Solo Tenant Launches Zero Waste Start-Up
When Solo Real Estate tenant Leslie Davidson first saw her apartment in the historic Rittenhouse area in 2018, she was struck by the quality of light. “It was one of five apartments Solo had shown me and I knew it was the one,” she said. “It was in a brownstone with large bay windows, hardwood floors, and a great layout,” she said. Her cats also approved.
The year before, Leslie had received a breast cancer diagnosis and gone through a romantic breakup that left her yearning for a living space that would support her personal and professional goals.
“I grew up in Ambler and returned to Philadelphia after studying fashion design and merchandising in LA. Although I had been a stylist for Michael Kors on the West Coast, I was open to a career change,” she said. Leslie took several jobs, including working as an office manager for a gardening company and teaching dance to children.
She was gearing up for another career move when the pandemic hit and the job market dried up. As a cancer survivor, Leslie had to shelter-in-place and return to what she knew best. Using her design skills, she launched Made by Lad, an accessories company, from her dining room. Even though her apartment is considered a one-bedroom, the inclusion of a dining room provided ample space to set up her sewing machine. Her first product was facemasks for adults and children.
What distinguishes Made by LAD facemasks from all contenders is their fuller cut and elastic under the chin which allows the wearer to talk without the mask falling or moving. Unlike most facemasks which loop around the ears, Leslie’s loop around the head, so there is none of that uncomfortable tugging on the ears.
“I came up with the design after a lot of experimentation,” she said. “My grandfather was having a lot of trouble wearing his facemask, so I designed one that would be easier to wear.” Her face masks are two-ply with a filter for extra safety. They come in solid colors, two-tone and tie-dyed. (Kids love the tie-dye option.) Adjustable elastic toggles are sold separately.
Made By LAD became official in May 2020 after Leslie received an overwhelmingly positive response to the masks she was making for friends and family who said they “fit perfectly” and “made them feel safe.” She initially started the business as a way to bring in extra income to pay off her medical bills acquired from her breast cancer diagnosis, but as orders kept rolling in with no end to the pandemic in sight, she was encouraged to pursue the venture full time, so she took a leap of faith and decided to self-fund her new business.
Leslie’s products not only look good, they do good. Using locally sourced, 100% natural fibers that produce zero waste, Leslie tie-dyes them in her kitchen and sews them on her dining room table. With her background in business management and a passion for sustainability and helping others, she has developed a brand that aims to not only give back to the community but encourages customers to consider the environment by using almost all biodegradable materials, from the merchandise down to the packaging.
“The face masks are made from undyed muslin which I buy at Fleishman’s on South Fourth Street,” she said. Her facemask motto? “Masks that don’t move when you talk!” She also offers customized facemasks with monograms and embroidered messages, including, “Black Lives Matter” and “6Ft Please.”
Relying solely on her Instagram account and Made by LAD website, Leslie expanded her product line to include hair and winter accessories: oversized scrunchies, men’s and women’s hats, headbands, ear-warmers, and scarves. Hats, scarves, headbands, and ear-warmers are made from soft, thick, reversible, dead-stock cotton knit. Her most timely accessory? An embroidered “Vaccinated” status badge, perfect to sew onto a denim jacket or the back pocket of jeans.
Leslie hopes to continue to grow her business long after masks are needed. Her goal is to create a sustainable athleisure brand that is able to give back to the community by continuing to purchase materials from small, local businesses and donate proceeds to communities in need whenever possible.