Have you ever thought to yourself, “why didn’t I think of that?”
My father and I laughed when the Chipwich came out. This popular new desert treat combined chocolate chip cookies and ice cream into a sandwich. Jeez, my dad and I had been doing that with Oreo’s for years! Or, how about putting wheels on your luggage so you could easily move through airports and even stack a backpack or briefcase on top? Again, something so simple and logical and yet undiscovered for years.
Why On Earth Are Belts Straight When Our Bodies Are Curved?
My co-founder, Stephanie Boyles, had one of these ah ha type moments when she began designing a belt that would accommodate a new style of cell phone holster she could use when riding her horse. She started thinking about how all the belts she’d worn in the past pinched at her hips, gapped in the back, and developed a pull-down wrinkle in the back after just a few weeks of wear. As a PHD In topology (basically the study of spaces and shapes), she started thinking about the natural curves of the human body and how a differently cut belt could more closely follow those curves.
Stephanie Designs and Patents the first Handmade Curved Leather BeltSteph’s background in math was a definite plus as the curve needed to be calculated independently for each 2” cut of our handmade leather belts. We searched the internet to find a manufacturing partner and quickly learned all roads to leather terminate in Leon, MX. Once connected, we spent a good amount of time searching for the perfect leather.
Many people assume leather is the same no matter the application. In fact, there is quite a wide range of leather from very thin goat and sheep used for things like golf gloves and binder covers to very thick buffalo hides used for heavy cases or even large guitar straps. We wanted a solid strap around 3.5mm thick and leather that was dense versus spongy. Fortunately, nearly all variants of leather are found in Leon and we soon found ourselves selecting individual hides of just the right leather.
As always, we developed some prototypes and then took them out into the world to see if we had a fit hit (pardon the pun!). The reaction we got was immediate and positive, “I can feel it and I love it!”
The next step was to make a belt in different sizes and in small quantities so we could go out and test the market of real paying customers. After all, voting with your dollars is really a true test of whether something has value to not. With our first run of belts in hand, we headed out to the Louisville, CO, summer street faire.
What we heard at the street faire was interesting and very helpful. First, unless a person has a fit and trim body, they don’t want to tie a phone holster to their leg (our original design clipped the holster to the belt and then used a leather strap at the bottom of the holster to tie it in place on one’s leg). “I don’t want to draw attention to my thighs” was heard over and over again. Conversely, people also told us how much they enjoyed the comfort and custom feeling fit of our curved leather belts.
Let’s Separate The Holster From The Belt
One of the great things about designing a product inside your own small company is the speed of decision making. We drove home from the street faire and decided we’d patent our curved design and make handmade leather belts as well as handmade leather phone holsters that would go on any belt.
We reached out and communicated our changes to the small leather manufacturer we’d been working with in Leon, MX, and commissioned a new run of belts. It turns out Leon, MX creates around 90% of all the finished leather goods in the US. Mexican belts are on the shelves of most boutiques and western wear stores unless they are focused on lower end Chinese goods.
To increase precision in the cutting of the leather, we had metal molds cut so we could cookie cutter style press cut the hides. This created an exact size, consistent edging, and allowed us to maximize the utilization of each hide.
Our first belts were an inch and a quarter wide. We selected high quality bridle leather as the main material along with a composite metal for the buckles. The colors? Black and brown of course. We call these belts “The Curva” and they became a favorite for dressage riders and for a local boutique who sold them mainly to “guys that came to Boulder for a wedding and forgot their belt.”
More Styles and Colors
To increase our potential market size, customers and boutique owners told us we needed to make the buckles interchangeable and go to a wider belt with more styles and colors. This led to the creation of our inch and a half belt, The Lato, and our inch and a half distressed riveted belt, The Coperto.
We carried forward our insistence upon the highest quality of leather and hardware components. We purchased new metal molds at each size to ensure we maintained the same level of consistency and utilization. Like the Curva belts, these two new styles are handmade leather belts cut in our patented curved shape and finished in beeswax. The edges are softened and rounded by hand using a grinding wheel and then painted and waxed.
The Combinations Are Endless For Handmade Leather Belts
As you can imagine, with this basic formula in place, the combinations of colors, styles, and embellishments are endless. We’ve done belts with just a pattern of holes called The Perforata, Star belts, and even belts with leather lacing. We continue to add to our Lato color selection and now have them in a variety of browns and even in red, white (really an off white we call cremello), and blue. We’ve also extended the Coperto style with a very trendy black on black schema using a black matte buckle, black leather, and black rivets and created a newer riveted handmade leather belt using smaller “twilight” rivets we call The Brio.
Nationwide and Going International
Embrazio’s handmade leather belts are now in over 300 boutiques in the US. Internationally, we’re in Australia, Canada, and Bonaire. We’ve expanded beyond belts to include handmade leather bags and backpacks and now have an extensive line of leather or pearl and mixed metal jewelry. All still handmade and all still produced by small artisans in and around Leon, MX. People who wear our belts say they’ll “never wear a straight belt again” so we get lots of reorders via our online store and from our boutique partners.
To get the word out, we recently created a set of online videos and animations with the common tag line, “So Comfy You Can’t Take Them Off.” This was a ton of fun being involved in the writing of the script and the actually shooting and editing of the video. We used a local create team called ZeroSun who took our early ideas and objective and turned it into a viral online campaign that is exceeding expectations.
In addition, boutique owners across the world can now order our leather belts and other products online via the Faire platform. Faire is an online marketplace designed to connect small producers like us with boutique owners around the world. They offer boutiques free shipping, 60 day terms, and free returns. For us, they only take a commission from stores we’ve not previously marketed to and they allow us to reach stores we’d probably never visit outside of main population centers.
All of this from an ah ha moment that a curved belt would be a much better solution than the straight belt that has existed for centuries. In fact, if you look at a belt that’s been worn for many years, it’s no longer straight, it takes on the curve we’ve designed for you from the first day you buy one of our belts.
Why no one else thought of it is anyone’s guess. It just makes sense that our curved bodies deserve a curved belt! Go figure (oops, one more pun!).