designs or even socks? Keep 'em coming fellas.

Posted by: Trey Carter | July 15, 2008 9:25 PM

S & B products are well-crafted and great looking. Just some quality guys selling quality products-you can't beat that!

Posted by: Abby | July 15, 2008 9:28 PM

my favorite belt is the American Flag -- I wore it all during 4th of July weekend and got countless compliments. I've seen other belts that have tried to imitate Smathers & Branson but these are one of a kind -- the stitching is impeccable, the fabric and colors are spot on, and the brass buckle is real. Don't accept anything else but Smathers & Branson... Congrats to you Heath for finding great human interest stories and congrats to Peter and Austin for following your dream

Posted by: Big Fan | July 15, 2008 9:34 PM

Just saw the product in a men's store in South Carolina. Spoke with the owner who said that the customer response to the product was extremely positive. People want the best! Keep it up guys.

Posted by: Reed- Charleston, SC | July 15, 2008 9:41 PM

These guys have a very impressive story, but it's pretty obvious that most of the comments so far are phony. The posts are all signed with generic first names (Rachel/Sam/Will/Brian), clustered around the same times, and they sound like they were written by a marketing rep ("Their quality and craftsmanship is unbeatable. And I can't wait to see their new designs for this coming fall/winter season!).

They get an A for effort, though. Good luck with the biz...

Posted by: Skeptical | July 15, 2008 9:48 PM


THE BELT CONCEPT MUST HAVE SOUNDED LIKE A WILD IDEA AT FIRST. YOU GUYS FOUND A NICHE
AND STUCK WITH IT. BRAVO!

YOU PROBABLY HAVE MORE NOVEL IDEAS ON THE DRAWING BOARD.

I'M IMPRESSED.

Posted by: R.S. | July 15, 2008 9:59 PM

actually no -- I, for one, am a friend and a customer who has already received emails about the blog from numerous people who are happy and proud that these guys who have been working hard are getting recognized for their tremendous success story.

Posted by: To Skeptical | July 15, 2008 10:04 PM

Never heard of these guys, but love that one's a local and will keep an eye out for the belts.

Posted by: cam | July 15, 2008 10:20 PM

I love my 20007 S&B key chain. I bought Sherman Pickey out of them over the holidays, and gave them as Christmas gifts to my coworkers in G'town. We have never taken them off. Would love to see more 20007 stuff. Thanks guys!

Posted by: HH20007 | July 15, 2008 10:25 PM

Congrats guys, keep up the good work! love the belts

Posted by: fbb3 | July 15, 2008 10:30 PM

I have the 2 belts and I can't wait to get more. Congrats.

Posted by: worldwide | July 15, 2008 10:43 PM

These guys hit the nail on the head! I couldn't be happier with my belts, (especially my monogrammed American Flag belt!), all the best of luck to these two!

Posted by: Frank Hamilton | July 15, 2008 10:44 PM

these guys have a great product line and are amazing examples of entrepreneuership in America. I have 4 of their belts.

Posted by: Peter | July 15, 2008 10:48 PM

My roommate has one from Columbia CC and he wears it every day. Seriously, every day.

Posted by: Ivy Leaguer | July 15, 2008 10:50 PM

Great story, so happy to see a grassroots business really take off! Can't wait for the new products!

Posted by: Christian | July 15, 2008 10:58 PM

Another company just launched a line of belts that is much better priced and a comparable quality, www.tuckerblair.com. They're also coming out with flip flops and some other products as well.

Posted by: Parker | July 15, 2008 10:58 PM

Who knew that this niche existed? A great example of staying ahead of the trend.

Posted by: TJ | July 15, 2008 11:10 PM

a.Tucker Blair's quality of stiching looks terrible (according to pictures on their web site)
b. Just because a belt company imprints "handmade needlepoint" onto their belts doesn't make it authentic.
c. they only have 12 designs, all of which were copied from S&B
d. they do not offer dog collars, key fobs, or cummerbuns

Stop being a jerk

Posted by: re: | July 15, 2008 11:15 PM

Dog collar for Babe?

Posted by: nice post | July 15, 2008 11:17 PM

After looking at the Tucker Blair web site whoever posted that link should be embarrassed! What poor quality. Simply comparing the two web sites make that comment laughable. I own 2 S&B belts and got one for my Dad for Father's Day, nothing compares. My Dad hasn't taken that thing off! Thank you S&B for bringing such a quality product.

