Straps that stand out
When I was younger and had less money I somehow still managed to collect watches. A cool shirt is “eh, that’s neat” and gets tossed in the wash. A beautiful watch straps on every day and becomes a part of you. But I’m not here to wax fashionable.
A watch is necessary, always. People who solely use their phones to tell time must have monk-like disregard for the trappings of the mortal hourglass. I like to know how much universal currency I have and put it to decent use. There’s always been a watch on my wrist for that—more recently, an Apple Watch. It’s a great multitool for exercise.
My small time-telling collection is now resting in the Apple Watch box in my closet. Makes me the slightest bit sad but the wrist-top computer is too practical not to use in place of its more stylistically unique, single-use cousins. Watch cousins. Time bros. Temporal ancestors.
Thing is, default Apple Watch bands don’t match my palette. I’m for a brown leather accessory. Get me sum’n that’ll last. Gain character. Scratch and bend. Get soft. Get tight in the right places. Buckle on. Light as air. Hardly noticeably there.
Also into slim an’ minimal. Only ethically animal. Buy it for life. Everyday multi-use. Wanted a soft brown watch strap that would match my belt and phone case. Simple. Except leather’s no good for sweat and I dig a jog some days. So I found two brands. They shot over straps. And here I am writing about them. Maybe you, too, have an Apple Watch and might check these out. No affiliate link bullshit here—you like it? Cool. No? Great. Post irrelevant to you? Skip around the site, there’s enough word food for all around here.
First up: Braxley Bands. Two fellas. Braxton Manley and Grant Andrews. They were challenged to get entrepreneurial on a student budget and stitched elastic around Apple Watch lugs. A few years later and they’re selling dozens of patterns on the same simple material for thirty bucks a pop.
Their site’s very LA vaporwave. For each band sold, a tree gets planted. CSR—check. Do I like the bands? I really want to. Thought they’d be perfect for all-around usage and go with just about anything. They would be fantastic if they fit when active. My wrists are 17cm and damn if my medium-sized Braxley Bands don’t feel a bit loose at times. Running can cause more unwanted bobbing around than the traditional Apple Sport Loop. A racket swing is also slightly uncomfortable in comparison.
Clear material pros here. Stretchy polyester is going to be comfortable out of the box. It’s machine-washable. Breathable. Depending on the activity, it will stay on during and dry after a good sweat. Depending on the pattern, it could go with any outfit.
Braxley hit all the USPs. They know folks will approach this tiny, cheap material and ask why the hell they are paying $30. Right next to the material explanation, Braxley notes that the connectors are high-quality and come with a lifetime guarantee. This is a magnificent advantage over cheaper options that tend to break easily, putting your expensive glass marshmallow at risk.
The elastic bands are great. They’re unlike anything else I’ve found for Apple Watch. When you shop their styles, this is one of the few consumer experiences where you can be super confident what you’re getting is what’s right there on the screen—a soft, stretchy, quality-made band designed by two Texans who know how to market to millennials.
Call me boring for going with brown and white. I currently count around 30 color options available. Try one out. They do returns and exchanges in case you back out. Coward.
One more tip. As I write, my wrist is resting on the corner of my laptop, right where the underbelly of the watch band sits. It’s like a second skin. No buckle in the way. A beautiful thing. Something to consider.
Not at all bullshit
Bullstrap, the second on our docket for today. Bullstrap started by selling luxury leather Apple Watch bands and have since expanded into other smell-good journeyer’s accessories.
Actively avoiding ad-speak here. Wasn’t paid to write this. It’s a break from my day job. Got sent some trinkets and am imparting honest reviews because I like to read honest reviews. Good to change up writing genre now and again.
Now… bulls and straps. You’re in for a tasty frontier, boot-wearing, bullet-to-bottle a whiskey-whackin’ treat. I interviewed Mason Hoza, co-founder and fuckin’ great product photographer.
Though Kevin Littrell took the shots for this article—thanks Kev!
WTF is a Bullstrap?
We love cows but we feel that bulls are just way cooler. Leather strap + Bull = Bullstrap.
