Interview: Bellroy is on the right track2.9. 2020, Daniel Rufer
Just like every year we ventured to the Pitti Uomo winter exhibition. And just like every year we have met our colleagues from Bellroy. We have prepared an interview together that we are very happy to present to you, although with a slight delay. We talked about Bellroy's newest products, the company's direction and of course surfing.
We are here at Bellroy's exhibition stand at Pitti Uomo. Can you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what it is you do at Bellroy?
Hello, my name is Rich and I manage the Asia distribution of wholesale business.
How long has Bellroy been on the market and who is behind the company?
Bellroy started almost ten years ago now. It was started by two friends - Andy and Hadrian - who worked in the surf industry as designers. They started a blog called Carryology to explore better ways to carry things from backpacks to wallets. Soon after that, they realised the opportunity and need to re-engineer wallets because they didn't change for decades.
Bellroy and surfing - what do those two things have in common?
They have a lot in common. The name Bellroy actually comes from the two locations where our offices are. We have one location in Bells Beach and then another location in Fitzroy which is in the arts district of Melbourn. Within the Bells Beach office pretty much everybody surfs. So at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., everyone goes to the point that overlooks the ocean to check the waves. And if they are good, probably half the team will run back, grab their surf and run out for a surf. On the other hand, Fitzroy has great restaurants and cafés and a real artsy vibe. Put those two together and you get a great team.
You mentioned the team at Bellroy. How big is Bellroy these days?
The team is about a hundred strong at the moment. One of the key focuses over the last couple of years has been to hire really good people. Once we find good people finding good roles for them is easy. I actually got in before the hiring process was this strict so I don't think I would get in now. [laugh] It's a really wonderful place to work. It's a very supportive work environment.
Last year has been an epic year. We really hit our stride with some amazing products. We are getting great validation; people really love what we do.
What is the main priority for Bellroy these days? Is it still all about wallets or has it shifted towards backpacks?
We are all about carrying better. And for that you need a bag to carry certain things, you need a wallet to carry other things, you need a phone case to carry your phone. If it's carryable, we are looking for better ways to help you carry it.
What is coming next? What is the next thing in the pipeline?
That would be telling. [laugh] No, we've got some pretty cool stuff coming. The next big thing for us is our birthday. Our 10th anniversary.
The next visual thing is our Apex backpack and wallet range. We started 10 years ago by developing the Slim Sleeve and now we have taken a look at it again. We have developed techniques to create a very new looking format which is a laminated version of pressed leather. It looks like a clamshell construction. It's amazing to use. We think it will get a lot of people excited. That's the new Apex wallet. Plus we have a travel version as well - the Apex Passport Cover.
And then there is the Apex backpack. It's really close to all our hearts. We have taken all the things we know about bags and carry and functionality and piled it into a beautifully minimalistic bag that we think will perform very well.
If you had to pick three Bellroy products, that make your life better, which would it be?
For me personally, it's the 3 card Phone Case which I have here on me right now. This is just so useful, especially when I'm in Australia. I can get away with just walking with this because most of the time 3 cards cover everything that I need. And it protects my phone amazingly. The founder of the company was actually on a Ferris wheel when we went to luna park for our Christmas party. And his phone dropped out of his pocket and fell about 20 metres, bounced off the rails and landed in a puddle. The case was a bit scuffed up but the phone was totally ok.
Number 2 for me is a small one but it's a goodie. That would be the Key Cover Plus. I have an old-school key for my van. So I can fit all my keys neatly away in my Key Cover Plus and they never go near my phone even when I go for a jog. It just gets better with age as well. It just feels good.
And number three would be one of our bags. At the moment - I say at the moment because I love all our bags. I keep swapping and changing around. I have the luxury of that ability. For me right now I really love our Classic Backpack. I bought two for my daughters as school bags and I actually borrowed one to go swimming. And it just worked so well. The zip flowed seamlessly. Sometimes you see people tugging and messing around with it. It also carried exactly what I needed. I possibly would've gone for a bigger bag normally and that's why I haven't tried it until recently but now I'm thinking it's a great allrounder and I'll probably borrow it even more. Daughters better watch out. [laugh]
The times are changing. We don't use cash as much and we shifted to cards and nowadays they can be on your phone. How is Bellroy reacting to these changes?
It really depends on the region. In certain regions - be it Japan or Germany - coins are still really prevalent. So we have developed a coin wallet to support that. In other regions like China, they hardly use cards but we have phone cases. And the Sling has been really popular there as well. I think Slim Sleeve is a really interesting one because originally it was designed for cards and cash but more and more we see people use it just for cards for example in Scandinavia. Different products serve different regions.
Bags are another huge chapter of the Bellroy story that we are just embarking on. There is a whole host of different products that we offer to our customers that serve different needs.
Is Bellroy a global brand? Can people purchase your products anywhere in the world?
We see ourselves as a global brand. That's why we have the owl in our logo - you can find owls on five continents around the world. We've always felt like a global brand from the start because we've sold online. And now that we have an actual physical presence in well over 100 countries.
We meet here for quite a few years. Some times we have dinner, sometimes we have a few drinks. Do you have some funny story from Pitti with us?
My favourite story about Pitti would have to be the time when you guys rented a light aircraft to fly here from the Czech Republic (note: It was a rough flight). I just thought that was so James Bond. I was impressed.
What do you think about Pitti itself? Have you seen some changes throughout the years?
Pitti as a show is definitely my favourite in the world. It's amazingly well run. The quality of the organisation, the buyers coming and also the brands exhibiting. In a wonderful location - I mean we are in a fort. And then there is Florence with its amazing food. It's win-win-win. It's really close to my heart. It's going from strength to strength.
Let's close with a classic - have you ever been to the Czech Republic?
I haven't yet but I want to go. You guys will be the first one I call.
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