Reviving an 18th Century Leather Brand

Making Leather Goods in America is Cool, Again…

The last home of Brigadier (Ethan & Milton Leathersmiths) in Boston, Massachusetts.

Late last year Sumo had the opportunity to acquire the rights to the Brigadier leather brand with the goal of launching the brand sometime this year. Growing up in rural Massachusetts I watched as factory after factory closed down or moved to Mexico or China. The government began offering job retraining to artisans and craftsmen to prepare them for 21st century careers — jobs in data entry and telemarketing. It was a heartbreaking experience that I’ll never forget.

Thirty years later and Americans are starting to remember just how fun it is to actually make things once again. I know I’ve caught the maker bug myself. The so-called “maker movement” is exploding with more than 145 million Americans identifying as “makers” funneling more than $29 billion into the world economy each year. It is now “cool” to make things in America and we’re starting to see a revival of old American brands like Shinola and now, hopefully, Brigadier.

The Treaty of Nanking

‘Brigadier’ Philip Ewans Milton was born in the West Midlands of England in a town called Walsall in 1799. The second son of Randolph Barber Milton, the proprietor of the famed leather manufacturer Ethan & Milton Leathersmiths, Phillip studied at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst. His eldest brother, Henry Milton, took over management of their father’s company shortly after Philip was sent to China by Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston. Upon the successful conclusion of the Opium War and the signing of the Treaty of Nanking, Phillip was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and returned to England to find his father’s company in shambles. Henry had gambled away the family fortune and would shortly find himself in debtors prison. In the meantime, Philip bought the majority of the tooling and manufacturing equipment from his brother’s creditors and moved the operation to the New World.

Brigadier Philip Ewans Milton reopened Ethan & Milton Leathersmiths in Boston in 1844. Shortly after his arrival in the New World Philip married Erin Elizabeth Adams and they had three boys and three girls. Ethan & Milton flourished in Boston. Known to his friends and family as simply “Brigadier” or “Brig”, Philip ran the company with his children and grandchildren until his death in 1876. After his death his children renamed the company “Brigadier Leathersmiths” in his honor. The first World War consumed both the supply of leather and the manpower necessary to operate so the company was forced to shutter and the once famous Boston brand fell into disuse.

The story of Brigadier was largely forgotten until a relative found a treasure trove of documents about the company in a deceased relative’s basement. Soon afterward the decision was made to sell the brand more than a hundred years after its unfortunate demise — creating the opportunity to relaunch the brand once again.

Made in the finest tradition of the originals, Brigadier’s first product is a MacBook Laptop Case made from 10-ounce bridle leather. We think the Brigadier would appreciate the fact that we’ve used old world manufacturing techniques to protect 21st century technologies. Brigadier products are designed, prototyped, and made in the United States just like the originals were in 1844.

To start, I’ve been prototyping various cases out different types of leather on my kitchen table right here in Dallas, Texas. The BRIG cases are a recreation of an existing design made outside of the United States, but I’m busy creating all new designs for iPhones, iPads, and other electronics. Once I’m happy with a design I send the specifications to Tony who builds our cases at scale in Secaucus, New Jersey.

Our first product is a Leather MacBook Case (13" and 15") seen below and you can buy it here (FYI the website is still under construction):

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