Makes total sense. I immediately thought of a cowboy lasso, then a whip, then thoughts got strangely sexual. Freudian marketing. I dig it.
Who could be behind such a strapping young brand? The site lists two founders: Claudio “The Analytics” and Mason “The Creative”. Childhood friends, the duo turned entrepreneurial after earning majors in accounting at Florida Atlantic University.
So you and Claudio are pals. Where do cows fit in? I picked up leather crafting a few years ago, started making my own wallets and straps for friends as a post-work hobby and stress relief outlet.
I suddenly wished I was friends with stressed-out Mason to get experimental crafts. But stress ain’t fun so it’s cool I get to be business buddies with him via email and enjoy the fruits of his hard work and crafty marketing instead.
It’s ballsy to get into the luxury market. I’ve always been a luxury watch enthusiast and found myself fascinated by Rolex, Audemars Piguet, and Patek Phillipe. Having experienced the quality of the straps that come with watches of that stature, when Claudio and I began looking for straps for our Apple Watches there was nothing on the market that we thought matched up to the craftsmanship we had witnessed before. Ah-ha moment: “Let’s make our own!”
The entrepreneurial battle cry.
Noble. But there are a billion options out there for leather Apple Watch straps. Bullstrap straps are different in only one main way—quality. We didn’t set out to change the traditional leather watch strap, we just wanted to make it better. Bullstrap’s straps are made with full-grain Italian leather (the best tier of leather possible) unlike nearly all of our competitors who use top-grain, genuine, or artificial leather.
Meaning… That out of the box the straps are stiffer and not quite as “ready to wear” as our competition, however, full-grain leather breaks-in significantly with time and ultimately will lend itself to a more custom, unique fit and will also outlast all its lower-grade counterparts.
Stiff is an understatement. That’s a hard-ass strap to get off! I’m testing another brand that boasts fancy metal connector bits. What’s with yours besides the leather? We use 316L stainless steel hardware. 300-series steel is commonly used for military equipment for its durability against the elements and overall hardness. We don’t believe in cutting corners, and we never will.
Stiff is most definitely an understatement. This is under the statement about how stiff the bands are. Mine feel like zip-tie handcuffs. Almost gave up on unbuckling after the first wear. Elbow grease did the trick. A testament to leather quality or a product loyalty ploy? Locked to body. A deal with the leather devil. Nah, just needs getting used to.
No cutting corners, eh? That’s a bold statement. How do you handle ethics in the business of animal products? This is a big one for us and also one that we don’t expound on much simply because the internet is very quick to criticize any “ethical” process that doesn’t line up with their own definition. All the leather hides we use come from cows that are used for food. We will never kill an animal specifically for its skin.
Nice. I suppose bona fide vegans wouldn’t be customers of yours anyway. Good to know there’s a no-waste mindset at Bullstrap. I reckon inclusivity goes along with ethics. Your marketing is super male-centric. Have you given any thought to gender? You may expect to see a women-focused line in the future, but we are focusing right now on becoming an established men’s brand before entering the world of women’s accessories.
Fair enough. Makes sense to hone in on one specific audience to find product market fit before expanding. Nothing’s stopping non-males from buying Bullstrap.
Mason gave me two straps to review and I’ll give the other to my gal once I’ve gotten shots for this piece. We both have slim wrists and I’m already on the most cinched buckle hole. Hopefully she won’t find it too loose.
I haven’t broken my strap in enough yet. The bottom of the watch with the heart rate sensor has been floating above my skin, pushed up by the stiff straps on either side. A bit worried the watch isn’t picking up its usual readings, or if it is, that the readings aren’t as accurate.
Establishing a new brand in a saturated market is tough cookies. How have you gone about it? I’d bet folks fall into two camps: those who are alright with the default or cheap-o alternative straps and those who spring for a premium Apple-brand collection. Bold to sell something pricier than Apple whose straps are proprietarily premium. This took time and a lot of marketing. Trying to convince a customer base that’s used to spending $10-30 on leather straps from Amazon to spend 3-8X the price on a different strap. However, after their first purchase, the customer usually has a very positive response to our products! We proudly boast an internal return rate that is well below the industry standard and have a nearly 20% returning customer rate every month.