Posted by: Jake T. | July 15, 2008 11:26 PM

What a great write up. You guys deserve this. I have gotten two emails with the link to this blog. Rock on

Posted by: Hunter H | July 15, 2008 11:32 PM

Austin sports his products well :)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2008 11:48 PM

These belts are great for fishermen. I recommend them as a gift for anybody you know who likes to fish.

Posted by: sandy | July 16, 2008 12:12 AM

So is there any way to find the stuff retail, say in the Silicon Valley?
Marc Loriau

Posted by: Marc Loriau | July 16, 2008 12:37 AM

Perfect gift for any guy. Unbeatable quality.

Posted by: John | July 16, 2008 1:40 AM

I wish them continued success! Great article. When are we getting University of Michigan ones? We have some preppy people there too!

Posted by: Lorraine | July 16, 2008 1:53 AM

Belts are durable and uniquely handsome. Smathers and Branson's success represents promise for us all. These guys have embraced the global market,been incredibly creative, and have managed at young age to remain their own bosses. Congrats to them.! And I love their products; people are constantly inquiring about them when I wear their belts ! "Everything else is a Waist!!" Keep on truckin'!

Posted by: pkc | July 16, 2008 5:43 AM

S&B wear is all over Duxbury ... perfect stuff for the "hoy-palloys" at the DYC !!

Posted by: Smitty | July 16, 2008 6:04 AM

Great story and great product. Now I know where to get gifts for all the golfers in my life!

Posted by: Alex | July 16, 2008 6:23 AM

WAY TO GO...continued successes...i get comments on my lobster key fob all the time!!

Posted by: jane anne | July 16, 2008 7:30 AM

These guys are so f#@#$ing preppy but I must admit that the quality of their product is top notch. I have three of their belts and get tons of complements.

Posted by: Caleb | July 16, 2008 7:51 AM

Yo when yall gonna drop a belt for dat SE DC demographic? Dolla signz$$$$$$$$$$$

Posted by: Wes Dogg | July 16, 2008 7:58 AM

Great business story!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 8:20 AM

I hope their new designs include some GOP elephants and women's belts!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 8:47 AM

Great quality - unique design and product - great story and good luck

Posted by: Gary | July 16, 2008 8:49 AM

I wear my belt for all the 'WASPiness' I can get out of it...golf, tennis, sailing...you name it and I wear it! These Smathers and Branson guys are here to stay...I am just going to tighten my belt (no pun intended) and go along for the ride! I have to go sail my boat now, I better go buy myself a new belt!

Posted by: CarterCash | July 16, 2008 8:57 AM

I particularly like the dog collars - every dog wears the usual canvas and nylon whales. It's the true prep dogs that sport the S&B designs.

Posted by: Jack | July 16, 2008 9:00 AM

I especially like the dog collars!

Posted by: allison | July 16, 2008 9:01 AM

I love all S&B's products... Wear the belts, use the keyfobs, and my dogs look great in their collars. Amazing quality that will last forever. Also, the customer service is great and they are very personal. If you haven't checked them out yet I suggest you take a look online at www.smathersandbranson.com.

Posted by: Mary | July 16, 2008 9:03 AM

An interesting idea - did their girlfriends get in on it since they gave them the idea??

Posted by: Kate | July 16, 2008 9:05 AM

Great story and great product, keep it up!

Posted by: mike | July 16, 2008 9:08 AM

Tom - Thanks for making our story come across so well! Glad you put the part about mom cooking dinners for so long, because she sure earned some credit for letting S&B use her basement as an incubator! Everyone else - friends, family, and loyal customers - thanks for your continued support. We promise to keep making quality products and having fun doing it!

Posted by: Austin Branson | July 16, 2008 9:10 AM

This definitely needs to become a chapter in the Preppy Handbook.

Keep up the great work!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 9:14 AM

sweet bros, sweet belts.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 9:15 AM

Preppy is so in right now. I just got back from LA, and I know that these things would sell like crazy over there!!!!

I know austin and peter's backgrounds are pure prep, but maybe you could use a hipster to make preppy chic belts.

Is S&B going to just stick with belts? What about skinny but preppy ties?? That seems like a good product to me.

Anyway, seems like a really good idea, and I'm interested to see how the business develops and make sure you make it out to fabulous LA!

