In the summer of 2010, college-age brothers Brook and Alex Stroud joined an uncle on a trip to South America. They spent their time there fishing, camping, and cattle-herding at a ranch (alongside actual gauchos!) and visiting the lively city of Buenos Aires.
The boys admired the geometric woven wool ponchos worn by gauchos in the countryside and noticed the fabric made into belts sold in Buenos Aires— high-end boutiques. Loving the unique cloth, the brothers purchased a few belts as souvenirs and were surprised at the reaction they received back at college; all their friends wanted them.
The following summer, when Alex returned to Argentina to work on an estancia, he thought about his friends’ reactions to the belts. There were plenty of American clothing lines that captured the British or American countryside, but none that embodied the grit and charm of South America.
“Was there a large demographic of men in America looking for a belt with more personality, something different than the all-leather standard, but less whimsical than needlepoint?” Alex wondered. Then he had an epiphany: Instead of bringing belts back from Argentina, could he and Brook design a line themselves?
After months of emailing and using Skype, they decided to move forward with the idea. The brothers traveled back to Buenos Aires to meet with belt manufacturers and fabric suppliers. Unhappy with the quality control, however, they decided to look for partners closer to home. After being turned away by American leather shops that didn’t want to risk working with a new business, they found a craftsman willing to take a chance.
After graduating from the University of Richmond, Brook made the belt business his full-time job, and even though Alex had two years left at Trinity College, he, too, was determined to make it work. The brothers spoke daily, developing a business plan and working on designs. After Alex graduated, Brook and three of the brothers’ high school friends moved into Alex’s off-campus house in Hartford, Conn., on the edge of the Trinity College campus. Together, they worked to get the business up and running.La Matera, named for the spot where Latin American families traditionally unwind together after a hard day’s work, officially launched in 2012. Shops and online retailers were quick to place orders for the belts, including the Wilmington Country Store, a local boutique in Greenville, Del. Last year, La Matera caught the attention of Jay Fielden, the Editor In Chief of Town & Country magazine. Fielden wanted to wear a belt to the Sentebale Royal Salute Polo Cup in Connecticut. Prince Harry was in attendance at the event and, before long, both he and his brother, Prince William, were spotted wearing La Matera. Prince William even had his belt on the day he and Princess Kate left the hospital with their newborn son.
While the South American estancia inspired the products, their home turf shaped the brand. “The countryside of Chester County has a slight gritty element to it, which Brook and I enjoy and keep in our branding discourse,” says Alex.
They also incorporate notes of the polo lifestyle, having spent time with South American polo players while abroad and attending many Brandywine Polo Club matches over the years: their uncle is a founding member. If you ask the Strouds about starting La Matera, they are quick to mention that it would never have happened without their family, friends, and the relationships they have built in Chester County.
Brook and Alex currently live in Brooklyn, far from the wide-open spaces of South America and Kennett Square. They share an office space where they handle all of the day-to-day operations: customer service, product development, social media, online marketing, and managing the e-commerce site. “Prior to starting La Matera, we would never have guessed all the different hats one has to wear,” Brook says. “It can be a roller coaster ride, but we’re enjoying the challenges.”
Working one-on-one with your brother for long hours results in the occasional argument. Recently, the two were playing squash in Brooklyn after work and it had been a long few weeks. Brook lost it and hurled the ball at Alex’s legs (luckily, he missed). But, overall, the brothers agree there is a level of transparency, accountability, and shared vision that makes working together a pleasure and a powerful learning experience.
La Matera started with a collection of signature belts, but the product assortment continues to grow. In the past year, the Strouds added wallets and a watch to the collection. The wallets are handcrafted in Italy with calfskin leather and Argentine-woven fabric. The watch, which sold out almost immediately, is U.S.-made with the same beautiful elements. Brook and Alex recently hired a fulfillment center in South Carolina to take care of the online and retail orders. Previously, they were doing the fulfillment in-house, so the switch has been a huge time-saver. Now, they have more time to focus on growing the business.
What’s next for La Matera? “We are excited about growing our customer base, maturing as a company, and releasing some new products we have in the works,” Brook says. “Our goal is to be a company that more and more people look to for quality products, unique designs, and a rugged sophistication that is distinctly La Matera. As legendary producer Bruce Dickinson one said, ‘I put my pants on just like the rest of you–one leg at time. Except, once my pants are on, I make gold records.’ That’s how we feel about belts.”
For a list of retailers or to purchase La Matera products, visit lamaterashop.com.
Article reprinted from The Hunt Summer 2014 issue.