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Meet Up Monday: Alstad

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Alstad is a recently launched, very impressive line of small leather accessories that are inspired by a combination of minimalism and practicality. Handcrafted in Southern California by brand founders Mika Becktor, a native Swede who has a master’s degree in industrial design, and Tom Hayes, a graphic designer from the UK, this new label currently offers wallets, belts, notebooks and passport, iPad and iPhone cases. All of the pieces are super-durable and under $200.

Becktor recently spoke to The Manual about his rising star of a brand, which is sold through its online shop and in select retailers on the East Coast and in Sweden.

How did Alstad come about?

I grew up in southern Sweden and my dad is an interior designer/architect and he has done a lot of leatherwork. He is a leather craftsman. He learned to work from a master of leather back in the ’70s. He picked up that skill, worked on that as a hobby and then passed that on to me. As long as I can remember I was making little things here and there. Not just leather but woodwork and knife handles and stuff. I ended up going to Savannah, Georgia to study industrial design. I really didn’t do any leatherwork in school but for my master’s I picked it up and saw that using laser cutters and new technology I could cut down manufacturing costs in something that is really labor intensive.

How so?

With leatherwork you hand-cut patterns and you hand-punch the holes and it takes a long time. When you do it all by hand it takes so long that it’s really not worth hand-making it because it gets so expensive. And that’s why a lot of companies do machine stitching. It’s all automated and the quality follows. But they do that because they can make it faster and cheaper and they can sell it for less.

I saw an opportunity there using these modern technologies and laser cutters with what I learned in school. So I designed the pattern down to the millimeter and the angle of the hole and everything is perfect. I take that and then I sew them up using traditional saddle stitching which is a lot stronger than a machine stitch. If you happen to cut the thread in a machine stitch the whole seam will unravel but if it is hand-stitched it won’t because every stitch is locked. It’s a lot more durable and you can use a lot thicker thread.

Do you make everything yourself?

My partner and I both make everything right now. The plan moving forward is to get a studio set up so that we can bring in leather craftsman that already have the skills. But it is a tough thing because you need someone who is really skilled at what they are doing so it can’t be just anyone.

What are some of your most popular pieces at the moment?

The Forsta 1.2 [wallet] and the Slim Jim [card and note carrier] are probably our bestsellers. They are really minimal wallets that slim down your wallet. They don’t have all the pockets that a regular wallet would have so it limits you as to what you can put in it – and people like that because they carry all these gift cards and receipts and all this stuff that they don’t really need. But these really don’t give you an option. It sort of reminds you that every time you try to put something else in it that it might not belong in there.

The whole collection is very minimal. Is that due to your Scandinavian background?

What I really like about the whole design is that it is minimal and it really just boils down to the essentials. I look at a wallet and ask: What are you supposed to do with a wallet? What are you supposed to put in it? And I try to look at that at the simplest and easiest way possible. The Forska 1.2 is made from one sheet of leather. It is a square of leather with a hole cut out in the center. That way you don’t need all the stitching that a multiple piece wallet would need. Every fold is a seam basically. We limit the number of seams by finding clever ways of folding. It’s sort of like origami. It’s finding the most clever and simplest way of making a product. And, yes, maybe that’s the Scandinavian designer in me.

So how would you describe Alstad’s overall aesthetic?

This brand is all about the design principles: minimal and making product in the easiest way possible, the most efficient and with the best materials available. We want to trim down all the fat and not decorate for the sake of decorating. Everything has a purpose.

Who is your customer?

It’s for people who enjoy and appreciate good design, craftsmanship and materials. I think more and more people are becoming more aware of these things and they appreciate and don’t mind paying a little extra for it because they know it’s worth it.

If you buy an Alstad wallet you are going to have it for ten years. And it’s just going to look better in ten years and you wouldn’t want to part with it because it has a nice patina and tells a story about where it has been. Maybe you got a stain on it but you will remember that moment. And it doesn’t make it look used or bad. It just adds to the character.

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