Posted by: fashionista | July 16, 2008 9:15 AM

These belts are great and S&B is really a great company. I've known these guys for years and I wish them continued success in the future.

Posted by: BH | July 16, 2008 9:16 AM

Great story, great belts. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: Brittney | July 16, 2008 9:21 AM

I love to read about individuals who "Just Do It", setting their sights on something and go for it. These guys seem to have "Belted" one out of the park.

Posted by: Celebz | July 16, 2008 9:21 AM

I love there stuff - it is fob ;)

Posted by: Jess | July 16, 2008 9:27 AM

Peter and Austin are classy guys who stand behind a terrific, quality product.

Posted by: Fenster | July 16, 2008 9:30 AM

What a great story!

Posted by: Elizabeth | July 16, 2008 9:36 AM

I want one!!!!! I think they should sell them at Dorian's and Martignetti's in nyc...

Posted by: vanessa | July 16, 2008 9:39 AM

Great Team! Great Products! Great Success!

Posted by: Mel | July 16, 2008 9:39 AM

The employees marketing the merchandise are so helpful and polite!

Posted by: Connie | July 16, 2008 9:40 AM

My Landon belt is the bomb.com

Posted by: Landon Bear | July 16, 2008 9:52 AM


I have gotten to know both Peter and Austin and their company, and truly believe that all three are going to be extremely successful.

I have three belts and my father has one so far. I wear one every day as does my father and friends. The future is only going to be exciting with new designs and product lines that will come.

Good luck guys,

Posted by: Stewart | July 16, 2008 9:52 AM

Does Smathers and Branson do custom corporate belts or key fobs?

Posted by: Mark Thompson | July 16, 2008 9:54 AM

Great belts...and great guys! Thrilled to see your incredible success. You deserve it!

Posted by: mm | July 16, 2008 9:55 AM

I love the belts, the dog collars, and the key fobs! I think the cummerbunds are awesome. What a wonderful company!

Posted by: Anna | July 16, 2008 9:55 AM

Great products, everyone I have given a belt/key fob to has loved it...keep up the good work...

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 9:56 AM

A very interesting article that shows how a great idea mixed with hard work and dedication pays off in the long run. Congratulations to the two of you!

Posted by: Nikki | July 16, 2008 10:01 AM

What a great story! So much success for such a small company!

Posted by: WC | July 16, 2008 10:02 AM


I love the way my boyfriend looks in his belts.

I sooo can't wait for the woman's line!!

:)

Posted by: Tahra | July 16, 2008 10:04 AM

These guys are great! I give S&B belts as gifts all the time. Everyone loves them!

Posted by: Heather | July 16, 2008 10:05 AM

Proud to be preppy. A great success story.

Posted by: pipes | July 16, 2008 10:06 AM

I got these belts for my groomsmen and they were awesome, such a hit with the boys--great service and product. Thanks boys, congrats on this.

Posted by: Mark Jenson | July 16, 2008 10:08 AM

I can't get enough of these belts!!!!!

Posted by: Matt Brockinstyne | July 16, 2008 10:09 AM

Love these guys and love the article, even if the author can't keep Peter's last and middle names straight...

Posted by: bwsq | July 16, 2008 10:12 AM

Shows just how awesome Bowdoin grads really are! So proud of you guys :-)

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 10:14 AM

They have the best people working there -- this place is on the up-and-up for sure.
-A proud wearer of preppy belt

Posted by: OB | July 16, 2008 10:15 AM

Their belts make the best gifts. I can't get enough of them. I'm looking into the dog collars as we speak.

Posted by: Kate | July 16, 2008 10:23 AM

These belts are best fashioned on the ski slopes over snow pants. Great article.

Posted by: Pete | July 16, 2008 10:30 AM

Peter Smathers Carter is the hottest thing to come out of Maine since Stephen King

Posted by: DJ Wild | July 16, 2008 10:36 AM

The golfing scene belt is the hotness.

Posted by: PolarBear2004 | July 16, 2008 10:45 AM

Hats off to S&B. They have a tremendously loyal following, great craftsmanship, and a very down to earth management ... everything a great business should have. Keep up the good work, and let me know when the full needlepoint suit debuts.

Posted by: AV | July 16, 2008 10:56 AM

The belts are great and the people are there are even greater.

