GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Grand Rapids company is gaining global attention for giving new purpose to goaltending gear.
Decadelong friends Joe Messina and Zac Smith say they had been spit-balling business ideas for a while when something finally clicked.
“One day about a year ago, he called me at like 2 a.m. and was like, ‘I think I got the correct idea that we’re going to run with,” recounted Messina.
“It’s a big thing nowadays, upcycling anything, you know. And I just happened to see something on Instagram and I was like, ‘What if we did that with goalie equipment?’” Smith said.
“I was like, “I think you’re onto something. I think you’ve got an idea that we can run with,’ and the rest is history,” added Messina.
Second String Leather Company was born.
GETTING THE GOODS
The Grand Rapids company isn’t Messina and Smith’s first brush with the hockey world.
“I think I started skating at the age of 3, something like that. My dad played hockey, maybe not the greatest player, but he passed it down to me,” said Smith, who has been goaltending for about 20 years now.
“Hockey has been in my blood since — for as long as I can remember, since I was probably 6 years old,” said Messina.
For about a month, the owners of Second String Leather Company tapped into their hockey connections and web searching skills to scavenge up vintage goalie pads, gloves and blockers for their company rollout, including those from former NHL pro Pat Jablonski.
But they still lacked one thing: expertise with leather.
Enter Jacob Vroon of Gemini Handmade, a leather craft studio and storefront located on Cherry Street near Eastern Avenue in Grand Rapids’ Eastown neighborhood.
“It was a perfect fit right from the get-go,” said Smith.
READY FOR ROUND THREE
Second String Leather opened on May 29 with about 200 leather products fused with goalie gear. Within two weeks, 95% of the inventory listed online was gone, and the collection has since sold out.
“The true beauty of it all is the artistry behind the pieces. They’re not just your run of the mill, go to the store and you see 15 in a row and they all look the same. I mean, each one of these pieces are unique. They have character, they have branding, they have unique lines and colors and stitching and they really, they stand out,” said Messina.
Messina, Smith and Vroon answered demand by churning out a second line on Aug. 24. The collection included 250 to 350 patriotic red, white and blue themed-pieces – some made from Thatcher Demco’s and Garth Snow’s old goalie gear. It sold out too.
Sunday, Second String Leather Company will try to do it again, rolling out a collection with special ties to Michigan:
“The Jimmy Howard goalie pad, that’s sort of real special. Obviously, we’re a Michigan company and he plays for the Detroit Red Wings so from a fan’s perspective, they’re really going to enjoy that,” said Messina.
Collection 3 will be their biggest so far—more than 400 items, including a new winter hat, men’s belt and a new wallet – made from three goalie pads and seven gloves and blockers.
The company that’s already filled orders as far away as Italy, Germany and Sweden will see if it can extend its reach even further across the world.
“That’s been the true special piece of it all was seeing people’s reaction when they see what we’ve done to old goalie equipment that’s been tucked aside by time or put in a bag and stuck away in a basement in the garage or almost thrown out. You know, we’ve sort of saved it and given it a second life and have moved it onto someone’s back pocket,” said Messina.
With Second String Leather Company’s success, the business has been able to give back.
Messina says within the last couple months, Second String Leather Company has donated a portion of their proceeds to the David Warsen Legacy Foundation to support deployed Navy SEALS and Lift the Mask, which helps goalies of all ages with mental health issues.
The co-owners say they’ve also reaped an unexpected reward from their products.
“We never thought we you know would hit the heart of so many hockey enthusiasts,” said Messina.
One of those people was the father of late NHL player Ray Emory. Second String Leather Company sent him a wallet and keychain made from Emory’s glove and blocker from when he played in Russia.
Soon thereafter, an email from Emory’s father hit their inbox.
“He was just blown away when he got them in the mail,” said Messina. “(To) see it years later, he said in the email, it actually brought back feelings from that day because he was excited to go over to Russia and play, and it’s been so many years since he’s actually seen that color and that material and that he was with his son when he picked those up.”
After lots of requests, Second String Leather Company plans to start taking custom orders beginning late December or early 2020.
“I don’t think we ever thought about that when we started this that these pieces would have true meaning behind them with family members and people that are passed on. That wasn’t really in our thinking when we did these pieces and this idea, and now it sort of transpired into something truly special,” said Messina.