The Alimond Show

Rob Hall - Inspiring Change Through Handmade Creations

May 30, 2024 Alimond Studio
Rob Hall - Inspiring Change Through Handmade Creations
The Alimond Show
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The Alimond Show
Rob Hall - Inspiring Change Through Handmade Creations
May 30, 2024
Alimond Studio

What if a prison sentence became the catalyst for launching a premium fashion brand? Join us as we uncover the extraordinary story of Robert (Rob) Hall, the mastermind behind Rob Hall, USA. From his days as a real estate developer to discovering a passion for leatherwork while serving time in federal prison, Robert’s journey is a testament to resilience and creativity. He shares how a simple desire to craft a gift for a friend turned into a lifelong passion for creating handmade leather bags, elevating him to the forefront of the fashion industry.

Craftsmanship and innovation are at the heart of Robert’s designs. We explore the intricate thought process behind his high-quality, functional handbags, where every detail is meticulously planned to enhance usability. From the strategic placement of pockets to scaling production with manufacturers in New York City, Robert’s commitment to quality shines through. His ability to connect with celebrities and effectively use modern marketing platforms like TikTok has catapulted his brand to new heights. Robert’s story is an inspiring narrative of triumph against the odds, proving that even the darkest times can lead to incredible success.

In a powerful chapter, we delve into Robert’s transformative journey after incarceration. Refusing to let his circumstances define him, he used his time productively, reading extensively, writing books, and planning his future. The fulfillment of his dream of flying over the prison where he was once an inmate symbolizes the boundless freedom he achieved. Robert’s vision for his brand is not just about fashion but about inspiring others to overcome obstacles and pursue their dreams. His story is a compelling reminder of the enduring human spirit and the importance of resilience, hard work, and unwavering determination.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

What if a prison sentence became the catalyst for launching a premium fashion brand? Join us as we uncover the extraordinary story of Robert (Rob) Hall, the mastermind behind Rob Hall, USA. From his days as a real estate developer to discovering a passion for leatherwork while serving time in federal prison, Robert’s journey is a testament to resilience and creativity. He shares how a simple desire to craft a gift for a friend turned into a lifelong passion for creating handmade leather bags, elevating him to the forefront of the fashion industry.

Craftsmanship and innovation are at the heart of Robert’s designs. We explore the intricate thought process behind his high-quality, functional handbags, where every detail is meticulously planned to enhance usability. From the strategic placement of pockets to scaling production with manufacturers in New York City, Robert’s commitment to quality shines through. His ability to connect with celebrities and effectively use modern marketing platforms like TikTok has catapulted his brand to new heights. Robert’s story is an inspiring narrative of triumph against the odds, proving that even the darkest times can lead to incredible success.

In a powerful chapter, we delve into Robert’s transformative journey after incarceration. Refusing to let his circumstances define him, he used his time productively, reading extensively, writing books, and planning his future. The fulfillment of his dream of flying over the prison where he was once an inmate symbolizes the boundless freedom he achieved. Robert’s vision for his brand is not just about fashion but about inspiring others to overcome obstacles and pursue their dreams. His story is a compelling reminder of the enduring human spirit and the importance of resilience, hard work, and unwavering determination.

Speaker 1:

My name is Robert Hall and the name of my business is Rob Hall, usa, and I serve my clients by creating pieces that I like to make. A bag that makes a woman feel special yeah, I think that's the heart of it. I like to make products that make my clients feel good.

Speaker 2:

And what products are those?

Speaker 1:

Well, I started out. My primary pieces is handbags, leather work, and then we've migrated into, you know, other items, kind of a premium fashion brand. So we have everything from watches to shoes, the t-shirts, the hoodies. But it's about making our clients feel good and kind of um, it's projecting. You know the ethos of the company as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and tell me a little bit about how you got into this industry.

Speaker 1:

Well, um, I kind of feel like everything a guy does, he does it for a woman. So my story kind of I would say it's because of a woman, but because it was, but ironically at I'm 51. And at when I was in my early thirties I got into a problem with the government and went to, unfortunately went to federal prison for quite some time. And while I was there, eight and a half years, in the last two years, I ran into a leather shop and I had a friend who wrote me the whole eight and a half years, very special friend, and I wanted to get her something nice for her birthday. And so I had bought something from someone and then customized it in little ways, and then she said she wanted another one and I said you know what, this time I'm going to make it myself.

Speaker 2:

So you bought leather from somebody to make her something.