Posted by: Terry | July 16, 2008 11:04 AM

This is a great story about a couple of guys who took a big chance, put in some hard work, and succeeded. I love all the new designs you guys have made, especially the Wasp belt. You have come along a ways in 4 years and still have a lot of room to grow. I look forward to seeing all the new products to come. Show me the needlepoint!

Posted by: Toby | July 16, 2008 11:13 AM

I get comments on my belt all the time and the SB staff is the best. Looking forward to picking out my next one!

Posted by: EG | July 16, 2008 11:13 AM

As the owner of Sherman Pickey, I have had the privilege of working with Peter and Austin from their early days. The design work and quality found in Smathers and Branson products is outstanding which has made them a favorite amongst our customers. We have been delighted to see the growth of their company over the years and can report that they are just as attentive and responsive as always. Smathers and Branson embodies all the elements of a well conceived and directed business idea and I am delighted to see their story told so well.

Posted by: Ethan | July 16, 2008 11:16 AM

Nice work! Looking forward to seeing a NCSU belt soon.

Posted by: Andrew K | July 16, 2008 11:20 AM

Great success story. I'm certainly going to keep my eye out for their products. Great find Heath!

Posted by: Not your average prep... | July 16, 2008 11:29 AM

What a great story of American entrepreneurship! I think every business student dreams of doing something like this. These guys took the risk, found a niche, and did it right. They make an exellent product and deserve continued success.

Posted by: Ben | July 16, 2008 11:30 AM

I was an entrepreneurship minor in college, and it is always a feel-good story when 2 guys make it. I am definitely going to have to check out their stuff. Congratulations to Peter and Austin!

Posted by: Bradley | July 16, 2008 11:31 AM

Love the new tennis belt. It made a great fathers day gift, especially with the initials engraved.

Posted by: VK | July 16, 2008 11:35 AM

I love this company and am excited for the women's line to come out!

Posted by: Adrienne | July 16, 2008 11:37 AM

These belts look great, but their superior craftsmanship leading to long durability are what sets them apart from the competition. These belts are amazing. Have 4 belts (and 2 key fobs) and have given many away as gifts. Great article about what seems like some great guys.

Posted by: Thomas | July 16, 2008 11:47 AM

Smathers & Branson is an amazing company. Keep it up!

Posted by: Maxine | July 16, 2008 12:02 PM

Their Great White Shark cummerbund slays...

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 12:08 PM

I think Smathers and Branson products are great. They make great gifts and are very good quality. It's clear that this company is headed for great things in the future. I would love to know what they are going to come out with next!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 12:22 PM

neat!

Posted by: kate | July 16, 2008 12:51 PM

You both are incredible and I am perhaps your biggest fan. After doing needlepoint myself, I know the time that goes into each belt and article. They are all so incredible and beautiful. You two have worked so hard from the beginning and took a risk. I am so proud of you. Keep up the good work and I will always wear my favorite pink elephant drinking martini belt with pride!! xxoo

Posted by: mb | July 16, 2008 12:55 PM

These guys really have it together. Austin and Peter are intelligent, thoughtful and savvy businessmen but most importantly they have a quality product that withstands time and will never go out of style. They know what they're doing. Sure, the prices may seem high but it will last a lifetime.

Posted by: jeff | July 16, 2008 1:01 PM

Fantastic ideas, Fantastic quality, Fantastic guys. What a great company!

Posted by: Katherine | July 16, 2008 1:02 PM

Where can I get one in LA?

Posted by: Leslie | July 16, 2008 1:11 PM

These belts are a true quality product. Fashionable for many occasions, I have the pleasure of owning 4. There might not be a better gift for a guy out there.

Posted by: MD | July 16, 2008 1:30 PM

Ralph started with ties...Smathers and Branson are starting with belts...Smathers have a long way to go, but I don't think the comparison is that crazy. Good find Heath.

Posted by: Mike Harris | July 16, 2008 1:42 PM

Everything from the key fobs to the belts are amazing and so fun! Y'all rock -- keep it up :)

Posted by: Karen | July 16, 2008 1:58 PM

Fantastic product and a fantastic team.

Posted by: Ann | July 16, 2008 1:58 PM

These belts are the only belts I wear - Vinyard Vines should take lessons from Smathers and Branson!

