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Bitten By The Belt Bug

Sandy Duftler’s crafty creations have the belt market cinched.<br><br><br><br>With a belt line that includes hundreds of styles in an array of colors and fabrications, Sandy Duftler, the force behind Baldwin, N.Y.-based Sandy Duftler Design...

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Sandy Duftler’s crafty creations have the belt market cinched.

This story first appeared in the October 10, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

With a belt line that includes hundreds of styles in an array of colors and fabrications, Sandy Duftler, the force behind Baldwin, N.Y.-based Sandy Duftler Design Inc., has carved a niche for her company by providing one-stop shopping for retailers.

Duftler might never have made belts, if not for the suggestion of a saleswoman nearly 30 years ago. Duftler needed a medium-blue belt; it came in dark blue only. When she noted that the belt’s cord, which happened to be made by her husband Irwin’s braid and trimming factory, came in 32 colors, the saleswoman suggested she make the belt herself.

Duftler did just that. What started as a cottage industry from her home 28 years ago has grown into a line of belts with about 2,500 styles annually. Roughly half are sold under the Sandy Duftler label; the remaining are produced for private labels. As the sole designer for her company, Duftler’s creative output is truly prolific. “I design every day,” she said.

Duftler’s sharp business acumen combined with a craftswoman’s attention to detail and quality have guided the company’s success from day one. In particular, the company has built a reputation for providing a wide palette of color options and for designing unique closures and hardware.

Buckles are first carved in wax and then cast into molds. Duftler maintains a library of thousands of these molds that she often references. Other unique aspects in the line include adjustable back-buckles and seamless tubular leather made by a machine of her company’s own design.

Duftler, who comes from an artistic family, enjoys researching new techniques and sources to develop new designs.

With styles that range from classic to modern to more fashion-forward, Duftler’s line caters to almost any market. And while she does do seasonal collections, Duftler is constantly revising her line. “When we find that a certain style does well, very often it’s repeated in different color waves,” she explained.

Wholesale prices for belts start at $18 for chain belts and top off at $120 for more special pieces, such as belts that use semiprecious stones or Swarovski crystals. And while not every belt is available in every market, the company welcomes calls from customers seeking a special item or look.

Duftler noted that belt trends are moving away from a minimalist look to more unique and romantic styles with embellishments. Popular looks for spring include floral motifs, mother-of-pearl, jade and regular pearl, on belts and closures. Wholesale prices for spring items range from $40 for a mother-of-pearl buckle with caramel leather belt to $55-$75 for large leather or suede roses on leather cord belts and $90 for a large, antiqued-gold metal buckle with mother-of-pearl inlay on a wide leather belt.

While Sandy Duftler Designs has sold to department stores such as Bloomingdale’s and the Neiman Marcus catalog, the mainstay of its buyers are better to designer specialty stores. Current accounts include Lester Melnick and Turtletique in Dallas, Tres Mariposas in El Paso, Tex., Susan’s in Fort Wayne, Ind., and M. Hills in Russellville, Ark.

Janet Stieve, a buyer at Lester Melnick, orders pieces that do well with her mature clientele. “It’s hard to find belts that are classic but still on the right trend,” she said.

Marilyn Hill, owner of M. Hills, appreciates the line’s versatility. “I like that I can choose a buckle and pair it with any belt,” she said.

At Sandy Duftler Design making belts is a family affair. Her husband Irwin joined the business full-time 19 years ago and her son Greg, an attorney, manages the company’s customer relations and sales. Her daughter-in-law Sharon Duftler, a former buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue, is producing a scarf line under the Sandy Duftler label.

For now, Duftler’s focus will remain with her belt line. “In order to do line properly you need a very large collection.” she said. “As it is, I work 20 hours a day.”

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