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As Mid-Atlantic Leather has steadily become one of the largest annual events in D.C., a constant has remained: the marketplace at its core. There, vendors arrive from across the country to sell to and celebrate all manner of sexual fetishes, transforming the Hyatt Regency into a makeshift one-stop mall of leather jackets and harnesses, puppy masks, gear, uniform, and many, many toys.
For Jonathan Schroder, general manager of Mr. S Leather in San Francisco, MAL is an annual highlight. “The vendors are very passionate about the gear that they’re bringing,” says the lanky 44-year-old. “The people are very much here to have a good time.”
Bear Man, owner of the Ft. Lauderdale-based brick and mortar Leatherworks and a partner in Stomper Boots, has been a regular at MAL since 1994 and has witnessed firsthand the growth that the event has gone through. “It’s gotten bigger, it’s gotten more professional,” he says. “The customers are wonderful. Many of these customers I’ve been serving for 20-plus years, and it’s just a special place.”
MAL provides a loyal customer base, enthusiasts who come back year after year for new leather products. Bear Man believes it’s the personal touch that helps his products sell.
“You can buy lube at Wal-Mart,” he says, “but there’s nobody at Wal-Mart who can help you find the correct lube for what you’re going to do. There’s nobody at Wal-Mart who will help you find a vest that really fits you. And if you’re a little bit of a difficult fit, we’ll make it. That’s who we are. If a boot doesn’t fit right, I’ll make you a custom boot. Ain’t nobody at Sears going to do that for you.”
“It’s a great opportunity for us to actually see and speak to the people that like our brand,” says Scott Montgomery, Marketing Manager of Fort Troff. “It’s an opportunity for us to be a part of the community, and reinforce what our brand is.” As for that brand, Montgomery notes that Fort Troff has become legendary for its online, explicit videos, instructing in the finer points of kinky play.
“If you look at our videos, there’s not a whole lot of real sex,” he says. “It’s the fantasy, the titillation that keeps people coming back. The videos we shoot are in a play space that anyone wishes that they had…. And there’s a message that’s inside of each one of them, hidden seconds that are both instructional and erotic.”
You can buy a dildo online and pretty much know what you’re getting, but buying leather in person, says Gary Wasdin, executive director of the Leather Archives and Museum in Chicago, is “irreplaceable.”
“You want to feel it and smell it and see it and try it on,” he says. “It’s custom-fit to your body. I know a lot of people come specifically [to MAL] for this, because it’s their opportunity to see all of these vendors in one place.”
People like Chad, who flew in with his husband from Kansas City to browse the market and shop for the year ahead, describing it as “going to the mall for leather and fetish stuff.”
“We don’t have resources for leather makers or anything like that where we live,” he says. “It’s really nice to be able to go to an event and shop and pick up things that you can use the rest of the year.”
Amid all of the out-of-towners, one vendor at MAL was repping the D.C. leather scene. Russwin Francisco, owner of Bite the Fruit in Dupont Circle, attends not only as a vendor, but has come as a member of the leather community for over fifteen years.
“From a leather enthusiast’s perspective, where else would I be this weekend?” he said. “This is my community, this is my group.”
In terms of trends, one of the big things Francisco has noticed is the amount of creativity put into crafting leatherwear. Take harnesses, for instance, branching out from the traditional black leather to include different materials, textures, and colors.
“Those [changes] are exciting, because I think that brings younger people into the scene,” he says. “A lot of folks that are in the leather community now have been in the community for a long time. We definitely need to bring in younger people.”
Ultimately, Francisco says it’s the diversity and acceptance of the leather and kink communities that makes MAL such a special event for both vendors and attendees.
“The people that are attracted to this scene are just more real, more authentic,” he says. “Here at MAL, you see all kinds of body shapes and people of all different ages. We’re all coming together and are all celebrating this type of expression, this type of kink.”
For more information about all the exhibitors on hand at MAL 2018, visit leatherweekend.com/exhibitors.
This article was updated to correct Jonathan Schroder’s job title.
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