Tucked away in sweet Fairhope, Ala. is an upstairs bedroom converted into one of the finest custom leather workspaces in the South. The Rowley family comprised of Brian, Kelli, and their four girls Ashlyn (18), Emryn (16), Ivy-Ann (11), and Saffy (10), run Growley Leather and make some of the finest leather products around. How did they arrive to be custom leather designers? Their journey is like many others that find their way to their God-given purpose, marked with road bumps and extensions of faith.
Brian and Kelli met at Cedarville University, and not long after school, Brian landed a job at a megachurch in Colorado Springs. Brian shares that it was very production-oriented and was an eye-opener to how different it was from his point of view of vocational ministry at the time. From there, his career would start in sales. First, at Compaq, which was bought out by Hewlett Packard, and then the proverbial climbing of the sales ladder from one company to the next. Brian would share that benefits and pay were great; so great that they were able to travel to Australia on a sales trip along with going all over the country. “The environment was aggressive, and pressure and anxiety were huge.” Brian shared. On his last drive from the airport to the office, Brian remembers being in a state of sadness saying to God, “This is not who I am” and would quit that job and go home with no plan but knowing he made the best decision ever.
Kelli’s parents vacationed in Fairhope, Ala, and Brian and Kelli enjoyed it there when vacationing with them and thought it was a great place to raise children. In 2011 they moved to Fairhope. Brian was working with a friend that is now a pastor, doing sales, and loved it. The job allowed them the flexibility to move, but the company would get bought out from a larger corporation, and Brian would be back in the same corporate environment he chose to get away from.
In the meantime, Growley Pipes was created. Growley, coming from Brian’s middle initial and last name, shares that he was selling pipes all over the world, “Sheikhs in Dubai were buying pipes.” The client base grew and grew, but eventually, the FDA shut down the pipe making categorizing it with tobacco regulations and restrictions, so back to the drawing board it was for Brian and the family.
Brian knew he had a knack for artwork and design, and Christmas of 2015, Kelli would buy Brian an unordinary Christmas gift, the domain growleyleather.com. Brian had done a couple of pieces and heard from a friend that someone was making some good money on Esty selling hand made pieces, so he called Richie Fortenberry to show him some tricks of the trade-in leatherwork. Richie had experience in leatherwork and gave Brian a couple of hours of his time showing him the ropes. Afterward, Richie was packing up his stuff, and Brian mentioned that he forgot all his leather equipment. That was when Richie told him to keep it and that he was going to start doing woodwork and wouldn’t need it. “He left all the leather tools and leather, which was worth about $2000,” Brian said. They knew God was working, and did something they had never done before, asked God for a sign to show them what was next. Not long after that, Richie called and said that he had more leather and equipment in his garage that he would give Brian, and thus they took that as a sign to move forward.
The Growley Leather domain was purchased in December, and five months later, in May, the leather business was born. “Research was intense. I didn’t even have an Instagram, and I built the entire website,” Kelli said. “We wanted to appear as we had always existed, so we had to come up with product lines, figure out leather, sewing machines, etc.,” Brian said. Growley Leather gets about half of their business online through their website and then half from Esty. Even during the slow times of online sales, they have seen remarkable growth. Brian shares, “God has been amazing and merciful to give us sales every month from a brand new company. In my entire life, I’ve never had to trust God as much as I do now, and I have never grown as much as I have in the last three years because we have had to trust him every step of the way. It has been ridiculously hard, but so good, but I have grown closer to him more than I ever have, and I’ve been a Christian since I was 8.”
In Houston and a family of four, Brian and Kelli would come across a group that was working with orphans in Sierra Leone. Prayer would begin through their interactions with different orphanages about adopting and soon they would begin to take steps in that direction. Once in Fairhope that prayer became a reality in November 2013 when Ivy-Ann would join the Rowley family. Kelli knew that would not be the end of their adoption story because their prayer was for two girls near the age difference of their older girls. In December 2015, Saffy would join the Rowley family. The girls are from different provinces in China but share a lot of commonalities.
When asked to share with other business owners about what to do during a crisis like we are currently in, Brian and Kelli leaned on scripture. Kelli shared she keeps Proverbs 30:8-9 posted in the house and wants to be intentional about loving their customers. They recently created a Buy 1 Give 1 journal sale to help spread hope to loved ones during tough times. Brian shared, “Without these three years of trusting God month after month, I would be lost. We are being led by Him and trusting Him.”
Kelli currently homeschools all the children, and the older girls are beginning to have scheduled shifts in the leather shop. Brian shares that one of the greatest joys of life is being able to spend time with his daughters, teaching them the trade, as well as leading them as a father. Brian and Kelli are members of Mars Hill Church, and Brian is an elder at Mars Hill.