Jeff Gallea: Belt Designer
What did you want to do in college?
I wanted to be a painter, but growing up, my dad was a dentist. I was supposed to be a dentist; he wanted me to be one. We had to find a compromise, since the odds of making a living from being a painter are slim to none and I didn’t want to study to be a dentist. My parents thought I would make a good graphic design artist, so I went to graphic design school.
What made you want to make belts?
I moved to Los Angeles after college and when I was there I met a guy named Gus who designed leather bags and belts. I needed to find a way to make a living, and the market for accessories in the fashion industry at the time was huge. So, Gus became my mentor and taught me everything he knows, like how to pick leather and find bet buckles. I needed money and making belts is inexpensive. We worked together for one year. I saw so much potential to make a lot of money, so I broke off from him and started Jeff Gallea belts.
From there I was hoping to design belts for the sports season of fashion so, fashion week. I wanted my belts to get into good stores and to get it on a celebrity. I knew that if I could get my belts on one celebrity that my company would become huge.
I got my belts photographed on celebrities like Jessica Simpson, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Orlando Bloom and Mick Jagger. From there my company took off.
What happened when it took off?
Well I started to, as people say, “chase the dragon”; my company grew so fast that I could not keep up. I would get an order for 500 belts and could only make 200. They were hand made by me in the USA and it was too much for me to handle.
Did you try to branch off?
Well, yes. I tried to have other manufacturers help make my belts, but they were not good enough, and handbags would not sell. I made belts for Von-Dutch and Ed-Hardy, but they were not my belts.
How did you make these belts your own?
I mixed designs that I like. I like vintage, rock and roll and western style. I really like western. I mixed these three styles to make belts for women. At that time, not a lot people mad mixed these designs, especially for women. People were making shiny belts for women, like bling bling belts. I was making the complete opposite, and people wanted it. I started selling internationally. I sold the most belts to Japan then the US, then it was Germany, Italy, and then France.
How did you overcome the difficulties within your business?
Well I didn’t. They killed me. Well, in 2008 the Chinese started to manufacture everything, so people would buy my belts and send them to China to be copied, I couldn’t compete. In Korea I discovered there was a company called Jeff Gallea belts that sold exact replicas off my belts. I hired lawyer in Tokyo but there was nothing he could do to stop it. I couldn’t compete with that.
Then in 2011, I went to China to try and find a belt manufacturer. I found a lot of companies that could do it, but none of these companies were honest. I hired one company for a while, but soon found that they were participating in illegal practices in order to manufacture the most belts they could, and I could not stay with them knowing that it was going on. No one could manufacture my belts honestly.
Then in 2013, my website got hacked by the Russians. Anytime anyone would try to log on stars and lines would show up and loud music would play. I had to shut down my website and decided it was not worth it.
I had a good run for ten years, the last two years were rough trying to compete with other companies, but I just couldn’t do it anymore.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
First, don’t rely on one person to make your things. If you lets say, want to make t-shirts don’t go to one company to do it because then they can control you. Associate yourself with many people.
Second, be open to outside influences. You may think you have a good idea but then somebody will give you a tip that could make it better. Take the tip.
Lastly and my biggest piece of advice, do not, I repeat, do not, accept free money. In the end it will screw you.
Start small and build up. Allow yourself to start from the bottom.
Written by Mackenzie Ruh, SMU Student