If you observe a well-dressed gentleman in a boardroom, at a special gathering, or on the golf course, chances are he’s wearing a Torino Leather belt. Known for its versatility, durability, quality and style, Torino’s leather goods are handmade in a factory located along the Mississippi River in New Orleans. The exterior of the warehouse is deceptively quiet; inside, the building hums with the sounds of artisans expertly cutting, sewing and burnishing fine leathers and exotic skins from around the world into highly coveted belts, wallets and jewelry.
“Our belts are about handcrafted quality. We make sure they are en- during style-wise, fashion-wise and longevity-wise,” affirms Tom Gar- ner, Torino’s owner and managing director. “We also pride ourselves on being an efficient company with an emphasis on customer service.”
Each belt is handmade by a group of artisans who’ve been with the company for many years. Each leather item is worked on by all craftsmen, representing decades of experience, expertise and com- mitment. It takes years to train someone to work one part of the process, and even longer to train a worker on each of the stations. An interdependent group that can work in numerous stations, most arti- sans tend to focus on one or two areas. “They are a dedicated, tal- ented, hardworking group. We even have six members from one family who we’ve worked with for 15 years,” Garner boasts.
Like many families, the Torino crew has faced challenges together, most notably rebounding after Hurricane Katrina. The original Torino Belts factory, located in New Orleans East, was under water for six weeks. The city was evacuated, and employees eventually re- turned to find their homes damaged and belongings lost. Torino Belts closed, but Garner and three other longtime employees moved forward to open Torino Leather in January 2006.
“Every day we experienced disappointments. For a while it was just the four of us working here; eventually everyone returned.
Tenacity is what helped us to come back,” Garner explains with much pride. Due to this employee loyalty, Torino was rebuilt on a foundation of artisan experience. “Making belts is a labor-intensive process: the skins and leathers are extremely expensive, so mistakes are costly,” Garner explains. “This interconnected group depends on each other to create every product to perfection.”
Torino Leather uses the highest-quality Italian calf, Italian woven cotton, and exotic skins such as American bison, South African os- trich, South American caiman, hornback crocodile and American al- ligator. Each skin is inspected and approved before the belt making begins. Pieces are hand-cut with precision. Each belt has three lay- ers, so the artisan must determine which materials to use in the mid- dle and bottom layers to make the belt soft, pliable, or firm, depending on the skin. Belts are hand-stitched, belt loops are hand- sewn and buckles are selected and sewn in by hand. Artisans tasked with skiving the exotic skins do so expertly to ensure seamless sides. Even the belt holes are handpainted to perfectly match the color of the leather after it’s been burnished. Garner considers the burnish- ing of the leather to be one of the most important processes as it brings out the grain, often giving the skin a distressed look. Each piece is unique because the burnishing is done by hand.
“Holmes is the only person in our company who hand-burnishes the leather, so everyone in the country who wears one of our antiqued leather belts is wearing a belt by Holmes. Pretty amazing thought,” Garner points out. To ensure quality, each belt’s measurements are verified, stitches trimmed, and belts carefully packed.
“Our belts are about handcrafted quality. We make sure the belts are enduring style-wise, fashion-wise and longevity-wise,” affirms Tom Garner. Torino takes much pride in its customer service and ability to meet requests in a timely manner.
While Torino Leather is known for its color choices, it’s been mainly through PGA tournaments that their reds, or- anges, yellows and greens have made their way onto golf courses. For the last 13 years, Torino has supplied the“Everyone should wear belts,” declares Garner. “A great belt makes the outfit, whether it’s for special occasions, business, resort, or denim. Each of our belts is made in numerous colors, sizes, widths and with different buckles, so there are thousands of choices for cus- tomers who want a custom look.”
Zurich Classic of New Orleans with handmade, specialized gifts of custom belts for the players. Each golfer chooses his design and color, meaning Torino ends up making close to 300 belts with only a three-day turnaround. “The Tour Pros go crazy for these belts! Many wear buckles from their sponsors and want a quality strap to go with it. For those guys, we make custom straps; for others, we make the whole custom belt,” explains Garner.
Like most customers, golfers also appreciate Torino’s wallets and jewelry. As pants have gone to flat-fronts and tapered looks, cus- tomers have turned to thinner wallets. Torino’s wallets are made of the same rich, exotic leathers as their belts, and some linings can be customized in coordinating colors to celebrate a favorite college or professional sports team. Leather bracelets with magnetic clasps and interesting closures are also popular.
While Garner is best known for his leather goods expertise and passion for golf, he’s also famous for his gumbo; he’s been known to serve 50 to 60 pounds of it at a time to friends, family and customers. It’s a special family recipe that he keeps a closely guarded secret… but if you play your cards right, he might share his jambalaya recipe!