Posted by: Greenwich Yuppy | July 16, 2008 2:04 PM

This is awesome Austin! You worked so hard and deserve all of this!!! I wanna see a PUG belt :)

Posted by: kate b | July 16, 2008 2:15 PM

I spilled coffee on one of the analysts belts. He was walking around moping all day. So I threw $300 on his desk and told him to quit whining and buy a Smathers and Branson belt. The analyst was happy bc he bought the POS at Marshalls for like $10. But I told him to give me his belt bc "I own it now" and the analyst goes walking around the rest of the day without a belt.

OMG!!!HAHAHHAH!! MD's are amazing!!!!

Posted by: BSD | July 16, 2008 2:17 PM

S&B: Achya or nish-nish?
I say achya.

Posted by: HA | July 16, 2008 2:18 PM

Ohhhhh myyy gaaaaaaaaaawwwddd......MD's ARE amazing

Posted by: Ryan Lee | July 16, 2008 2:18 PM

Keep up the good work guys! Congratulations on all your success.

Posted by: Brocky | July 16, 2008 2:24 PM

I used to wear suspenders to keep my pants up. Then I saw these belts and I just had to make the switch. These are the finest belts money can buy.

Posted by: Doug | July 16, 2008 2:26 PM

Very inspirational! Bravo.

Posted by: LH | July 16, 2008 2:30 PM

like the song from Kirate Kid, Smathers and Branson belts are "Simply the Best!"

Posted by: JCK | July 16, 2008 2:32 PM

What's left to say?! Smathers & Branson is a fantastic company with fabulous merchandise. Austin and Peter deserve every bit of their succes.

Congrats guys, and keep it coming!!!

Posted by: RPL | July 16, 2008 2:34 PM

these belts are great--looking forward to the ladies launch!

Posted by: courtney | July 16, 2008 2:41 PM

I'm certain that nearly every reader would have quit at one of the boys many early disappointments - but Austin and Peter were determined to succeed.

The smartest thing they did was to ignore most of the advice dad gave them at the dinner table.

They deserve their success

Posted by: Proud Papa Branson | July 16, 2008 2:55 PM

wow. this is overwhelming. you must have something going here. looks like papa branson gave some good advice.

Posted by: tom heath | July 16, 2008 2:59 PM

I'm Catholic and don't belong to a country club. I have a belt because they are simply well-made, interesting, unique belts. It's a wonderful product. I understand finding your demographic, but the snob-factor in Tom Heath's writing may turn-off some potential clients.

Posted by: upscale | July 16, 2008 3:06 PM

S&B rocks, keep up the good work

Posted by: KB | July 16, 2008 3:17 PM

Congrats! I hope you all have continued success!!

Posted by: Kellie | July 16, 2008 3:18 PM

These belts are great.

Posted by: Jason | July 16, 2008 3:34 PM

hello upscale. Snob Factor! I love it.

Posted by: tom heath | July 16, 2008 3:46 PM

Merril Hermanson is a BABE!

Posted by: SliceYourFace | July 16, 2008 3:53 PM

Everyone who works for S&B is good looking! Well made/hand-crafted belts/ original idea & patterns + hard working/ attractive/smart/well educated/motivated staff = endless success :)

Posted by: CC2008 | July 16, 2008 4:05 PM

You guys are incredible! Great work!!! Your stuff is amazing.I especially love custom made belts with nicknames such as "big time" added to them to make them extra special!! I might be the next biggest fan behind the new Mrs. Branson:)

Posted by: MO | July 16, 2008 4:17 PM

Strong. Very strong.

Posted by: AJM | July 16, 2008 4:42 PM

whoever posted that oh my gawdddd comment is such a gdi

Posted by: fratstar | July 16, 2008 4:43 PM

chicks dig the jolly roger

Posted by: freedom fighter | July 16, 2008 4:49 PM

These belts aren't just classy products--they are a way of life. When I walk out the door wearing my Smathers and Branson belt, I am participating in the tradition of suave confidence and enlightened statesmanship established by our Founding Fathers. To paraphrase one such extraordinary gentleman, give me Smathers and Branson, or give me death!

Posted by: Edward S. | July 16, 2008 4:51 PM

the only thing sweeter than MDs or the Bfrat are smathers and branson belts

Posted by: Bro | July 16, 2008 4:54 PM

The college belts are so Lagat. Thanks S&B

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 5:04 PM

belts are great, the gtown interns are even better!

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 5:14 PM

S&B have taken a low priority dress accessory and turned it into one of the hottest focal points of the wardrobe.

