Leather for Team USA gloves at opening ceremony was produced just outside Adirondack Park

Luger Erin Hamlin from Remsen carries the flag of the United States Feb. 8 during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. (AP photo — Michael Sohn)

GLOVERSVILLE — For the team at Sunderland Leather, the start of the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, was special. The company had a hand in making the fringed gloves worn by the American athletes, which were designed and manufactured by American companies.

The gloves, which featured a beaded American flag and Olympic rings, were made with leather that was tanned, sorted, selected and colored right on Kingsboro Avenue.

Smrtic was out of state for a leather show when news of the gloves broke and said it has been a whirlwind since he returned to Gloversville.

The team at Sunderland Leather sampled the leather for the Ralph Lauren company and Olympia Gloves of Elmsford, Westchester County, around a year ago. During the process there were a number of prototypes and samples made of the leather used in the Western theme design.

The gloves themselves were manufactured about two to three months ago by Olympia off a design by Polo Ralph Lauren.

Smrtic said Sunderland has worked extensively throughout the years with Olympia Gloves’ Peter Kiernan, who he said is from Gloversville.

Sunderland has also worked with the Ralph Lauren Corporation through a company that does private labels.

This is not Sunderland’s first brush with the Olympics. It also did a project for a Canadian Company, Roots, that made the opening ceremony coats for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

“We did some leather sleeve and trim for their jackets,” Smrtic said.

Smrtic said that all of the company’s 30 employees were involved with doing work on the gloves for this year’s Olympics.

“The leather business is so hands on and labor intensive that a single piece of leather may be handled a hundred times before it is cut and sewn into a product,” he said. “Everybody has their hand in the product in one way or another, from shipping to receiving and communicating with the customer.”

He said it is not just his employees that are feeling the pride, however. He said he has been getting a lot of messages on social media from people who are from or used to live in the area. He said he has heard from people who are bragging on social media a bit that they are from Gloversville.

“There seems to be a little groundswell, a little pride that they came from Gloversville,” he said. “And it’s on a positive note. Instead of negative news coming out of Gloversville, it’s nice to have positive news come out.”

The gloves, which were retailing for $995, are currently sold out on the Ralph Lauren website. Smrtic said he suspects they may be a limited offering but hopes there might be another line or similar product that can offer Sunderland more business.

“We are hoping, with the attention it’s getting, there will be a lot of reorders,” he said.

He said the U.S. Olympic Committee is committed to using American companies, and he hopes the next designer for Team USA in the 2020 games in Tokyo or the 2022 games in Beijing keeps Sunderland in mind when it comes time to make the gear.

Smrtic said it was a good feeling to see Ralph Lauren seek out American manufacturers for this project.

“Every time they go for these contracts now, they are seeking out and trying to support local businesses,” Smrtic said. “It’s very important to us. We are a small family business and a niche business, and for these companies to seek us out again and want to start buying our products and not buying from China or Vietnam or the next country, it makes us feel good, and it makes our employees feel good that they’re part of something a little bit bigger.”

Smrtic said Sunderland has been in the city approximately 50 years, started by his father-in-law.

“We are a family business. We started in the area, and we plan on staying in the area. We’d like to grow, and it’s beneficial that people try to buy American. It really does help the community and supports a lot of people through jobs, taxes, utility, and it’s important for a community,” Smrtic said.

“We have been here for 50 years, and we want to continue. We’ve got our fourth generation involved in the leather business. Our roots are here, and it’s nice to get some positive feedback for Gloversville, because we love it here,” Smrtic said.

Kerry Minor is a reporter for the Leader-Herald, an Enterprise sister newspaper in Gloversville.

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