SBJ/December 20 - 26, 1999/No Topic Name

Feel the glove? Rawlings licensee does, and makes it into luggage

When Ellen Hart suggested taking the rich leather used for baseball gloves and producing upscale luggage, briefcases and business accessories, her husband, Italian-born designer Gian Paolo Lombardo, rolled his eyes at the idea.

Today, even Hart cannot believe the enthusiasm she's seen toward the products, which their company sells as a licensee of Rawlings Sporting Goods.

"They trigger an emotional response," Hart said. "Anyone who has ever owned a baseball glove knows how special that is. It's often the first expensive thing that a kid owns, the first thing they have to take care of. And the smell is so special. People come into luggage stores and notice the smell before they see the products."

The smell is reflected in the marketing slogan: "You slept with it under your pillow. Caressed it lovingly with oil. Inhaled that intoxicating leather scent. The thrill of your first baseball glove can now be experienced every day."

Remarkably, no one had approached Rawlings with the idea of manufacturing other leather products besides baseball gloves until Hart suggested it to director of licensing Dave Brawley earlier this year.

Now there's a full line of Rawlings "Sports Accessories and Travel Goods," all with baseball-sounding names. There's the Flyball carry-on ($575), the MVP all-leather duffel ($515), the Home Run briefcase ($375) and the Away Game travel wallet ($80).

There also are backpacks, planners, picture frames, credit card cases and checkbook cases.

Each item comes in tan or black, although 80 percent of orders have been for tan, the traditional baseball glove color.

Hart and Lombardo's company, Hawthorne, Calif.-based Lombardo Ltd., has designed and marketed upscale leather products for 25 years. Brawley was impressed immediately with the prototypes and the subtle touches. The stitching is similar to baseball glove lacing and each product has a Rawlings logo. But it's all formal enough to use at the most high-powered business functions.

"It's elegantly understated," Brawley said. "It doesn't scream baseball gloves; it's very subtle. We've found it's a perfect way to enhance our brand name."

Because Hart and Lombardo obtain the leather from the same tanneries as Rawlings, their products develop a rich patina, give off the same odor as mitts and seem to get better with age. Said Hart, "The quality requirements for baseball gloves are more stringent than for any other product made since it has to withstand the pounding of a baseball."

The products are available at retail outlets and through the company's Web site at

Rawlings, which sponsors the Gold Glove Awards, will create a special limited-edition product for the 18 winners of the award each season. There are plans to extend the line to include garment bags and leather jackets — none of which will need to be broken in.

In the time since The Upper Deck Co. placed holograms on its first baseball cards in 1989, trading card manufacturers have all but eliminated the rampant counterfeiting problems of the 1980s.

But The Topps Co., working with security experts from 3M, is taking no chances.

Beginning with the recently released Topps Baseball 2000 product, the company has placed a holographic, serialized "authenticator" on the backs of valuable insert cards. When viewed with a special 3M illuminator, the words "Topps Genuine Issue" can be read. Topps intends to make "Topps Verifier" devices available in stores for $9.99.

Pete Williams ( is a writer in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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