Christy Plott is a fourth-generation alligator and crocodile industry specialist from Griffin, Georgia. A passionate crocodilian conservationist, Christy consults with brands and wildlife agencies on the ecological, habitat, and species survival benefits of using alligator and crocodile leather. Christy partners with luxury brands worldwide as an owner and partner of American Tanning and Leather LLC to supply wild-caught and farm-raised alligator and crocodile leather for the luxury accessory and footwear market. She and her family also own an alligator farm in Florida and a wild alligator skin and meat processing company in Louisiana.
Christy holds various membership positions in a number of conservation and fashion organizations including the IUCN SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, the Southeast Asian Reptiles Conservation Alliance (SARCA), the Louisiana Alligator Farmer and Ranchers Association, the International Crocodilian Farmers Association, Leather Industries of America, the Accessories Council, and Fashion Group International.
Christy is a recipient of the University of Georgia’s 40 Under 40 Alumni Award and the Top 100 Bulldog Business Award. She has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, National Public Radio, and Bloomberg News.
Tell us about American Tanning & Leather.
American Tanning and Leather LLC is a fifth-generation company that began in 1923 when Jake Plott, my great grandfather, began trading furs in North Georgia. The business expanded though the years, and in 1980, the tannery was born. Today, American Tanning and Leather supplies alligator and crocodile leather to luxurious brand around the world, but it remains a family business rooted deep in heritage.
What is your role at American Tanning & Leather? What’s your day-to-day schedule like?
As one of the owners of the business, I do a little of everything, but my passion is working directly with our customers. One the greatest joys I experience in my job is working with brands like Lucchese. I love helping the design team establish color palettes for a season or to assist in providing inspiration for a collection.
My day to day schedule is all over the board! Some days, I am at the tannery grading skins and checking colors on leather before they head out the door to their new home at a luxury brand. Other days, I am attending a crocodile and alligator conservation summit, working alongside ecologists and biologists. There are other weeks that I am in Italy, New York, or Dallas visiting factories or design houses. I wear a lot of hats in my job (preferably one from Greeley Hat Works!), but that’s what makes this business fun. I never do the same thing, and I never get bored.
Explain how you got the nickname “Queen of Gator.”
Oh goodness… It started off as a joke, to be honest! There was a guy who called himself the king of alligator. It was an inside joke between me and our Italian partner tannery owners that this guy was definitely not the king… and if anyone was gator royalty – it should be ME. So, I had some calling cards made just for fun to give to my Italian partners as a joke. I had business cards made at the same time I had the calling cards made. The boxes of cards were sitting side by side at my hotel in Italy (just before a huge leather show in Milan), and I accidently grabbed the wrong cards I left for the show. My Italian partners loved the calling cards so much and gleefully decided to dole the cards out at the show to everyone in the industry and the name stuck!
How does American Tanning & Leather supply the finest alligator skins?
All the credit for making beautiful leathers goes to my brothers and our amazing staff. It’s equal parts – science and art. We have a talented leather engineer named Maissa from France who has joined our company and is dedicated to making sure our leather is the best in the world, too. They are all so talented.
How are these skins sourced? Where do you get them?
The majority of our skins are from the great state of Louisiana. As I mentioned before, our company got its start by buying from fur trappers. We remain rooted in our supply chain practices today by buying wild alligator skins from individual alligator trappers (or alligator fishermen, as they call themselves) across Louisiana. The foundations of our business were built on these principles of working with people and building generational relationships with our suppliers. We still hold those values and remain committed to buying our alligators, one by one, directly from the trapper – no middlemen.
How many gators are caught each year?
Last year, there were about 30,000 wild alligators that were trapped in the USA. The overall population of wild alligators in the country is about 5 million, so it’s a very small percentage. We tan roughly 35-40% of those wild alligators each year.
What makes Giant Gator special? Can you tell us about the different tile sizes?
The giant gators are special because out of the nearly 12,000 alligators we tan each year, only about 350-400 of them are considered GIANT. That means over 11 feet long… The giant gators are important from a management standpoint to be culled, mostly from a public safety perspective. Twelve-foot gators are super dangerous. The tile size on a giant gator can be as large as a tangerine!
Tell us about the techniques such as finishing each skin by hand.
We have a lot of processes that are done by hand such as polishing the skins and applying different layers of dye to them. By the time an alligator has been made into boots, over 20 pairs of hands have touched the leather and added to its beauty before the bootmakers even start building the boots. This means 20 families have been supported by the consumer who wears the boots. I take a lot of pride in being a part of that story!
How many separate operations does the finish product require? How long does it usually take from start to finish?
There are more than 100 steps in tanning alligator skins! It’s so complicated – it takes about 9 months to tan the giant gators from start to finish.
Tell us about your favorite leathers. Which do you like to wear on a cowboy boot? What is most popular and why?
But when I’m dressing up, it’s gator all the way. I also love a gator and suede combo on boots – a little high/low shine combo. I think it makes boots look modern and youthful when you mix textures.
What’s your cowboy boot collection look like?
I have eight pairs, but my most special pair is hands down, my Lucchese black alligator! My black gator boots are actually custom made. It was an incredible experience to get custom measured, and when I got them, they fit like a glove. They even have bespoke tops with a pink crown and "Queen of Alligator" embroidered on them.
My favorite ready to wear Lucchese boot is the Derek. I love that boot so much that I got all five of my nephews a pair. I just wish Lucchese made them for women! As far as women’s boots, I love the Erin Wasson black and white croc booties. They are so chic and so much fun.
I have boots from a few other small bespoke bootmakers too and they are all special – I have known some of the craftsmen my whole life. I also have quite a few pairs of custom alligator sneakers.
What do you feel every day when you put on your Lucchese boots?
The thing I love about boots is that I can wear them with a dress or with jeans, and it’s a statement of my personality. No one has boots like mine, so it’s special. It’s always a conversation starter. Everyone asks about them – it’s a fun way to tell people about the special connection between me and Lucchese and an opportunity to share the story of AMERICAN MADE, history, and heritage with others. I love that.