In 2009, we thought Bellroy would be a bag brand. I had spent my youth seeking adventures around the globe, but like many co-travelers, was constantly frustrated by the bags I carried. With products designed for simple concepts of travel, I was met with friction, failure and the feeling that my stuff was holding me back.
So, I started talking to some friends and family about the sort of brand that would get us excited. One that could solve some of the problems we were experiencing over and over.
The first ideas applied our insights to bag designs (and a couple of wallets). We built a deck, sent it to some friends and said…“We’re about to sink a lot of our savings into this idea. If you don’t think it’s awesome, you need to tell us.”
As a testament to those friends, they did (tell us). To paraphrase, they said “Yeah, good. But not good enough to cut through the noise in the bags market. What else do you have?”
Dang. That was hard to hear. But it helped us realize that, while the bags space was noisy, wallets was a desert. We knew that with enough time and thought, we could re-engineer how wallets were built. And save a few stressed pockets in the process!
When I was a dirt-poor student studying product design at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland a decade prior, my old wallet had disintegrated and I couldn’t find a wallet that was built in a way that made sense to me. They were bulky and inefficient, bulging in your pocket like a brick. So I sewed myself some prototypes out of scrap material from a sailmaker. I went back to basics with them, eliminating the bulk at every step. They were raw, but for a decade they lived in my pocket (and then some friends’ pockets), and they worked well enough that I barely gave them a second thought.
So, for our first Bellroy range, we looked back at those old sailcloth prototypes. We discarded existing paradigms, and tried to think about wallets from first principles. You might have experienced this, when starting a new project, it feels good to throw away every convention and build the idea from the ground up, trying to make sense of it for the world as it is now, not as it was when previous solutions were conceived.
By August 2010, we were ready with our first range – five slim wallets that were our first go at changing the way people stored and carried their daily essentials.
We wanted to build both a great brand and a great business. The kind that could really delight its customers, not just satisfy them. We wanted deep relationships with our partners, where we could invest in finding better ways, together. We wanted to work with great people who cared about shaping a better world.
We launched Bellroy with a very tight range of five wallets, and a hardworking team of five people. While so many parts of the business needed to be developed, our customers quickly started telling us that they loved what we were doing. And that was the most important reason to keep going.
For the first 18 months we experimented and iterated, honestly without much growth to show for it. Our customer feedback kept us going while we were trying to build a business on a fairly small resource base, learning how to communicate and prioritize, and chip away at the different problems that pop up when building something from scratch.
But, around the start of 2012, sales started to grow. More people were sharing their love of Bellroy with friends. We got better at explaining how to slim your wallet and finding new customers online. All around the world, people started to realize a slim wallet was an awesome idea, and that we could give it to them.
The next few years were a bit of a blur. Bellroy was growing at a mighty pace, we were juggling a global audience with a global supply chain. It was pretty manic. Wonderful, but manic.
Just keeping up with the growth meant it was important to recognise what to say no to. There were so many other areas of carry we wanted to dive into. But, we were self-funded, and never had the luxury (or desire) to ‘throw money’ at a problem. This ended up being a pretty useful discipline to develop. We wanted to do things well, and that took a lot of consideration, discipline and effort.
By 2015, with our wallet range now mostly bedded down, we were ready to start chasing our dream of addressing other areas within carry. When we look at Bellroy in 2020, it’s a remarkably different brand to when we sold our first wallet in 2010. And yet so many of our values and approaches have remained, and continue to be critical to our DNA.
There are now hundreds of people who work on Bellroy. We offer a broad range of carry products that help people get more out of their everyday – day after day, year after year. We’ve pleased millions of customers with designs that broke existing conventions. And all while channeling resources and funds towards helping shape a better world. It’s a huge honor to serve the whole Bellroy community and it’s impossible to not feel incredibly proud of what we’ve all created together.
Thank you for being part of our journey, we’re just getting started.