Speaker 1:

I bought a bag from someone who had made a bag. So some of the guys make bags and they sell them to other guys as gifts for friends back home. And he didn't have a logo on it, he didn't quite brand it. Well, I thought it was a nice looking bag but I was like well, when women carry a bag, the first thing other women say well, what bag is that?

Speaker 2:

Who is that? Yeah, where'd you get that bag? Who's get that brand? And?

Speaker 1:

it didn't have much branding, so I created my own brand for it. I created all these little things that I had him do to modify it, to make it more like what I thought it. You know the gift would make it a better gift. And um, she was like how did you do that? You're in prison, like where'd you get a bag? And all the customization? And and um, she says I want another one. And I made a commitment to make it and I spent, I took a class, I spent four and a half months making that bag and at first everybody was kind of making fun of me in the shop, like because you're moving really slow. You know you're doing a lot of drawing over there. You know what are you building? The Eiffel Tower going on over there keep cutting paper.

Speaker 2:

You know what are you building the Eiffel.

Speaker 1:

Tower paper. You know what's going on with you. And then, as time went on, the bag started to come, become real, and those comments became hey, man, you're pretty good. Man, that's, that's this. You know you mean with it slim. You know I like what you're doing so everybody started looking different. And then by the time I finished that first bag, the guy who was there taught the class. He says you know, I've been teaching this class for five years and I've never seen anybody take to leather work the way you did.

Speaker 2:

And had you had any experience with leather work at?

Speaker 1:

all, I think the easiest analogy I could draw to why I might have taken to it is that prior I went to Howard Business School and I was a real estate developer and what I realized is that the process of building a bag is very much like the process of building a building. You have elevations and floor plans of what you plan to do, you choose materials and then you have a construction period and that's pretty much what building a bag requires. You got to have a design and a layout, a plan, an idea, a concept, map it out two-dimensionally and put it together three-dimensionally. So I kind of brought the same level of attention to detail that I had as a developer to the process of building a building to building a bag. The result was everyone said, wow, this is not normal in terms of what we're able to do.

Speaker 1:

I think the other piece was that the environment that we were in we didn't have sewing machines and so everything had to be done by hand. And so, because it was all done by hand, you know a person with a meticulous mindset who drew really straight lines and, you know, punched holes really clean and was very particular about what they do, had a different kind of result and people just like how could you do that without a sewing machine, without any?

Speaker 2:

so you're sewing all these bags by hand, completely by hand.

Speaker 1:

That's a lot of work hand punched, hand cut, made my own patterns, which is another thing. In those shops they tend to use patterns same patterns. For years, very few of the guys had the ability to make patterns, so that was. I could go into a magazine and see a bag and make the pattern from the picture, and that was just another thing that gave me the abilities that you know, maybe some of my peers didn't have. So you know, I had a. I had a earth science teacher when I was in seventh grade. I did a bad job and he sat on a project and he said Bobby Hall, whenever you do anything, remember you're painting a picture of yourself. He said I can look at what you do and see who you are. And he said don't, mr Searson. He said don't ever paint a bad picture of yourself, bobby Hall. And that kind of stuck with me, yeah, and I brought that Mr Searson.

Speaker 2:

He said don't ever paint a bad picture of yourself, Bob y'all, and that kind of stuck with me yeah.

Speaker 1:

And I brought that to that. You know, I don't. I'm not just making a bag, I'm going to make something that makes people feel special, but I also don't want to paint a bad picture of myself.

Speaker 1:

Right, it makes something unique and that people are going to cherish and use and enjoy right yeah, and I think for any designer, you know, superpowers, empathy, um, so I, as I'm a guy, I don't carry handbags, but if I empathize with a woman I was. My concept at the beginning was you know, a woman buys a bag for what it looks like on the outside, but she, she, she experiences the inside, she's always got her hands in there, she's looking in there, she's digging in there?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, she's digging around.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So I said what if I put a lot of attention to detail on what the inside of the bag was like? And that was a hallmark of my first design. So the insides were like immaculate, like I was making all types. I was thinking of what her whole experience was. Where where did she put her back? Uh, her phone, you know? Where did she, you know, have a pen? Where does she hang her keys?

Speaker 2:

and I just had all kinds of crazy stuff what'd you do on the inside, like do you put extra pockets?

Speaker 1:

and like, yeah, I had, I was like well, if she's got a you know a magazine, where does she put it? If know a magazine, where does she put it? If she's got an umbrella, where does she put it? You know. And her phone if it rings, she's got to grab it quick. Or if she's you know she needs to get her lip glosses. She doesn't want it like floating around in the bottom and it needs to be close to the body. So I'm gonna put that on partner.