Took time, of course. How much? There’s an ocean of e-commerce pop-up shops around the net looking for a quick buck. You’ve managed to float above them. Bullstrap is now our full-time gig. Claudio and I are both spending 40-50+ hours a week on operating the company, alongside an amazing team of employees who are both full-time and part-time.
Damn. Who knew! From the site, it all looks like such a tight operation. Quite simple, really. The pros always make their craft look simple. Does the business take over your life at times? We started as a tiny company working out of my garage. As we grew it was so humbling to watch our families and friends step in wherever needed to maintain growth. Since then, we moved to a full-sized office in South Florida. Keeping our friends and family at the top of the totem has continued to be the most important aspect of our business. We’ve been able to hire many of our friends and even a few family members to work full-time at Bullstrap which has easily been the biggest blessing, especially earlier this year.
Sounds like a Bullstrap mafia. If family is an internal motivator, what’s success look like from the outside? Our definition for success is simple: Enhance life’s journey for each of our customers. We founded Bullstrap to offer better accessories to those who deserve more. “Built for your Journey” is our slogan. That’s our goal—to make products that accompany people on any journey they decide to take in this life. If we can enhance your journey with the products we offer, that is success in our book!
“In this life” has me feeling eerie. Maybe if I die wearing this strip of leather I’ll be reincarnated. If so—way worth $90. But that’d mean I could never take it off. Another loyalty ploy. These guys are good.
Enhanced journey—got it. I’m down for journey enhancement. What happens after my journey’s been enhanced? What’s next? Our long-term goal is to become an industry leader for all things when it comes to premium, daily accessories. We’ve been pushing the needle for the past year in preparation to launch a whole new wave of products that will be unlike what anyone knows in terms of what a men’s accessory brand can be. We are keeping this close to the vest until the launch date which should be ████.
Should be redacted!
Good to hear you’re going places with Bullstrap. Genuinely interested in what’s unlike anything else in the men’s accessory space. One more Q for ya, Mason: Where’s the most exciting place a Bullstrap strap has been? Haha this is a great question. We love seeing people take their Bullstrap products around the globe. Celebrities aren’t really on our radar, but we’ve seen our straps on mountain tops in California across the USA, waterfalls in Hawaii, underwater in Puerto Rico, in the heart of New York, and most proudly on the wrists of everyday, anything-but-average people!
Underwater! Neat-o. Especially since the site says: “While our high-quality genuine leather products are splash resistant, we do not recommend submerging them in water as it will cause the leather to darken considerably and become more tough.” When I asked Mason about this, he told me the straps are built for journeys and can be used practically anywhere. He even encouraged me to try running with it on. I can imagine wearing it on hikes. While the fashion element is subtle due to its size, the Bullstrap strap is certainly a lot more charming than more tactile-looking outdoors equipment. Definitely falls into the nature-chic category. I dig it. When I’m not doing nature things, looking nature-chic is cozy enough.
One more quick note on the Bullstrap. I’m not a huge fan of the buckle. Feels clunky to me. As I type on my laptop with my wrists resting on the corners, the buckle scrapes on the edge of the aluminum, rubbing off some of the black painted over the steel. The shape strangely doesn’t keep up with the luxe feel of the rest of the strap. But it comes as no surprise as you can see exactly what it looks like in the product shots on their site. Thought this might be worth a mention.
Braxley Bands are elastic, comfy, colorful, casual, and a great choice if other bands have rubbed you wrong. They look cheaper than they cost but serve you well in their simplicity. Pick a pattern and be yourself—or the version of yourself that fits within one of their 30-some options.
Bullstraps whip onto your wrist for a cigar-puffing, log-hauling, mountain-slapping, manly good time. They wear you more than you wear them. You can’t take ’em off. But you won’t want to because there’s the potential for instant reincarnation. Bullstrap also makes other products like iPhone cases, wallets, and backpacks. Bullpacks?
Texan stretch or Floridian flourish—pick your poison, time ranger.