It’s a tale as old as time: young creatives living in major cities who want to entertain elegantly and enjoy their meals at home, but the reality of their space-starved apartments and limited dinnerware leaves a lot to be desired. It’s something that couple Sam Dumas and Lyle Maltz knew only too well, and after collectively being in 12 apartments during their decade in NYC, the fashion industry alums wanted to create a company that would provide accessible, well-designed, stylish tabletop solutions that would make staying in feel like the new going out. Their Brooklyn-based venture, Leeway Home, recently launched with three all-in-one dinnerware kits combining ceramics, flatware, and glassware; available in two classic styles and four colorways to cater to everyone’s tastes. The only question that remains…..your place or mine? Here’s how it all began!
How did you meet?
Sam Dumas: We first crossed paths at Vera Wang, where Lyle led the company’s global licensing business and I worked as an executive assistant to the president. We started as friends and built that relationship first, which in hindsight gave us a more solid foundation for what we’re working on now with Leeway Home.
Tell us your respective backstories…did either of you ever think you’d launch a brand?
Lyle Maltz: I come from a background in fashion—specifically licensing and marketing. Following my time at Vera Wang, I joined a consulting firm called Kantar, then a part of the WPP family, working with luxury, lifestyle, and retail brands to develop their marketing and growth strategies. Some of my clients included Tiffany, Ralph Lauren, Estee Lauder, Kiehl’s and Michael Kors.
Sam: After Vera, I joined Condé Nast, where I led experiential events and initiatives for Vanity Fair. From there I was tapped by Bumble CEO & founder Whitney Wolfe Herd to become the co-founder and head of brand of Chappy, which was Bumble’s gay dating app. It was later merged with Bumble under a single, more inclusive platform. I stayed on as LGBTQ advisor to Bumble, while setting my sights on what was going to come next. Lyle and I both come from small business families, so that passion and fire was in us from day one. We had tossed around the idea for years and finally decided to throw caution to the wind, move out of the city, and take a big leap of faith in starting this business.
What did you both take away from your years in the fashion industry? What were some highs?
Sam: So many things. Early on, I learned the value of strong leadership from Vera herself. Though she wasn’t my direct boss, she looked out for me and took me under her wing. She has such a strong vision and an unwavering work ethic and sense of determination, and I have always admired that. On the flip side, I’ve certainly come across many people who have showed me just as much about how not to do things: the patterns and behaviors you don’t want to emulate as a leader. Now, jumping in headfirst to Leeway, I take all of that experience and use it to propel me forward in leading my own teams.
Lyle: A flare for the dramatic, which is only partially a joke. I think my years in the fashion industry taught me how to handle stressful and dramatic situations with an even head and a compassionate hand and helped me gain the confidence to stick to my convictions. I still lean on the lessons learned and experience gained from mentors like Vera Wang, Michelle Kessler-Sanders, Sho & Co co-founders Sharon Ainsberg and Allison Oleskey, Jen Meyer of JBC, and so many more.
Can you talk us through some pivotal moments that led to conceptualizing Leeway Home?
Sam: Combined, we’ve lived in 13 different apartments and one house in just 10 years. Like many young professionals in NYC, when we first moved to the city, we had extremely limited budgets and minimal storage space. As we got older, our lives changed and so too did the spaces we called home. Leeway Home was born out of a desire to create a brand that focused on meeting people at every stage of life, embracing their varying lifestyles and taking the time to understand and appreciate their needs and limitations.
Lyle: Even before the homebound reality of 2020, Sam and I truly felt that staying in was becoming the new going out. That said, we found that shopping for home decor, especially tabletop, was an antiquated, frustrating experience. We believe that your home is not a one-size-fits-all proposition and wanted to create a brand that celebrated all the ways people live comfortably at home.
Sam, tell us more about creating Chappy? What was this career period like?
After four years at Vanity Fair, I was looking for a more entrepreneurial experience. I started having conversations with anyone that would listen and while I was in L.A. for an event, I received a call from a mentor and dear friend, Malcolm Carfare. He mentioned that Whitney Wolfe Herd was looking for someone to head up what would become Bumble’s gay brother app, focused on fostering more meaningful, equitable relationships for gay men. It was the opportunity of a lifetime and working with Whitney was as rewarding and impactful as you could imagine. I’ll remember those years as some of the hardest, but most rewarding and character building of my life. You’re either cut out for the startup hustle or not and once I got a taste, I never looked back.