Speaker 1:

She can get quick to it and zip it back, and so I put so much thought into the experience on the inside that you know that that became a hallmark thing when the people who got the bags, the women who got the bags, were like this inside, this bag is unbelievable. They love the outside. I try to keep the outside designs clean. Classic, you know, I'm me personally.

Speaker 2:

I looked at your site. The bags are beautiful, thank you.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, I have so much more I want to put up there. I don't. It's not up there at the moment, but you know I'm like when I have. If I buy a suit, I don't buy suits that I can't wear. I couldn't wear 10 years ago and I can't return years from now.

Speaker 2:

That's a good method. I love classic style.

Speaker 1:

I'm trying to think of designs that are going to stand the test of time, that's going to look good through other seasons.

Speaker 2:

Where are you today? As far as the bags, how are you sourcing your materials? Where are they getting manufactured? How does this? How are you sourcing your materials? Where are they getting manufactured? How does this all work?

Speaker 1:

Well, kind of the story that started to go viral on TikTok was when I you know the difficulty is I only can make so many bags by myself, especially, you know, when I was doing it by hand. And then, after I came home, I bought an industrial sewing machine. I taught myself how to sew. I never took a class.

Speaker 2:

Because you probably pour hours and hours into one bag, right yeah?

Speaker 1:

It would take yeah, it was nothing for it to take me, you know, 40 hours to make a custom bag and I had like NBA wives that would fly my bags to them so they could put their hands on it, because they couldn't believe, like that, you made that by hand, you know. So some of the higher end clients and I was like, ok, well, I would charge a lot of money for all the hours I got to put in to make a bag, but I wanted to go to more of a premium brand where more people could get access and a price point that would work. And I made a sojourn to New York City, to Manhattan, to the fashion district, and met with some suppliers and manufacturers and, you know, kind of told my story like, hey, you know.

Speaker 2:

It's an amazing story.

Speaker 1:

You know, I think there's really only two stories that America loves. One is a fall from grace Anybody who's high up and comes crashing down and the other one is the little engine that could, which is anybody who wins against the odds. And I think that's why a lot of my clients connect to my story, because it's like here's this guy in a federal prison and he learns a skill, and you know Fantasia's posting his bag and you know NBA champions.

Speaker 1:

Fantasia, the singer, yeah yeah yeah, she posted my bag on Christmas Eve last year. That's awesome Christmas before last. So it's an unlikely success story and I think that's like and even that is a quintessentially American idea of winning against the odds. It's Rocky, it's the Bad News Bears, it's radio, so I think people kind of saw that in the story.

Speaker 2:

So you're in New York meeting with manufacturers.

Speaker 1:

I'm in New York and I met with the same folks who make bags for Calvin Klein and MCM and you know, you know big offices, fancy people and uh, I'm like, hey, you know, I didn't go to FIT, I have like no formal training that I could speak of. I learned in prison, um, and you know, it's just a vision that I have, something I'm trying to. I brought my bags in, you know, and they looked at the pieces and agreed to become manufacturers for my bag and I felt like, okay, I have now the platform whereby I could potentially scale. It's a long-term project for me. I'm not necessarily saying, oh, this is going to be some viral thing overnight. I named a brand, my own name, plan on keeping that for the long haul.

Speaker 1:

I launched the company when I turned 50. So I've been doing it for years, kind of as a sole proprietor. Kind of years, um, kind of as a sole proprietor, um, kind of a bunch of freelancing, right, but to formally organize and say, listen, I'm really going to try to make a run with this um and have a long view um, that that kind of happened just last year and I'm just um taking it one day at a time, yeah, just being at peace. And you, you know, hopefully make a mark. And sometimes you might make a mark. You may not even know it or see it, you may not realize it, it might just be something that happens after. Maybe you say, oh wow, those designs were amazing. You know people are using them, but you know, that's my, it's just to kind of make my statement and um what are you doing for marketing and advertising?

Speaker 2:

I know you're you like tiktok and doing some tiktok videos. What else are you doing to kind of get the bags out there and in in the right hands?

Speaker 1:

well, I've got some potential partnerships with uh media operations that I've been talking to, who can start promoting and you know, the big fashion magazines and stuff like that. I kind of kept things small on some level because I have I have the manufacturers by Cal in New York and I have the suppliers. I want to make sure I have the manufacturers by Cal in New York and I have the suppliers. I want to make sure I have enough designs that I feel comfortable with. I want to have a breadth and depth of designs that I've fleshed out before I really scale.

Speaker 2:

I've seen so many.

