It happens so much now, it’s almost a 21st century norm. Young professional climbs the corporate ladder fast and hard, commands a well-earned high salary … and walks away from the hamster wheel to build a brand-new career by hand, the old-fashioned way.
For 28-year-old Andrew Svisco, his early career aspiration was to work in the stock market. The strategy of investing, the aggressively fast pace, and the status appealed to him. At first.
“My first job was in a bank where I worked 12 to 15 hours a day. We were still feeling the impact from the collapse of the economy in 2008-09. I was promoted two times in four years. One of our main clients was a foreign government, and sending U.S. money there bothered me,” he said.
It was the history behind the commerce that concerned Svisco. He remembered how his grandfather worked in the steel industry in Buffalo and lost more than one job because the business was sold to an off-shore owner. His solution – start his own company that sourced all material components from the U.S. and to name the business Parkhurst, after the street in Tonawanda where his grandparents lived. It’s an entrepreneurial homage based in action with a lofty goal: “I want to make the quality shoes and books by hand with premier products,” Svisco said.
Svisco designs and manufactures boots for men. He doesn’t have a background in fashion or retail, but he did his homework. “Boots and shoes that are made overseas are cheap. There are some American boot and shoe manufacturers, but all the styles looked the same,” he said. Svisco’s research found American shoe and boot making was steady and not growing. “I knew I had this entrepreneurial thought and I wanted to do something to bring back craft and trade” so this finance wizard went from dealing in bonds to tooling leather.
Svisco always liked building and creating. “I was addicted to Legos growing up,” he said. “I loved building models. It was a hobby.” He took some architecture and engineering in high school and college (Williamsville North High School and the University at Buffalo, respectively) to feed his interest, but design didn’t spark with him as a career. However, the entrepreneurial bug had bit him, and he didn’t like how men’s boots looked.
So Svisco asked a good friend, who was a cobbler, about materials and trends. He also met with leadership at a manufacturing site in Batavia, and “everyone there took me under their wing,” he said. He was taking steps down a new career pathway.
Svisco put together some samples, loaded a backpack, and went to New York City for Men’s Fashion Week in 2018, where he started talking to people, getting their attention, and capturing their interest in handmade boots made from all natural, U.S. sourced materials. Before long, he was getting some inquiries and began to manufacture for some specialty retailers. By the summer of 2018, he took another bold step: After working 12-15 hours a day at his banking job and spending several hours a night designing and making, he gave up his first career to devote his time to Parkhurst.
As the sole (get it?) employee, Svisco does it all, from designing functional and stylish boots, to managing his website, working with the factory in Batavia, sourcing materials, and financing his self-funded startup (“I socked away a lot of my earnings,” he said). He also has to educate himself on some of the other aspects of running a business, like sales tax laws.
“My (former) day job helped me to teach myself to learn how to do high-level tasks. In that job, you couldn’t make a mistake. You had to be on your game,” Svisco said.
His diligence is paying off. Since launching his business under a year ago, his website sales are growing and his products are sold in three local stores. He's even starting to see a profit, something he didn’t expect to see for another year. Even though 94 percent of his sales come from outside this area--through his New York City outreach and his website--relocating to a more renowned fashion center isn’t on his agenda.
“I know it sounds cliché, but I love this area,” he said, “and a brand like this has a great home in Buffalo. Buffalo is the perfect playground to test the kind of product I’m making, and it gives me the opportunity to push my design and materials and test (them) to the limit.” They are work boots, after all, and even with a spiffy style, the natural materials have to hold up to the region’s roughest weather without compromise.
Svisco is focused on building his business while continuing to learn his trade and stay true to his goal to create a stylish product from all U.S.-sourced materials, down to the leather. He sources leather from cattle ranches in the West, where the cows are grass fed, free range, live a full life, and the beef is used by other purveyors. Svisco said Parkhurst will also “support American jobs and workers that need the food and the work.”
As he grows his network, he’s reaching out to more mentors, too, for inspiration and direction. One mentor runs a $20-million shoe company in California. These insights will help him build his brand, expand his product line, and add new products, like shoes for men and boots and shoes for women.
“The more people you meet, the more you learn,” he said pragmatically.
That’s sage wisdom to make any grandpa proud.