Lyle, how did heading up the Vera Wang licensing business prepare you for this next chapter?
You can’t help but absorb so much just from sitting across a table from a creative force like Vera! But, above all, my time at Vera Wang taught me the art of balancing the creative and business sides of a brand. And it taught me how to juggle. You have to keep a lot of balls in the air at a fabulous brand like VW!
What’s different about Leeway versus other brands in the space?
Sam: We really felt that it was time a brand leaned into the authenticity and diversity of peoples home lives, at every stage. Rather than conforming to a one size fits all approach that strives for the creation of that seemingly “perfect” table, we wanted to meet consumers wherever they are by providing stylish products that are easy and convenient to purchase. Leeway Home is about the flexibility and freedom to live your authentic life at home, no matter who you are, where you live, or what you may be defined by in the moment.
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How are you aiming to rewrite the rules of setting the table?
Sam: Early on, we zeroed in on the idea that we wanted to create a brand that works to break down the antiquated rules of “how to” when it comes to table setting. Our goal since day one was to produce stylish, quality pieces that didn’t define your life, but rather fit into it.
Lyle: I didn’t even have a dining table in my first apartment, so the idea of setting the “perfect table” wasn’t messaging that resonated with me. It would have been great to have had a brand back then that I felt was talking to me, rather than highlighting my limitations. That’s why I love pieces like our Leeway Dish, which we call our bowl-in-one, which bucks the idea that you need three pieces (two plates and a bowl) when one will do perfectly and take up a lot less room in your cabinet. We eat 90% of our meals out of them!
From initial idea to launch, how long did it take for the brand to come to fruition?
Lyle: From concept to our website launching in December 2020, it was about a year and a half. Those early days are tough, because you’re selling an idea—a concept and a vision that you believe in but have to convince other people to buy into without much to actually show them. But we pushed forward with product and website development and in August 2020 we secured our first investor, which enabled us to really get running.
The name is so smart! Do you remember the moment it came to you?
Sam: Something you don’t often hear about are the false starts or trip-ups that are inevitable in starting your own company. Landing on a name for our business was definitely our first hurdle. We attempted to trademark over ten different names and at every pass we were shot down due to some legal rationale I’m still not sure I fully understand! We were on yet another call with our lawyer and at the end of our ropes, when Lyle muted the phone and exclaimed, “I just wish we had more leeway with this stuff!” Right as it came out of his mouth, we both just knew we had our company name.
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Love it! Tell us about the offering/kits you’re launching with?
Sam: We have three core kits, combining ceramics, glassware and flatware into convenient, eco-conscious boxes. Our first is called The Entry Way: an affordable and multifunctional kit centered around our all-purpose Leeway Dish. This kit is made for those who are space and budget conscious, or who live for a good one-pan/one-plate meal. The Full Way is our more traditional dinnerware set, which includes four settings of the 11 key pieces you need, nothing more. Our final core kit is called The Drinks Way, and it’s made for the at-home mixologist and soft-drink connoisseur. It includes an essential set of hand-blown glassware for every drink, top to bottom shelf.
Lyle: All of our kits and ceramics are offered in two collections: Stripes and Solids. Each collection has four color ways. Just as our kits are designed to meet each customer’s unique needs, all of our products can be purchased on their own as well—perfect to start small and add on to, to customize or for those who love to mix-and-match.
Any funny moments you can share involving disorganized or chaotic dinner parties/gatherings?
Lyle: More so than any one moment, the thing that sticks out is the sheer number of dinners and gatherings we had! We’d take any opportunity to celebrate with friends, and our get-togethers ranged from cocktails parties to sit down dinners to stuffing pizza in our mouths after a big night out. We never let our spaces define our fun.
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Post-pandemic, what do you think the major at-home entertaining trends will be?
Lyle: I think there will be a continued emphasis and importance placed on making your home your own and welcoming people into it. Once we can start to gather (and hug!) again, I think we’ll see more intimate at-home get-togethers. Staying in will continue to be the new going out I think trends will reflect a desire for fun, color and energy in their homes.
Lastly, can you each name your top five dream dinner guests (real, imaginary, dead, alive…)
Sam: Easy. Gloria Estefan and four other people she wants to bring 🙂
Lyle: Mariah Carey, Michelle Obama, Princess Diana, Jackie O, and most of all, my grandmother Myrtis who passed away in April at age 98 and would have loved every bit of what we’re building right now.