Dana Glaeser doesn’t need to set an alarm. Most days, he wakes up by 4:30 a.m., his mind buzzing with ideas and to-dos for his leather goods business, Slightly Alabama.

 Then he picks up a novel.

“I read for at least an hour to slow my mind down and to give me something that’s valuable and rich in culture,” says Glaeser, who used to be a high school English teacher. He also takes his time preparing coffee, savoring the step-by-step process.

But his mornings didn’t always start out with such purpose. One of the reasons that Dana is building his own business is to have the freedom to do the things that are most meaningful to him: read, design, spend time with his wife, and travel.

Journeys of Inspiration with Dana Glaeser from AFAR Media on Vimeo.

“If you’re living a life of intention, eventually you become more aware of what matters to you,” Dana observes. “Finding your life’s purpose is not going to be about suddenly waking up and knowing what it is.”

For Dana, that gradual awareness was set in motion about four years ago, when he was a dissatisfied marketing executive on Madison Avenue. He started exploring the notion of happiness and where his true talents lay. That brought him back to his childhood in North Alabama and the hands-on hobbies of his parents and grandparents: woodworking, painting, and crafting.

“I had creativity in my DNA but didn’t know that you could turn that into a business until I had been in the business world,” says Dana. “I realized I wanted that same feeling at the end of the day that I’d had when I was growing up, to work on something and then say, we did that… It makes you feel alive.”

Things fell into place quickly from then on. Dana began designing hand-stitched products inspired by the values of his Alabama roots yet still forward looking. A notable example is his leather wine tote, a differentiating product among Slightly Alabama’s small-batch collection of wallets, tote bags.

Dana makes these products in an 8,000-square-foot design collective on New York City’s Queens-Brooklyn border—with the help of two apprentices, who he strives to instill with both skills and an appreciation of the work itself, whether pattern making or cutting leather or maintaining the tools of the trade.

The apprentices in turn give Dana some flexibility to be on the road, connecting with other cultures. When asked about a favorite destination, Dana is quick to rattle off four: Florence (for the history of leather-making and art); Dublin (for the warm locals and literary tradition); Iceland (for the humbling natural wonders); and St. Lucia (for the immersion in natural beauty).

“Traveling makes me want to travel more and to allow Slightly Alabama to open up into other places,” Dana says. “So while being away makes me more playful creatively, coming back actually makes me more of a serious business person because I want to back out there in the world again quickly.”