Mike Balitsaris of Waltzing Matilda used to buy toilet factories, but now he’s busy eyeing shoe factories. He’s journeyed from rust belt factories to a Nebraska mine to a Cupertino boardroom to a former shoe factory in Maine, but his goal has always remained the same. Baltisaris sees the potential for creating great things, and creating them right here in America, with all that he does. After a serendipitous moment in Red Wing, Minnesota he founded Waltzing Matilda and has been crafting bags, shoes, belts, and other accessories ever since. A supremely interesting and extremely likeable guy, Mike never set out to create a collection. (Full disclosure, Paul + Williams advises and represents Waltzing Matilda.) All of the product was born originally out of a specific need or a desire for things of a certain quality. What began as a hand-made bag and a pair of sandals has evolved into a collection and a brand with more than its fair share of personality.
As our conversation revealed Baltisaris’ story is as winding as it is fascinating, and it’s impossible to predict what lies ahead for Baltisaris or Waltzing Matilda. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.
ACL: To begin, I understand that you have pretty interesting backstory, so what were you working on before Waltzing Matilda?
MB: Most recently for the last fifteen years, I hired on with a group of likeminded individuals, it had started off as real estate but we didn’t like to take farms and fields and get them redeveloped and put office buildings up. We would go around to rustbelt cities and find these unbelievable projects. Old factories and lofts with good bones. We always called it “taking field trips,” and we’d go in and look at the bones of the buildings and we’d work something out where we could figure out how to buy it by getting tenets to go in. We actually would make a deal with the owner to give us time to be able to find a tenant for it, cause none of us had any money.