Warren L. Wise
Nov 1 2015 8:00 pm
Over the years, Mauldin developed an interest in creating a product that not only played to his fishing prowess but also his artistic side.
What followed was a new business venture, HookNHide products, which has led the Sullivan’s Island resident away from his full-time wholesale marine distribution job eight months ago and into a career of creating a male fashion accessory.
“I’ve always had an affinity for art and functionality,” he said.
In 2008, he started designing belt buckles that looked like some of the many fish he had snagged over the years in fresh and salt waters from Florida to the Carolinas and beyond. He also designed them as bottle openers, which easily unsnap from specially made leather belts he also sells to accompany the buckles.
“It started as a hobby along with my real job,” he said.
With the first few, he gave them away as gifts, but family and friends soon coaxed him into trying to sell them as a side business.
“People would say it would be a great groomsmen’s gift,” Mauldin said. “People give ties and pocket knives, and those are nice gifts, but I thought this was such an original idea.”
Around 2010-11, the idea’s momentum began to pick up. “That’s when I felt this could be something more than a hobby,” he said.
Gradually, Mauldin began selling them. He’s now sold about 1,000 and recently picked up an order from high-end, outdoor fishing, hunting and sporting goods retailer Orvis for about 250 after company CEO Perk Perkins visited his booth at the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston in February.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Mauldin said, “but I could tell he liked the product.”
The next day, representatives from Orvis visited his booth to tell him Perkins was interested in carrying his buckles and belts.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It was great. That exposure helped a lot. And I’ll be back next year for sure.”
On the line
Mauldin currently offers five different fish buckles — redfish, mako shark, sailfish, bull dolphin and rainbow trout. All sell for $90 each, except the rainbow trout version, which goes for $105. The leather belts sell for $30 each.
The muted brass buckles, a mixture of brass, silver, gold and pewter, range from 4½ to 5 inches long.
Mauldin, 39, designs the buckles in a corner office of a rented Sullivan’s Island home after recently moving from Mount Pleasant, but they are handmade in Mexico. Each one takes three days to forge, made in batches in a special process using a kiln and other equipment.
Mauldin credits his mother, Melanie, and sisters, Caroline and Logan, for pushing him along in the business and even helping to come up with the name, HookNHide.
“I was really inspired by her creativity and design,” Mauldin said of his mother, who owned the 18-store HandPicked jewelry chain until she sold it last year to a co-worker.
As for his business’ name, he said he and his sister, Logan, were batting around ideas a few years back.
“I knew I didn’t want ‘fish’ in the name, but I wanted something related,” he said. “The first thing that came to mind was ‘hook.’ Then my sister suggested something connected to leather since I was offering the belts, too.”
They came up with HookNHide.
“It sounded original,” Mauldin said. “It sounded like something that stood out.”
The first advertising was word of mouth.
“There never really was much marketing,” he said. “Sometimes, I try to be too much of a perfectionist and not let the product speak for its originality. The products are handmade and have all these beauties and imperfections.”
Leaving his full-time job wasn’t easy, but he knew he had to do it if he wanted to grow the business.
“It was a huge leap of faith,” he said.
With orders picking up, Mauldin wants to expand his offerings beyond buckles.
“I’m playing with the idea of apparel or jewelry to go along with it,” he said.
He produced a prototype of cuff links with a fish on them, a necklace pendant and even earrings related to the outdoors.
He is even toying with the idea of expanding the line to cater to horse lovers and hunters.
“It’s all about capturing the love and passion of the outdoors,” he said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at (843) 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.