GLOVERSVILLE — Those big, fringed leather gloves U.S. Olympic athletes wore at the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang got their start in Gloversville.
Specialty tanning shop Sunderland Leather Co. processed bison hides into the leather that Olympia Gloves, in turn, manufactured into gloves using a design provided by Ralph Lauren, supplier of the official team outfits for the Olympics.
“We’ve got four generations in the business in Gloversville,” said Matthew Smrtic, of Sunderland Leather Co., which is owned by his wife, Leslie Smrtic, and was founded by her father, William Studenic.
“It’s nice to get this publicity,” he said. “We’re under the radar most of the time.”
Sunderland also produced the leather for deerskin jackets worn by the U.S. team at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The company was founded in 1971, and for 30 years, it has operated out of a former silk mill at Delaware and Kingsboro avenues.
Sunderland’s 30-strong workforce produces about a million square feet of deerskin and a half-million square feet of bison hide annually for use in gloves, shoes, bags and garments. It has survived the collapse of the once-massive glove-making and leather-processing industry in Fulton County by focusing on specialty materials.
“We’re a niche business,” Smrtic said. “We’re not the largest; we focus on quality and a unique product.”
Olympia Gloves Vice President of Design Peter Kiernan maintains his design studio in Gloversville, making him the fourth generation of his family in the business there — his great grandfather was a tanner there in the 1800s.
Olympia Gloves worked from a glove design by Ralph Lauren — evocative of horse-mounted cavalry soldiers — rather than designing the Polo-branded gloves itself.
“We produced the gloves for Polo. We’ve been making gloves for them for years,” Kiernan said.
Olympia got its start producing gloves for the U.S. military 75 years ago, during World War II, and is now headquartered in Westchester County. It does 95 percent of its manufacturing overseas but recently has done more production work in the United States.
“It’s something we’re slowly getting a foothold in: domestic products,” Kiernan said.
Every piece of the Olympic team’s outfit must be manufactured in the United States; the opening-ceremony gloves were made at a factory in Massachusetts. The fact that they were a limited-production item shaved no time off the front end of the process — setup for production took as long as it would for a mass-produced glove.
There are similar domestic-content requirements for certain military contracts, Kiernan said. Some gloves for the U.S. military, for example, are manufactured in Gloversville.
It might not be obvious from the opening ceremony photos, but the gloves the U.S. athletes wore are designed for function as well as form, with a wool pile lining beneath the decorative exterior flourishes and fringes.
“They’re actually quite warm,” Kiernan said.