If you’re lucky enough to be traveling to Eugene, Oregon, do yourself a favor and check out the Will Leather Goods shop at the city’s vibrant Fifth Street Market. Located in a vintage boxcar, the quaint shop showcases some of the lifestyle brand’s most popular products, including belts, wallets, bags and hats. Upon stepping into the shop, you’ll quickly see why Will Leather Goods epitomizes the spirit of the Pacific Northwest, with products featuring sustainable designs, impeccable craftsmanship and globally inspired styles.
How did Will Leather Goods earn its spot as one of Eugene’s favorite lifestyle brands? It all goes back to the trailblazing, risk-taking outlook of its founder, Will Adler.
From Motown to Tinseltown
Will Adler has lived in Eugene for so long he considers it his hometown, but his story begins in Detroit, Michigan. Will was born and raised in the Motown area. He attended Wayne State University in downtown Detroit for a while before switching gears to attend drama school in Chicago.
Always one to act upon inspiration, Will’s creative streak prompted him to pursue a career in film. He started out acting in various off-Broadway productions in New York City before heading to Hollywood in the mid-1970s, where he read for a part in the 1975 Oscar-winning film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
He didn’t get the part, but he landed roles in several B-movies. Will also appeared in numerous TV shows, including Wonder Woman, Kojak, Laverne & Shirley and Welcome Back Kotter. His budding acting career was interrupted by the Screen Actor’s Guild strike of 1981, which lasted for eight months. By then, he’d met his adventurous wife and future business partner, Sandy. They had a young baby at home, so Will set out for greener pastures.
A Craftsman is Born
Inspiration reared its head once more for Will Adler while accompanying his brother, Robert, to a trade show. While exploring the event, Will saw people selling colorful, webbed “rainbow belts” that they’d acquired from carts on the streets of New York City. Seeing how much joy the belts brought people, Will decided to take the idea to LA. The emerging entrepreneur started peddling the belts on the Venice Beach boardwalk. When they fell out of favor, he switched to making and selling leather “Billy belts.” Suddenly, he was in charge of a 150- employee wholesale business with more than $10 million in annual sales.
Despite the venture’s success, Will sold the Billy belts business in 1992. He and his family, which now included three kids – sons Brent and Luke and daughter Shane – moved away from LA, and he started a new firm. The company designed, produced and sold leather belts, bags, wallets, hats and
other products to retailers like Nordstrom and small specialty shops across the country, quickly establishing itself as a leading fine leather accessories brand.
Will Leather Goods: The Culmination of Risks and Dreams
Will Adler renamed his rapidly growing firm Will Leather Goods, reflecting the personal touch he puts on every product the line produces. The name also highlights the family-centric nature of the company.
Like the pioneers who flocked to the region so many decades ago, Will was drawn to Oregon for its gorgeous scenery and friendly atmosphere. Before opening his flagship store in Eugene – a must-see while visiting this southern Willamette Valley city – he opened a Will Leather Goods store on Abbot-Kinney in Venice, California, cementing the brand’s place as an innovative, trend-setting specialty leather accessories retailer. Other stores came and went in places like NYC, Detroit, San Francisco and Portland before Adler brought things full circle, deciding to create a permanent presence in his adopted hometown of Eugene.
The Boxcar at Fifth Street Market
Throughout its history, Will Leather Goods’ logo has been branded with the words “Eugene, Oregon,” denoting the incredible amount of inspiration Adler derived from this vibrant Willamette Valley city. The company’s design operations have been located there since 1992 when it was still called Spirit Leather Works. At long last, Will decided to establish a permanent presence for the brand in The Emerald City. The only question, though, was where exactly to build it?
Yet again, inspiration struck most unexpectedly. One day while spending time outside of Eugene, Will discovered a vintage freight car and realized it could be repurposed for use as a specialty boutique. Although the boxcar only offered 500 square feet of space, it provided a unique environment that would perfectly showcase the lovingly crafted leather accessories of Will Leather Goods.
The boxcar boutique, as Will and his employees called it, was customized for use as a specialty shop. Architecture students from the University of Oregon helped design the new space, allowing many original details to shine while modifying other elements for a modern retail environment. The Will Leather Goods boutique opened at Fifth Street Market, one of the most popular shopping destinations in Eugene, in May 2015. Since then, the vintage boxcar has received countless visitors, introducing them to the brand’s high-end leather accessories.
A Eugene Institution with Global Reach
Today, Will Leather Goods products are designed in Eugene, and visitors can check them out in person by stopping by the boxcar boutique at Fifth Street Market. What started as a three-person operation working out of a garage has become a global enterprise.
Artisans across the world produce Will Leather Goods products. A world traveler, Will Adler painstakingly searched the globe to identify cultures that excel at creating impeccable goods made out of leather. Today, artisans in locales like Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mexico, Italy, Wisconsin, Texas, and India contribute to Will Leather Goods’ ongoing success. They use proven techniques to create accessories that are perfectly imperfect and utterly unique – just like every human being.
A Brand as Unique as Eugene
Will Leather Goods fits right into the sustainable, adventurous culture of Eugene. The company continually seeks out newer, better ways to develop and design its high-quality leather goods, ensuring innovation and style at every turn. It also relies on tip-to-tail production, leaving nothing to waste.
The brand uses full-grained, vegetable-tanned leather developed over several years using a proprietary formula. Vegetable tanning is an age-old technique that predates many ancient civilizations and produces “naked” leather, which leaves wrinkles, scars and other imperfections intact. Every item sold by Will Leather Goods is therefore totally unique, making it an extraordinary addition to any wardrobe.
If you’re planning a trip to Eugene, Oregon, do yourself a favor and set aside a few hours to stroll through its iconic Fifth Street Market. Check out the Will Leather Goods boxcar boutique while in the area to see what all the fuss is about. As you peruse the compact space, you’ll quickly see why Oregonians take so much pride in being the home base for this iconic Pacific Northwest brand. Who knows – you may even be inspired to pick out a unique piece for yourself as a souvenir of your amazing Oregon adventure.
Check Out The Will Leather Goods Website
In recents years, Will Leather Goods has made a big push into the digital space by creating a world-class e-commerce website featuring many of their high- quality leather goods. You can visit their website at WillLeatherGoods.com.