Interior designer Austin Rese launches Valor American Home, a full-service home furnishings line sourced and made in America.
By Sandra Henderson
Austin Rese singlehandedly wants to put America’s artisans and craftsmen back to work. So the interior designer launched Valor American Home, a line of high-quality home fashions entirely made in the United States. The brand is built on the cornerstones of celebrating American designs of the past, present and future; sourcing and making as many parts in the United States as possible; holding manufacturers to sustainable practices; and giving back to America through charity.
Risk is Everything
Before the 32-year design veteran risked everything to start Valor American Home, he was at the top of the interior design profession. As head of the residential division at high-end architectural firm Gabellini Sheppard in New York City, Rese traveled the world, even working on a palace in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Then, in 2009, Rese started getting distress calls from old colleagues in North Carolina, where the former showroom designer (Maitland Smith, Labarge) worked in the 1980s during the height of local furniture manufacturing, an industry he now saw disappearing from the Triad area and the rest of the country. “It was suddenly a dark time in the design industry,” he remembers.
Austin Rese’s American Dream
Unsettled by abandoned factories and fellow designers fearing for their livelihood, Rese wanted to help create a solution. He locked his New York City-dweller belongings in storage and moved into one room of a friend’s condo in High Point, N.C., to devote himself entirely to his new mission: Bringing “work back here to our own hometowns.”
What’s more, Rese, who has been an allied member of the American Society of Interior Designers for 30 years, wants to preserve the skills of American artisans and craftsmen. “What’s going to happen 20 years down the road, when no one is left in the states who does high-end carving?” he asks. To him, American design and craftsmanship represent something to be proud of, something made to last: ”When people think of ‘made in America’, they think of a higher quality of product.” Valor wants to sell heirloom pieces that last through generations.
Solving a Problem, the American Way
The interior design consultant, who also runs his company Austin Rese, LLC, was surprised a concept like Valor “wasn’t already out there.” According to his research, no one was offering “the whole home package, a one-stop shop to find the very finest, made in America.”
Rese’s quest for suppliers and manufacturers worthy of a luxury home furnishings brand on a patriotic mission has turned into a two-year cross-country adventure, although he still can’t find electrical sockets made in the United States. Valor rugs, for example, are made in Georgia. Reese searched for a year to locate a ranch in Montana whose wool rivals the quality found in New Zealand. Case goods are made in Ohio and upholstery in North Carolina, using fabric woven in Pennsylvania from cotton and recycled textiles originating in the Carolinas. For his leather, Rese finally found an environmentally conscious tannery in upstate New York.
Investing in “Made in America”
Who will pay the high price for “made in America”? Rese sees the market shifting. “For so many years, everything has been pushed toward the baby boomers,” he says. He believes purchasing power will move on to the Millennials, a generation that shops and communicates through many different channels. And although Valor primarily pursues these affluent members of Gen-Y, Rese also believes, “We will become a brand middle-income people will aspire to and maybe buy one or two special pieces for their home that they can pass on to their children.”
After studying price points of big-name luxury brands such as Ralph Lauren, the entrepreneur believes “we could make Valor American Home at a lower price point than.” Valor customers don’t pay extra for the name (yet), he reasons. Because materials and wages are expensive in the United States, however, there would be “absolutely no profit margin” if offered to retailers at wholesale prices.
Instead, Rese sells directly to customers through his online store. Eventually, he wants Valor to become a “traveling brand,” another one of Rese’s dreams driven by the desire to give back. A couple of years down the road, he envisions touring one city at a time in search of a local charity and one local product that has been characteristic of the area throughout history.
Rese then wants to design one or two Valor pieces based on that product, in limited edition, named after the original creator or the city. “If it’s a bottle, maybe we turn that bottle upside down and suddenly it becomes a table leg,” he imagines. Later, he would open a pop-up shop in that city for a few months, highlighting that local product alongside the rest of the Valor collection. A percentage from the sale of the limited edition local products would go to the chosen local charity.
“That’s my dream, that’s my vision,” Rese says. “It could be very exciting; it always keeps the product fresh; it’s rewarding to the people and the city.”
Rese agrees current zeitgeist and his target audience are ripe for an approach to designing, making and selling home furnishings that is as forward thinking as it is old school. These new luxury consumers, Rese argues, are less concerned with labels and more interested in the story behind the brands they support.
The designer now needs investors and partners to help tell the Valor story through marketing and social media. Thus far, raising sufficient funds has proven challenging. A recent IndieGoGo crowd funding campaign ended far below goal, although it produced a winsome video featuring his appeal to investors and showcasing Valor designs.
Sandra Henderson is a freelance writer based in Lafayette, Colo. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.