Speaker 1:

Sometimes businesses fail because they grow too fast. So I'm trying to be patient and I'm trying to position the company well before I actually turned off some of my social media marketing as I tested it to make sure that it would work. And then in five days, 65,000, 70,000 people responded and thousands of people were responding and I was like, well, turn that off, yeah.

Speaker 2:

We're not ready for that. There's a little bit.

Speaker 1:

So he was like you turned off your ads. I turned off my ads because I wanted to make sure, and then I'm also kind of going through some of the other items, getting more samples wearing them. So that's some ideas that I have, and I've also got a new concept that I may be doing, which is called Sip and Stitch, where I'll do these kind of small events in DC where people come in and have some wine and learn a little bit about leather work and make little bags.

Speaker 2:

That's a great idea. We do a craft subscription for my daughter and she did get a leather kit in there one time for like a bag. To make a bag. That's a great idea we do a craft subscription for my daughter and she did get a leather kit in there one time for like a bag to make a bag. I think that's something women would love to do to get out and make a little clutch and have some wine. Yeah, it's a great idea.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, you got some hors d'oeuvres and some wine and you make a bag and then even customize it where you know, I'll make you know. Before they get there, I'll you know, have a leather patch with their names and sew it in. So it's like really for them.

Speaker 2:

It was made for them, yeah.

Speaker 1:

So that's something we're working on, right now.

Speaker 2:

Oh cool, you said you went to Howard for business. I did. Do you feel like some of those skills are kind of coming back as you're starting this new company?

Speaker 1:

No question about it. You know I was in the military right out of high school. You know I grew up in upstate New York Foster homes, you know, projects, welfare kind of like come from nothing. And then I went in the military for years and I was a paratrooper in the Army and all that and then tried to figure myself out for about a year and I ended up at Howard as a business school student and one of the best decisions I've ever made in life, not only to study at the business school but, as I told my daughter, who's a GW grad, when you go to school I want you to do two things Learn how to learn and network, because you're really choosing your lifelong network. So I'm proud of being part of the Howard community and having a Howard University network and the training so it's benefited me a lot.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, especially starting a new business. You're like, oh, I've got to go back to some of those classes in my head, right?

Speaker 1:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I had the honor of in in 1997, of being the homecoming king and mr howard oh cool and they brought us back, me and my queen and all the other, mr miss howards, they brought us back, um, it happened to be our 25 year anniversary and and so, um, I made leather sashes for me and the queen um that were a big hit, you know. So it's like I like having opportunities to kind of meld what I'm doing with the connection I have to the university community.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's a great networking community for sure yeah yeah, you do have very special stories. Is there any advice that you would give to someone who has been incarcerated before that is trying to move on with their life and find the next step? What was that process like? Is that something you're okay talking about?

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. You know, when I first Went in I'd never been trouble in my life and here I'm suddenly, you know I had been, you know, elected official and I know I Was a pretty good life when the Howard and it was not something I ever thought would happen to me and I'm a math guy on and I was like, wow, I got a. Looks like I'm gonna have to do 12 years and I'm like my Functional adult life is about 60. You know my prime, you know. You know 20 years.

Speaker 1:

If I make it, um, I'm like that's like 20 of my entire adult life. I'm looking at spending behind bars and I'm like I really can't afford to waste 20 of my life. And so when I I figured that out kind of first few days, and I made a decision and I was not going to waste the time, I matter where I was at and again, being in the military, being in college, being incarcerated I've seen people waste time in all those places and I've seen people make good use of it.

Speaker 1:

And so I read a lot, I stayed, kept my mind active through studying and reading and I just I wrote eight books while I was there for eight years. I always just applied myself, because I realized that if you're in, what you're dreaming of doing in your life and the people you're competing with are not the people you're incarcerated with, You're still competing with the people who are out here. You still need to be ahead of things, and so I think that's one. Are out here. You still need to be ahead of things, and so I think that that's one. And it's still important to keep dreaming and it's still important to continue to pursue whatever visions you have for your life.

Speaker 1:

One in particular I had and I think this is this was telling as I had started before I went in to become a pilot. I wanted to fly like every little boy wants to fly, every little kid and I took some lessons four, four or five and then I was in and the whole time I was in I studied, I read Aviation Magazine from cover to cover and I met pilots that were in who gave me classes and taught me. And, long story short, once I got in, out and I got my daughter through GW I paid. The last bill is my graduation yeah we're done.

