What do Motorola, Timberland and the NFL have in common?

SHARE What do Motorola, Timberland and the NFL have in common?

The only leather tannery left in Chicago — a 109-year-old company that makes the skins for NFL footballs — will supply leather for wristbands for Motorola Mobility’s new smart watch and for the back of a new smartphone.

Motorola Mobility will announce Friday that Horween Leather Co., at 2015 N. Elston, won the work because of the quality of its hand-crafted leather.

“It’s a family-owned tannery, and from the minute you walk in the door, you can tell the quality is really great,” said Jim Wicks, Motorola Mobility’s senior vice president for consumer experience design and a native of Champaign, who led a media preview Thursday featuring the watch and the phone at the company’s Merchandise Mart headquarters. “They are stretching the hides, cutting them … you can tell they are craftsmen.

“This is like old-world, old-school craftsmanship,” Wicks said.

Neither Motorola nor Horween would disclose the amount or volume of the deal.

Nick Horween, the company’s vice president and fifth generation of the family that runs the business, said Thursday the company uses components like tree bark and natural stains and dyes to differentiate itself from rivals. Its products cost more, but last longer and age better than cheaper alternatives, he said.

“We try to showcase the natural beauty by bringing out the quality that exists in leather instead of covering it up,” said Horween, a 30-year-old Lakeview resident whose father, Arnold “Skip” Horween, serves as president, and whose sister Natalie, 24, works in the administrative offices.

Horween Leather, which employs 150 people, processes special orders for each client, including leather for NFL footballs, NBA basketballs, Rawlings baseball gloves, and for shoe companies such as Alden, Allen Edmonds, Timberland, Wolverine and New Balance.

The leather for the Moto 360 smart watch, which Motorola calls a “modern day timepiece,” will come in black, natural, cognac and navy blue. The 360 with leather wristbands will retail for $249, and can be ordered online starting at 11 a.m. Friday at Motorola.com, BestBuy.com, Google Play and at certain Best Buy stores.

The new Moto X phones will be available later in September for $499 off-contract.

Wicks said Motorola Mobility’s design team chose leather as an option — the watches and phones are customizable — because natural materials are trending in the fashion world.

“Leather is tactile,” he said. “It represents our brand very well — there is a warmth to it. … We believe in developing products that seem very personal and approachable. The warmth of natural materials really resonates.”

“Why do [consumer] product materials have to be metal, glass and plastic?” Wicks said. “You’re going to wear the watch like a jacket, shoes or a handbag. You shouldn’t be limited in your personal expression.”

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