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Meet Up Monday: Maximum Henry

Maximum Henry is one of the few fashion brands that actually adheres to the truism that quality, not quantity, matters. Founded by young designer Maximum Henry Cohen in 2008, this belt and accessories brand uses high-quality, vegetable-tanned leather from Belgium and Spain and is handcrafted by its founder and his assistants in a design studio in Brooklyn. Offering a very tightly edited collection of timeless, classic belts and other items, it stands out for its extremely reasonable prices, which are in the $100 range, and sold directly on its site and in other stores.

Its affable founder/designer spoke to me late last week about its past and exciting future, which incudes opening its first-ever independent store and workshop that will debut later this year….

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What is your background and what prompted you to start Maximum Henry?

My background is purely as a consumer. I was looking for pieces that I couldn’t find so I started making these wallets and belts on my own. I’ve always had a knack for making things–as simple as duct tape wallets when I was in the seventh grade. And then I took sewing classes when I was in high school and was crafty and could make things. But it was also taking serious pleasure out of making these really beautiful gifts or items for loved ones or girlfriends or family members while I was growing up. Then I did an apprenticeship after I started getting into making wallets and belts. That was my biggest experience working with already functioning businesses and designers.

Why is leather your go-to material?

I really like how versatile it is. I think it’s the only material that gets better after you wear it for a while. I’ve found that most other materials just don’t last as long for the same kind of task. And I think it just feels really nice when it is broken in. Also part of the pleasure of me making things is that I design items with their fully used worn-in destination or how they’re going to end up in mind so I can develop something that when it’s broken in is much more special than when you first get it.

How long does it take you to create a belt or an accessory?

I’ve got it pretty down pat. I can churn out maybe ten pieces in a day. And that’s a long day right there but I have a few assistants that I have been working with and we’ve been making pieces in 40- or 50-piece batches and that takes about two days.

And you produce collections seasonally?

Yeah, I have been doing that more recently. I used to do it on my own schedule and make things whenever they were ordered but now that I am getting wholesale orders it has been a lot easier for me to try to stay on a schedule. My items never go on sale because they are not really seasonal so I don’t necessarily fit in with other stores that do seasonal collections but I do try to come out with a new updated style or color every collection.

What are your most popular models?

I have been getting a lot of attention for the Double Ring belts but I think the biggest sellers are still the Wide Standard and the Slim Standard, which are 1” and 1.25” but your most simple, utilitarian belt that I think everyone has been looking for for a long time but has had a difficult time finding. The navy is the most popular pop color but people are still looking for dark brown or black accessories that match what they wear on a daily basis.

And a lot of the product is unisex….

I am happy to say that it is all gender-neutral and everything fits for everyone. Recently I have been focusing on getting my samples to women who I think are great personalities for the brand. I am hoping to extend the women’s following a little bit because I am a straight guy and I love girls and I love making stuff for girls.

Your website currently offers just two belt-buckle styles. Why so few?

I wanted to make something that I knew I could nail that could be consistent but that I could have in different widths. Some people like the oval style buckle more and some people like the standard style buckle more. They’re pretty similar and I just wanted to give people totally middle-of-the-road options that they could chose to then do something different with like getting it in a thicker or thinner size or different colors. There are so many options within each style that I wanted to keep as few simple styles as possible because otherwise it will just get confusing.

You also offer a great guitar strap. What prompted you to create that?

I’ve got a lot of friends who are musicians and they complained about having shitty straps and I’m always looking for new things to make and I love that I can take the same belt leather that I use and manufacture a strap that I think is pretty perfect. And it’s also fun to incorporate my brand and my work with my friends’ work and their music. It’s just exciting and fun. I like to try to incorporate myself into as many different creative things as possible and to create something by hand that is an authentic tool for a real creative process and I am happy to be making guitar straps for people who I think have needed them for a little while. I’m also going to be introducing camera straps for my next collection.

What other categories will you offer in the future?

I’ve got roughly 20 other different product categories that I am looking to incorporate from key chains and dog collars to chokers for girls to camera straps and mousepads to paperweights and luggage tags. A lot of it is stuff I’ve already made but have not had the audience for to take advantage of selling them.

And you have plans to open your own store in Greenpoint soon?

I just signed the lease today. It’s an apartment and a work studio on the ground level and commercially zoned so I am going to be able to turn it into a little storefront one day. It’s going to be open mostly set up as an open workshop so people can come by and see what’s going on and I’ll have all my stock there so it’s going to be a pretty smooth transition to turn it into a semi-shop situation.

The other exciting part about having my little own shop is that I am going to be able to incorporate items that I ordinarily wouldn’t be able to sell on my website. I think that June is a reasonable date [to open it] but I will have it open for private appointments before that.

What sets Maximum Henry apart from similar lines?

I think there aren’t that many affordable non-rustic handmade belt options. I’m happy to make essentials for any kind of personality from rock ’n’ roll type guys or hip-hop type guys or girls or businessmen or businesswomen or skaters. It fits so many different kinds of people and I think the quality is kind of unmatched for anything in its price point. And on top of all that it is made by one or two people in a local Brooklyn studio, which I think is more relevant for leather goods than for T-shirts or something like that. I obviously don’t mean to dismiss people who are making T-shirts in Brooklyn but it’s not something that lasts as long as a belt or that you use as often as a belt or key chain or wallet. These are items that are going to be used daily by people. If you make it the best way possible it shows a lot more obviously in something that you use daily.

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