Our Story

We are a team of designers and makers located in Portland, OR. We make everything ourselves, and everything we make gets better with age. In a world full of ordinary mass-produced products, we offer something extraordinary: a premium handmade alternative for people who appreciate the craft.

How we started

Back in 2017, we fired up our 500-pound laser cutter for the first time. Our vision was to change the handmade wallet industry by shifting the focus to the modern wallet shopper. Really we were designing for ourselves and, for us, nothing on the market was checking all the boxes.

Most wallets are made overseas by companies that choose quantity over quality. On the other hand, wallets made with a higher standard tend to have a much more traditional look and feel. The style is inspired by "heritage" themes using extra thick leather and bulky thread. So where is the wallet that’s made for today's consumer—one that lines up with our own aesthetic, values and lifestyle? As soon as we asked ourselves that question, we were committed to finding the answer.

Discovering "modern craft"

We put our designer-maker backgrounds to use, spending our nights and weekends making paper prototypes, drawing patterns on the computer, torching leather scraps with our laser cutter and stitching up throw-away prototypes. We were playing with all kinds of variables in the design of the wallet from silhouette to stitch density. We even tried other materials like wool, which is where the name Woolly came from (although the material didn’t stick around for very long).

The digital component was a huge part of our discovery process and we leveraged our computer skills and access to DIY laser technology as much as we could. It allowed us to make prototypes rapidly with machine precision, changing only what we didn't like while keeping the rest of it the same down to the pixel.

Using technology to grow our small business

We weren’t only focused on the design of our wallets. We were also thinking about the design of the process used to make the wallets and how to “do more with less” — a philosophy we learned in product design school. We knew that making a wallet by hand normally takes too much time and attention from a highly skilled leather craftsperson. If we were going to make high-end wallets efficiently, we would need to invent our own process that's built for scale.

With almost no sewing experience between us, we came up with a workaround that used the laser to pre-cut the stitch holes into every piece. This way, we could simply align the cut pieces and run a needle and thread through by hand to make the product come together perfectly every time. This cut down the time, cost and skill level needed to make a wallet without giving up anything on quality and precision. And because this method didn’t need any equipment or supervision, and it required only a little upfront training, we could easily put together a local team of independent sewers who would pick up stacks of leather pieces, do the hand sewing from home and bring back perfectly sewn wallets on a weekly schedule. With the sewing production out of the way we could give full focus to the cutting and the hand finishing in our studio and still keep a fast pace.

As the demand for our products grew, we were able to apply this same production process—our unique blend of new manufacturing technology and traditional craft techniques—at a larger scale.

Custom like never before

As it turned out, there was another problem with the handmade wallet industry we didn’t see from the start. Not only do today’s consumers want modern design and a quick turn around, but many also want their handmade product made custom. People are drawn in by the maker’s story and process and they want to leave their own mark too. And so, as a steady stream of custom requests poured in—and we didn't have the heart (or the cash flow) to say no—we noticed how inefficient the whole process became on both the customer's and the maker's end. We saw an opportunity once again to use technology to solve the problem.

With the help of a $25,000 crowdfunding campaign, we designed and developed a built-from-scratch online wallet customizer where customers could play designer themselves and see what their wallet would look like before we made it. Today, using Woolly Lab, customers can choose their leather colors, thread color, patterns and inscription. It's like NikeID, but instead of sneakers we're making custom handmade wallets. Our plan now is to continue developing WoollyLab until all of our products are customizable online.  

This has been a game changer. A customer isn't just buying from us, but working with us to make something that is uniquely their own. With WoollyLab, we're giving wallet shoppers a hand in the process and offering people a new kind of experience in an age-old industry.

Made responsibly in Portland, OR

We are a small maker business embedded in Portland's booming maker culture and the greater American craft movement. We proudly employ local workers, pay fair wages and use premium, natural materials from domestic suppliers (learn about our leather). We are expanding our product line to include keychains, coasters and other small goods. As our business grows, we aim to appeal to a new world of conscious consumers looking to fill their lives with fewer and better products that are made responsibly.

To stay in touch, you can follow us on Instagram or subscribe below to get our email newsletter.

Questions? We'd love to hear from you!