You may remember my article on stylish Bugatchi leather bracelets for men. The largest shortcoming of these was the retail price of $59.95, which is ridiculous for a simple band of dyed and braided leather. Fortunately, the free market is always aggressive in the fashion industry, even in small markets, and it has produced an alternative.
I make regular visits to Washington, DC to check up on my elderly mother. Whenever I’m there one of the places I love to visit is the Georgetown Flea Market, held every Sunday. It interferes a bit with my tennis schedule, but when I can, I arrange to be there on a Sunday to see what fascinating antique, vintage and arts and craftsy items are available there.
In the past I’ve found great antique jewelry, rare communist propaganda posters from Central America and the Caribbean, plus unusual objet d’art and oddities. It seems like there’s always something new there in additional to the regular vendors.
This Sunday, one first time vendor was this enthusiastic gentleman from Morocco (to the left), selling all manner of leathergoods. He suggested that they were hand crafted by his relatives in the home country and I have no reason to doubt him. His prices were extremely low and he had no shame in admitting that this was because manual labor is just cheaper in North Africa. It doesn’t trouble me because it is the nature of a free market and let me discover a bit of the flavor of a North African bazaar in the humidity of the Nation’s Capitol. It just needed the smell of Turkish coffee to be the complete experience in that one stall.
In addition to the inevitable purses, wallets and belts, what caught my eye were the bracelets – hundreds of them. He had plain ones and colored ones with different colors and grades of leather and several types of fasteners, mostly in sizes ideal for male wrists. Many of them had a simple pull-through fastener, but my preference was for the ones with simple snaps.
The materials were interesting. For a start he claimed that they were made mostly with salvaged materials – scraps from some fancier leatherworks – which seems like a very positive idea. The leather was interesting. Clearly dyed in small lots, with quirky colors and somewhat imperfectly cut, with bright colors woven together in braids. Many of the bracelets appeared to be made from goat skin or some softer leather, with a surprising amount of flexibility and great stretchability. Unlike cheap leather goods from China the snaps were made from actual brass, more durable and more attractive than the disguised white metal snaps of the alternatives on Amazon.
What particularly struck me was how similar they were to the Bugatchi bracelets, yet superior in several respects. The softer leather, unusual colors and hand made character were plusses, but the double width design where the flat side of the bracelets rests on the wrist is particularly attractive. I also think the snaps are a plus. They aren’t as much fun to play with as magnetic clasps but they are much more visually appealing.
Of course the most impressive aspect was the price. Basic bracelets were only $5, quite a deal compared to $59.95 for the Bugatchi alternative, and frankly, being hand made from Morocco has a bit more cachet than an Italian brand name.
Imagine the level of enterprise and belief in free markets that it takes to come to a foreign country and establish a business like this based on your native crafts which provides a living for you here in America and also benefits craftsmen at home! This is the real American dream of the immigrant.
I was tempted to buy his whole stock and sell it at the farmers market in Austin at a 100% mark-up – after all exploiting immigrants is the American way. A suitcase load of those bracelets would probably net me $5000 if I wanted to launch a second (or 5th) career. Possibilities to ponder for my next visit, as the Moroccan entrepreneur has no website or business card or mail order operation.