Great company, one of a kind products. It's worth the price of admission because it is a product that will last a lifetime - provided you don't physically grow out of it...

Posted by: Geoff Lewis | July 16, 2008 5:29 PM

my favorite is the sea island design

Posted by: Windsor | July 16, 2008 5:52 PM

S&B Belts are great. Wonderful to see this young company have as strong growth in such a short time. Interesting market niche as well.

Posted by: Markus | July 16, 2008 6:07 PM

Great article about great determination and quality product. These guys are an inspiration!

Posted by: Susie | July 16, 2008 6:10 PM

I had the unique experience of rooming next to a Smathers and Bransen sales associate while studying abroad in Italy. He was a fine fellow. I believe he represents what this company is all about -- quality.

Posted by: Ed C | July 16, 2008 6:11 PM

It is nice to see good things happen for good people. Their products are exceptionally well done and I am incredibly impressed to see the company's current growth rate. Keep up the great work guys!

Posted by: KH17 | July 16, 2008 6:29 PM

How about these guys start making the belts in the U.S.? Or is providing needed jobs to americans not in their business plan? I understand the demographic that these people are going for, but it is inexcusable that they can't produce their products stateside. Everyone is raving about the quality of the product, and that lies in the raw materials, so why can't they do this in the U.S.?

Posted by: Charlie | July 16, 2008 6:29 PM

Great products... perfect gift too!

Posted by: KV | July 16, 2008 6:30 PM

swell

Posted by: Anonymous | July 16, 2008 6:37 PM

dear charlie. the reason they make the belts in vietnam is because they are much less expensive, even with air shipment. i am afraid it's a world economy that we live in.

Posted by: tom heath | July 16, 2008 6:39 PM

dear charlie. part 2. you make a very good point about manufacturing the belts in the U.S. i don't want to make excuses for smathers & branson. maybe they will respond to your question. how about it guys? why can't you make the belts in the us?

Posted by: tom heath | July 16, 2008 6:45 PM

Great idea guys. Can't find these belts anywhere else.

Posted by: Bruce | July 16, 2008 6:48 PM

Charlie, belts that take 30-40 hours to make would retail over 1k if they were made in the USA. Wake up, it is a global economy. These guys are the modern entrepreneurs.

Posted by: Fred W. | July 16, 2008 6:52 PM

Tom, I understand that the world economy makes it more profitable for Smathers & Branson to manufacture their products overseas due to the cheap labor found outside the U.S. But it sounds like their company is rapidly growing, and I just hope that they might consider growing it not only as a great company, but as a great American company.

Posted by: Charlie | July 16, 2008 6:55 PM

fred. is that true? $1,000 at retail if the belt is made in the us? how much are you estimating that the stitcher gets paid in the US?

Posted by: tom heath | July 16, 2008 6:57 PM

charlie. no one wishes for that more than me. i come from syracuse, ny, where lots of factories closed because they shipped jobs overseas. upstate new york - syracuse, utica, buffalo - are all having tough times because of overseas manufacturing. maybe i should have pressed smathers & branson harder on why they didn't try to make the belts here. i think it may also be difficult to find the stitchers. hopefully, we will hear from them on the blog.

Posted by: tom heath | July 16, 2008 7:01 PM

anyone can make a killing on products made in Vietnam; just look at the guys that invented all the toys you can win with skee-ball tickets.

Posted by: "healthy margin" | July 16, 2008 7:10 PM

healthy margin. what the heck is skee-ball? is that a lottery? am i betraying my age?

Posted by: tom heath | July 16, 2008 7:22 PM

These belts are the perfect way to jazz up any outfit--and are great quality, fun designs... tough to beat!

Posted by: Alex | July 16, 2008 8:45 PM

I have a leopard belt and I love it's versatility. I wear it summer and winter with jeans or dress pants. The Skull and Bones belt will be my next purchase. These belts are are well made and distinctive.

Posted by: Marion | July 16, 2008 9:10 PM

Hello.. I am a compulsive needlepointer...and your belts have freed up hours of my time.. thanks for a great product.

Posted by: Vicki | July 16, 2008 10:13 PM

Smathers you are hot! Can I get your number?

Posted by: Cheryl Hickey | July 16, 2008 10:46 PM

You two are BIGTIME!!!