Speaker 1:

When we paid the last tuition bill and I had that week, I had a midlife crisis, of celebratory midlife crisis. I bought a Tesla motorcycle the same day I mean same week and I went out to the airstrip and I said, hey, I want to learn how to fly. I went out to the airstrip and I said, hey, I want to learn how to fly. Uh, I was here, you know, 15 years ago and they went in the computer out in Bowie and they said you're still in here and I have my own book. And I went back to fly and I studied for a couple of years and I got all the way through my um, my student pilot license, and so you got your pilot's license.

Speaker 1:

I have my student pilot license. That's still a huge accomplishment. Well, yeah, I'm taking my checkride. I'm basically done with all my training.

Speaker 2:

I did my solo cross countries and all that and flying through the sky as a pilot when you were once a prisoner, is really.

Speaker 1:

Wow, you just gave me goosebumps the breadth and depth of freedom and and constraint um, I've experienced them both and I realized I'm the same person. And, um, when I was in my ground school there, we were in a class. Talk about goosebumps. We were in a class and it was an online class, um, that we had to complete in order to get to where we could fly solo.

Speaker 1:

And my teacher put up a map on the computer and I'm looking at the map and I saw a word that said Ohoski and I'm like that's a weird word, I've heard that before and I'm like because it's something you don't forget. And then I realized that it was near a city called Winton in North Carolina, and there's this little, maybe 30-mile piece that he just happened to pick, where he was teaching us navigation, and I'm like I was locked up in Winton, north Carolina, and on that map there was little words in parentheses and it said prison. And I'm in the class with six other people and I'm looking at this screen and I'm looking at a map of the place where I was an inmate while I'm learning the flyover app.

Speaker 2:

Wow, and I didn learning to fly over it, wow.

Speaker 1:

And I didn't say anything to anybody, I just took my phone out and snapped the picture.

Speaker 2:

One of those this is keep this for myself.

Speaker 1:

And I thought about it when I look at my license, my student pilot license. So I have to have whenever I'm flying through the sky and land in places if I get ramp checked by the FAA. At the top of that license it says United States of America and then has my name and it says I've been found, you know, uh, duly worthy of the privilege of flying or whatever. And I thought back to my indictment and and at the top of it it said the United States of America versus me. So I think the message to people who are incarcerated is that you know you're still the same person. The same people who say you know you have to be incarcerated, you know separated from your family, separated from society for so long, for whatever it is they deem are the same people who can come back and say we find now that you can enjoy the privilege of flying over the prison where you used to be in the main, yeah. So I get kind of choked up about it because it's crazy to me.

Speaker 2:

It is.

Speaker 1:

That the same entities would say things so different. And my big brother taught me something I never forgot, and he says you know, it's never as good as it seems and it's never as bad as it seems, it's always somewhere in the middle.

Speaker 2:

It's a leveling force.

Speaker 1:

you know, no matter how bad it seems, when you look back you realize it wasn't. And ironically, no matter how good it seems looking back, it wasn't that good. Met a nice person.

Speaker 2:

They were really nice, but you did it.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, and you got through with it. Yeah, so that's it.

Speaker 2:

And you're making your life better for yourself and for your daughter and for your company.

Speaker 1:

It's all you know. Life is a blessing. My friends will ask me you know, are you well? I hope you're well and I say I'm thankful, and thankful is always well. I'm grateful, grateful is always well.

Speaker 2:

Will you officially have me in tears?

Speaker 1:

I'm sorry.

Speaker 2:

No, you're good. Well, where do you see your company going? I know you said you want to slow down a little bit, but where do you ultimately? What's your goal? Is there any major um influencers, somebody you want to see your like? What would be if you could pick a person? Who do you want to see carrying your bag? Let's just put a pipeline dream out there um.

Speaker 1:

I really want my brand to be one that inspires people and and to to um overcome their obstacles. I want my brand to be iconic, not just for the designs or inspired fashion designs, but just inspiring people to the best design of their life, and part of it is having a vision and pursuing it, and part of it is being at peace and trusting that the pathway to fulfilling your purpose might seem crazy sometimes and you're going to be enjoying it. So who? I really just want everyday people who are living inspired lives to represent my brand. I love it, yeah.

Speaker 2:

We'll be watching you and can't wait to see where this all goes and your progress. And are there any last parting words you'd like to leave us with? It can be a mantra that you live by. You've already given us so much great advice, or business advice.

Speaker 1:

I think just work hard and pursue your dreams and don't ever quit. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

It's not about how you fall, it's how you get back up.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Right, well, thank you for coming in today, rob. It was a pleasure to meet you and I loved hearing your story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Speaker 1:

Thank you.

Speaker 2:

Donna.

Robert Hall
Leather Bag Design and Manufacturing
Finding Freedom After Incarceration
Entrepreneur's Vision for Inspiring Brand