Designing a modern carry wallet
With a sense of personal minimalism in mind, we designed our line of small leather accessories.
‘We wanted take an honest look at everything we designed in our line,’ says Ben Lezin, founder and head of AK Salz, ‘it was incredibly important for us to create products that fit with our own lifestyles and with a younger, modern consumer, even if it meant moving away from designs and concepts that we grew up around and loved.’
'We didn’t want to just take other wallets we liked and unconsciously inherit all of their features without questioning them, we started from a much more abstract place. We looked at the leather we wanted to use and then we physically laid out what we used each day, what we carried with us to work or out on weekends and looked at what we actually needed. That was our foundation.'
Initial sketches of what would become the Swanton Billfold after many iterations
Once we got rid of all the unnecessary components, we saw an opportunity to really build around our core beliefs as a business, which is that natural looking leather is incredibly beautiful and exudes character and personality. We were left with something modern and functional that had these broad open surfaces for our leather to stand out.
From there we put attention into engineering out unnecessary thickness or material redundancy. There are a lot of brands that use really beautiful vegetable tanned leather and recognize the same changes and opportunity to carry less, but their engineering and construction is almost self-defeating. You have these accessories where every pocket or card slot is essentially another piece of leather sewn on top of another. You end up with a finished product that feels like a hockey puck.
Workers splitting leather at the Salz Tannery in Santa Cruz, 1955, photographs by Ansel Adams. After tanning, only the durable top grain was sold as California Saddle Leather. The splits below the top grain were finished and sold to manufacturers who desired a less expensive leather. By using the only the highest quality Italian leather made using Salz California Saddle Leather formulas, we are able to attain the same quality and durability while eliminating unnecessary thickness in our products.
On the exterior, it was important to us to keep thickness in the leather that makes the wallet feel substantial and maintains the hand feel of the leather. On the interior, we skive down our materials in critical areas and use liners and bonding techniques that maximize slimness alongside durability. The card pockets contain liners that minimize the wear on your cards where a thicker material or raw unlined leather would typically chafe or gum up a card after extended use.
‘No matter how well made your wallet is, stuffing it full of unnecessary clutter will eventually wear out seams and stretch leather out. Overfill any wallet and eventually you'll see the stitching, the leather, and even the contents of the wallet itself hit their breaking point. Your pants will wear down in the pockets as well,’ says Ben, ‘Our line is designed to last through years of daily use, but it’s also designed to encourage purposeful use that will further extend this longevity.’
The fine grain of California Saddle Leather
'Throughout the entire AK Salz supply chain, from our original designs and formulas that begin in California, to the Italian tannery we use to, to the highly skilled technicians at our factory in China, back to the manufacturing consultants here in the US, we had a really open and responsive chain of communication that allows all of us to troubleshoot our designs as we zero in on what we feel is the perfect modern wallet,' Ben explains. 'Our manufacturer in China is incredibly specialized in working with vegetable tanned leather with the rare capabilities and expertise to produce a long lasting, luxury accessory. With all this communication and design iteration we’re able to take an initial concept and execute it as a finished product that will last for years and carry a strong sense of quality and timeless style as the leather ages and patinas.'
‘We were able to create a finished product that met our expectations for what kind of craftsmanship an AK Salz product should carry,’ says Ben, ‘at the same time we were able to create a product that was half the thickness of our original prototypes and of some of the other brands we looked at that also make modern, vegetable tanned leather wallets.’
The result is a modern, slim billfold wallet made from Salz's finest top grain leather— the leather with the friendly feel.