Posted by: Drew | July 16, 2008 10:48 PM

Hey Tom,

Thanks for the article and for everyone's comments too. All the feedback has been very encouraging. I wanted to clear something up. We did try to start the business through manufacturing in the states--while at Bowdoin, we looked into trying to set up an industry for the migrant workers who picked blueberry in Maine. We didn't know much about business at the time, but we did know the economics of doing that made NO business sense--I think our econ Prof. agreed. Fred W.'s retail cost is a little high, but pretty realistic though. I think a needlepoint belt made in the states would be more like $900. Ask any person whose made one and see what they'd sell it for. These things are labor intensive! You guys can do the math. We source from the states when we can- some of the materials that go into the belts are from the states. We also have created jobs and opportunity for people in the states--interns, full time employees, book keepers, graphic designers, web designers, IT consultants, etc. These jobs wouldn't exist without our partnership with Vietnam.

To be honest, the most rewarding part of our business is to see (each trip back to Vietnam) how our stitchers' lives have improved because of the opportunity we have given them. It's an amazing feeling to walk into a rural village and see how happy people are because they have jobs. We have over 1,000 people working out of their homes, depending on us for there livelihood. The Vietnamese do not look at a job as a right, but rather as a privileged--i think we have learned a lot from them. We take what we have created in Vietnam very seriously. We don't want to let them down and we aren't going to. Regardless of what anyone thinks, we see ourselves as an American brand.

Thanks again for all the comments and encouragement. We couldn't have made it this far with out our supporters help!
PSC

Posted by: Peter S Carter | July 16, 2008 10:59 PM

Excellent article on these two great guys and business colleagues of mine. It is nice to see their product/business receiving recognition from the Post! Peter and Austin are not only savvy businessmen but are also good-natured and always willing to help others in the industry. I have enjoyed many fun experiences with these guys traveling to various industry shows and am always excited to shoot ideas back and forth about our two businesses. My company designs and sells high-end neckties www.thatcherspring.com.

Thatcher Spring

Posted by: Thatcher Spring | July 16, 2008 11:54 PM

great story about these guys developing their plan and sticking with it. I would have enjoyed a nice little spotlight on Chris Piper's contributions though, i hear he is the backbone of the operation.

Posted by: univ. of denver | July 17, 2008 1:30 AM

WONDERFUL!

Posted by: William | July 17, 2008 1:40 AM

What an excellent article!
Proud to know the two of you! You both have worked hard and it shows. Keep it up and I look forward to reading more about you as the years go by!

Kingsley Lynch

Posted by: Kingsley | July 17, 2008 7:09 AM

Their belts are so awesome! great patterns and great quality. They are also a conversation piece, every time I wear my belt someone comes up to me to complement it and I tell them where I got it. I feel i need some business cards to hand out.

Posted by: Bass | July 17, 2008 8:00 AM

Great product and a great gift for the guy who has everything. Now if only they could help with gifts for the girl who has everything...

Posted by: E.M. | July 17, 2008 8:15 AM

Absolutely love the dog collars. Will definitely be purchasing one.

Posted by: Al | July 17, 2008 8:17 AM

The belts are great guys!

I've never met a person who did not love them.

Posted by: KC | July 17, 2008 9:17 AM

I saw a great picture the other day of two young ladies and two shirtless bros all standing around a keg in the middle of a field sporting S&B products. COLLEGE!

Posted by: Dick Trickle | July 17, 2008 9:55 AM

what an amazing story! i love the products and even wear the belts myself! i love all the designs! keep them coming! so much fun!

Posted by: sarah | July 17, 2008 10:38 AM

Can't wait to check out their stuff. What a great idea.

Posted by: Taylor | July 17, 2008 10:50 AM

What a great story. Only in America.

Posted by: Lee | July 17, 2008 11:14 AM

Do the workers in Vietnam receive an adequate salary? Will you provide the workers with eyeglasses if their eyes become damaged from the work over time?

Posted by: Jasper | July 17, 2008 11:24 AM

I'm so impressed with Austin and Peter. I'm only bummed that I didn't get in on the action earlier. They are true savvy entrepreneurs. Keep up the hard work guys!

Louise

Posted by: Louise | July 17, 2008 11:27 AM

I spent hundreds of hours making a needlepoint stocking for my daughter (and now face the daunting task of making one for my son)... I thank my lucky stars that I can buy adorable, handmade needlepoint belts without having to do it myself! Each of my kids owns an S&B belt, and they receive so many compliments I'm tempted to take credit for having made them.

