"It's important to us that we stay an American-based operation," said Blitzer, who, despite the promise of reduced expenses, has turned down a few offers to take his operation overseas. "We have a proud heritage brand. We understand manufacturing facilities need more than a little TLC; they need a substantial investment."
I'm betting they will be able to make that substantial investment pretty soon.
The bags - manufactured at a facility in northern New Jersey - are handsome and roomy, yet clean and simple. They feature just the right number of pockets - a maximum of three - as well as sturdy leather straps and trim.
Blue Claw Co. ( www.blueclawco.com) was featured in November on Esquire's style blog and next month, Blitzer said, it will be in GQ magazine.
The bags are sold in 20 stores, including up-and-coming Ball and Buck in Boston and Brooklyn Circus in New York. They range in price from $62 for a canvas toiletry bag to $375 for a weekender. After just a $200 investment in a sample bag, the privately held company made "in the several hundreds of thousands of dollars" in 2012, Blitzer said. He projects sales of $1 million in 2013.
Blitzer, 25, and Realmuto, 26, sat cross-legged Sunday afternoon at Center City custom men's clothier Henry A. Davidsen, where the bags are sold locally.
They both wore cool dress socks in saturated pastels and reminded me of Uber founder Travis Kalanick - confident but trying to appear humble, transparent but keeping information close to the vest. (Uber is the game-changing taxi service that enables people to summon a limousine from their smartphone.)
Neither man has any fashion background. Before quitting to concentrate on Blue Claw, Blitzer worked in finance; Realmuto still works at a boutique fashion PR firm in New York. But like Kalanick, they want to change how their industry - in this case, the boutique luggage biz - does business. Traditionally, launching a fashion business involved hiring designers, pattern-makers, and sewers and sending it all overseas for mass creation.
But Blitzer and Realmuto realized the only way they can control their inventory, keep close tabs on production, and make sure facilities have qualified workers is to invest in manufacturing plants here, Blitzer said.
"The facilities haven't invested in these companies since the 1970s," Blitzer said. " . . . The conveyor belts aren't automatic. Everything is a manual operation. It takes longer to build everything."
Blitzer is in talks with his New Jersey manufacturing plant to contribute money for improvements, and he is exploring investing in a leather goods plant in Minneapolis.
Blitzer and Realmuto grew up best friends across the street from each other. In the fourth grade, they received black-and-red duffel bags for participating in a kids NFL Quarterback Challenge, bags they took with them to Blitzer's family farm in Maryland.
"Those bags always meant fun to us," Realmuto said.
They went to faraway colleges, but the two remained best buds, even launching two online businesses together. Nothing took off - until Blue Claw Co.
In 2010 while Blitzer was living and working in Argentina, one of his trusty duffel bags burst at the seams. He needed a bag but couldn't find a good-quality one that he could afford.
Blitzer talked the idea over with Realmuto and his grandfather, Daniel Blitzer. In 1998, the elder Blitzer had closed the nearly 100-year-old Danbee, a menswear manufacturing facility in downtown New York.
"At first I told him I thought he was crazy," said the 85-year-old Blitzer. "Then I gave him some contacts."
The first bag, the Worton Weekender - named after their boyhood summer trips - debuted in November 2011 and was sold exclusively online. It was a high-quality black nylon bag trimmed with light-brown leather for $298. It sold out by January.
In August 2011, Blitzer and Realmuto introduced a six-piece set of luggage with vacation-friendly names like Gooseneck Garment Bag and Old Bay Overnighter. Last summer Blue Claw Co. debuted the Urban Collection for twenty- to fortysomething men who live and work in the city and appreciate fashion. These leather-trimmed messenger bags and totes come in five color combinations, including royal blue and olive. It's all so Ralph Lauren, so Jack Spade.
"Our customer may have $800 to spend on a duffel," Blitzer said. "But he doesn't want to spend that money on a bag just because it has the name Louis Vuitton on it."
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.