Every aspect of a Nokona glove gets the personal touch—individually cut, stamped, stitched, laced and embroidered in the company’s Texas facility. It has been that way since 1934 and the company hasn’t shown any desire to change that level of personal care, instead only adding to the handcrafting with fresh ways to create custom designs.
“Because each glove is individually handcrafted, we have always been able to respond to players’ unique preferences and needs,” says Chip Sivak, Nokona spokesperson. “Today, though, through our online custom-glove builder, players can see their personal designs while they are building their gloves.”
With the multiplicity of options, ranging from patterns and web types to leather, laces and colors, Sivak says the level of detail adds to the importance of choosing a structure that fits the need of the player.
That spirit of detail helped create a brand formed in Nocona, Texas, in 1934. The company name, derived from both the town it resides in and the historical chief of the area, also honors the generations of workers who have built gloves. During that time, no other glove company has the history of consistently produced gloves in the United States like Nokona. And it is that individuality that gives every glove, Sivak says, a unique identity and feel.
He says that with the philosophy of “quality above all else” and the heritage of a Made-in-America product, the ongoing emphasis on design and innovation draws players keen on a high-quality glove.
“To have guys in this industry for a long time in Nokona, Texas, is pretty cool,” says Cody Anderson of the Cleveland Indians. “Having it tooled to my preferences is actually pretty special.”
Just because Nokona has hand-made gloves for 85 years doesn’t mean the company has skipped over innovation. With a history of manufacturing in its own facility allowing the company to have tight control over quality, and the ability for quick implementation of any product development, the company has the ability to maneuver as needed to meet player needs, they say.
“For example, in the middle infield gloves, we use lighter-weight leathers and streamlined patterns,” Sivak says. “This leads to quicker ball transfer and overall play.”
Nokona has a model designed for each specific player. The classic Walnut gloves—the company’s bread and butter for the last 30 years—reach a wide audience. But the lightweight, position-specific X2 Series made with kangaroo leather or game-ready SKN Series made with Japanese CalfSKN, all help to serve a different player.
Nokona’s Alpha Series and X2 Elite Series remain two of the most popular models for a classic Nokona look, but with lightweight durability to improve performance.
“With lighter weights and better structure, we are appealing to that more serious ballplayer,” Sivak says. “Our presence has definitely grown at the pro level down to the serious travel-ball players.”
With the ever-growing online customization offered by Nokona, players can now pick and choose style and performance preferences themselves. Whether a bison calfskin, kangaroo leather or more traditional steer hide, the leather choices at Nokona outpace the norm. From there, players select patterns and colors—the most popular colors these days offer a return to a more traditional base color with flashier accents.
Having such an intense focus on leather, Nokona recently journeyed into belts, seen this past season in Major League Baseball on over 100 players across 20 teams, with many of those players purchasing and customizing the belts on their own. As Nokona traveled across spring training sites, they became known as the “show belt guys” from players who had made it to “The Show.” Nokona took on that name for their new Showbelts line.
Sivak says in keeping with Nokona’s tradition of quality, the brand side-stepped the norm of a single layer of leather and created a double-ply version for durability, using the same leathers found in the gloves. Customization allows players to put their name on the inside of the belt and number on the outside tip. With four different types of leather offered—everything from a traditional calfskin to colored patent leathers—players also select buckle styles, liner color and thread color.
“The full-on custom program is pretty neat,” Sivak says.
From customizing belts to a variety of fielding gloves, Nokona knows its leather and keeps the quality in-house—taking “a lot of pride in that”—by manufacturing everything in its Texas facility. Professional ball players still recognize that history and the value of that craftsmanship.
Brewers infielder Tyler Saladino says he first started using Nokona as a young kid and remembers having a Nokona made him feel like a real ballplayer.
“All the hard work that goes on behind the scenes,” he says about the construction, “that is what it is all about.”
Tim Newcomb covers gear and business for Baseball America. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.