Posted by: Sarah | July 17, 2008 1:45 PM

Love these guys and the product, but that honestly is the most poorly-written story I have ever read from the Washington Post. Does this stuff pass through an editor or what?

Posted by: D | July 17, 2008 1:51 PM

I am very pleased with the quality of my 'Starfish' Smathers and Branson belt and after dealing with Austin and Peter, I commend them for their professionalism and business savvy.

Posted by: Stuart B | July 17, 2008 2:12 PM

Uhhh just checked out the product line and it looks pretty tacky...kind of like tourist wares...that said, if they're people out there who like this stuff, way to capitalize...

Posted by: Hansel | July 17, 2008 2:58 PM

I am a big fan of the belts and the concept. Sounds like a very sucessful business.

Posted by: Gordie | July 17, 2008 3:01 PM

The belts are fantastic...I've outfitted all members of my family and extended family with them!! They are also extremely well made, presented in beautiful wood boxes are are very reasonably priced. If you're ever looking for a gift for someone special, these guys are where to go to get it!!

Posted by: Meghan Perito | July 17, 2008 3:48 PM

Tucker Blair is my jam... S&B are a couple of Bowdoin nerds with tired designs.

Anybody caught with a S&B belt on my boat either throws it overboard, or has to walk to the plank.

tuckerblair.com - But only go if you can handle it - no nerds allowed.

Posted by: Ben | July 17, 2008 5:35 PM

Excellent column, Tom! As a Maine native and Bowdoin alum, I found this column particularly interesting! These guys have an impressive story. Congrats Peter and Austin - you have figured out the best way to capitalize on this niche market. Best of luck to you both! I can't wait to look at your site, especially the dog collars.

Posted by: MC | July 17, 2008 6:11 PM

ben. sounds like S&B has some hearty competition. i will check tucker blair out. walking the plank, eh? are you a pirate?

Posted by: tom heath | July 17, 2008 6:18 PM

A great story about two very impressive guys with a great concept for a tough niche market.
Impressive and great story.

Posted by: Elizabeth Kirk | July 17, 2008 8:01 PM

After reading the earlier posts about Tucker Blair I decided to check out their web site and it is very clear how better made the S&B product line is. The threading looks quite poor vs. the tight, clean, colorful stiching of S&B belts. Not to mention that Tucker Blair has copied almost every design that S&B has created, but at a much lower quality. As a fellow retailer my advise to Ben is to stop comparing TB to S&B because it is only hurting you. A simple comparison of the product via pictures is enough to tell the difference between craftsmanship. It's good to have "healthy" competition, however Peter and Austin would never waste their time calling a competetor a nerd. It seems like TB needs to stop critizing and start thinking of new desings (one's not stolen from Smather and Branson). Sorry Ben and sorry to all your friends who had to "walk your plank". Such a childish comment

Posted by: Thomas | July 17, 2008 8:02 PM

Such a great product at a reasonable price for that kind of quality. Something that can last too - the preps are on to something smart.....

Posted by: ann J | July 17, 2008 9:00 PM

Great press. Wish you all continued success, your product has always done very well in our shops. Best Jason

Posted by: Jason (NorthRiverOutfitter.com) | July 18, 2008 7:06 AM

What an amazing story! Smathers and Branson are visionaries of the burgeoning belt revolution. I've got three of their belts (skull and bones--obviously--, lobster, golfer) and I'm planning on adding a fob, a dog collar, and a key chain to my collection. Keep up the good work guys, can't wait to see your 09 collection.

Posted by: Will Reisman | July 18, 2008 1:00 PM

Brilliant product. Great business plan and cutting edge marketing. Smathers and Branson will go far. Keep up the great work guys!

Posted by: Julien | July 18, 2008 2:52 PM

It's so exciting to read about the great success of two great guys who chose to follow a different path. The best part about it is that in the midst of all this great success they are still two great, down-to-earth, grounded guys who have their priorities in line. All the best in the future!

Posted by: Ashley | July 21, 2008 11:50 AM

Can't wait to get some of these sweet belts and chillax with the broskis.

Posted by: Brohan | July 22, 2008 11:45 AM

Great stuff... I see the key fobs all over the place now that I have one. Best of luck!

Posted by: Mark | July 22, 2008 6:21 PM

Great belts and great boys who make them...Best of luck this summer

Posted by: George | July 22, 2008 8:20 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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