When is the last time you upgraded your wallet or laptop case? These are the items that keep us organised, and keep our most important items safe, yet we rarely think about them. A really good wallet, for instance, can feel life-changing; suddenly all your cards are easy to access, your coins aren’t falling all over the place, and you know the exact location of your personal and business receipts. Now doesn’t that sound nice? And extra points if you can find a carry item that appeals aesthetically. Lucky for us, Bellroy exists, and they’re going worldwide.
We spoke with Bellroy co-founder and CEO Andy Fallshaw about what it means to be a good business creating great wallets, portfolios and bags:
Tell us about the inspiration for Bellroy
The most obvious initial inspiration for Bellroy was in just how bad wallets were. In 2009 when we started working on Bellroy, wallets were really bad. The whole idea of a “slim” wallet hadn’t really been shared, so most wallets were massive hunks of leather that bulged uncontrollably from pockets. We could see that fashions were slimming down so these bulging pockets were becoming even more unsightly. As engineers and designers, we new we could fix that with a couple of fundamental paradigm shifts.
But there was more to our initial inspiration than just the products. We could also see that the role of businesses was changing in the world, as brands like Patagonia demonstrated that business could become a force for good. So we were also totally inspired by the idea of shaping a better business at the same time.
When did you start Bellroy? What was the process of starting your company like?
We launched our first wallets in 2010, after having worked on our brand for about a year. It was fun and scary and uncertain and energising all at once.
Each day the gang would work from our house, which is in remote coastal hinterland near Bells Beach (on Victoria’s surf coast). We’d cram around our dinner table, trying to wear multiple hats from design to customer support to quality control and PR. With our remote location I’d have to cook lunch each day, and we’d break up the work with quick blasts on the skate ramp, or a sneaky surf if the waves were good.
There were loads of unknowns about it, but as the months progressed we started to see amazing responses from customers. We realised we were onto something special.
Talk about your sourcing and production practices.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have a couple of supply chain experts in our founding team, so Bellroy’s sourcing and production is quite different to that of most brands.
To start with, we’re not a seasonal fashion business. We work really hard to create products that will live a long life, adapt to their environment and stay true to their purpose. So, instead of moving through batches of seasonal product with a three month life, we get to spend that time refining and evolving our existing designs for as long as customers are loving them. This also means we get to constantly refine and evolve our supply chain, making sure each part of it is working as well as it can.
We start with our leathers, which are made in a couple of select gold-rated Leather Working Group tanneries, to our own custom specifications. For our wallets, this leather then moves on to one of two partner makers in India. With each partner, we have our own full-time Bellroy teams that build each week’s orders, before sending to whichever global warehouse needs a restock.
We spend a lot of time with these partners, often getting to share in festival celebrations, and delighting in the beautiful saris and other offerings that fill our makers’ rooms with color and vibrancy.
For those who might be interested in the geekier side of our sourcing and production, here are a few extra details: we apply Lean Manufacturing and Cradle-to-Cradle principles. That means we eliminate toxins from our product and packaging, work with biodegradable and recyclable materials, and ensure responsible waste management from suppliers and tanneries. We form very selective supplier relationships, and then partner closely for long-term mutual gain. Finally, we’re proud to be part of the B Corp movement – a group of certified companies using the power of business to help solve social and environmental problems.
What makes a good personal item, like a wallet or portfolio? What are the considerations that go into designing these items?
A good personal item, like all the things we purchase, should make life a little better. While everyone’s version of “better” varies, there are some common elements that unite us.
When we’re designing products, we work to make every part of that product fit for its purpose; nothing that gets in the way or makes an interaction harder than it needs to be. We want to help focus people’s lives, not complicate them.
We also want to bring a little delight into everyone’s everyday interactions. Whether it’s the subtle magnetic “catch” of card section on our phone cases, or the way our leathers shape and patina with the way you use them, improving with age and showing your story. We work really hard to exceed expectations and bring this delight to our customers on a daily basis.
Most of your wallets can hold a mobile phone. Is that something you found you needed and designed for that, or a request from customers?
Before smartphones, we needed to carry separate devices for our phone calls, taking photos, jotting notes and making payments. Smartphones have changed all that, and as they change, so can our other carry items.
When we design our products, we try to think about all the things our customers carry, and get them working together in a quiver, rather than as standalone products. Some customers love to just have one wallet, into which they put cards, phone and essentials. Others like to piggy-back a few essential cards onto their phone, and get rid of a wallet altogether. So we try to design different options that will fit with the way different customers want to organise and carry their things.
How should a person using a Bellroy product feel?
We hope they feel delighted! We want the little moments they have with their Bellroy product to be seamless, enjoyable, and long-lasting. And we hope they feel supported in this world that can otherwise be chaotic, crowded and frustrating. If we can make their day-to-day easier somehow, or make them feel like they have the right tools on hand to get out there and do whatever it is they want to do, then we’ll feel like we’ve done our job.
What is your perception of Scandinavian style or aesthetic?
Oooh, tricky question. I hope I can do this justice!
There’s a description from John Maeda that we really love: “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.”
For me, Scandinavian and Japanese styles share this pursuit of elegant simplicity. Where Scandinavian style goes one better is in the joyful celebration and expression of natural materials, in a way that elevates the human spirit.
Do you agree that your brand is a “Scandi Dandy?”
I’d be flattered to think that our brand might be considered a Scandi Dandy. Our design ethos has huge overlaps with the ideals of Scandinavian design, from the pursuit of form and function in harmony, to a “truth to materials” approach, and a desire for considered and timeless designs. That last one is probably the hardest part, as to achieve real timelessness, you can’t just apply minimalist styling tricks. You need to stay relevant for people’s context.
The Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen wrote: “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”
As we work on Bellroy products, we’re also applying these design ideals to Bellroy as a brand and a business. We want to have our products make sense for our brand, and our brand make sense for a business trying to be a force for good. And when a customer considers the wider context, it should all make sense and feel cohesive. I hope we can live up to those ideals.
Where can people find Bellroy products?
What’s next for Bellroy?
We’ve just launched our first range of bags, which is a brand new product category for us, but something we’ve been working towards for many years. We started learning about them and what folks want even before Bellroy began, with our carry blog called Carryology). So, this is a very exciting time for us and we’ll spend the next little while focused on watching how they go out in the world. We can’t wait to see how people respond.
See more on Bellroy.