Online retailer Frank & Oak rose to prominence by offering casual shirts at an unexpectedly low price point for the quality of the product, allowing men to flesh out their wardrobes with chambray and gingham. As the label branched out into bags, outerwear, and accessories, prices remained uniformly reasonable and designs consistently simple. Then the company decided to introduce handmade leather wallets and it seemed that it had finally succumbed to the temptation to get into the luxury goods game. Not so much. Instead of abandoning a winning system, Frank & Oak Creative Director Ethan Song flew south to talk to Ricardo Hinojosa.
Hinojosa, a young, good-looking entrepreneur from the Mexican state of Guanajuato – an area renowned for its leather work – was working with a team of local artists to create fashion-forward pieces primarily for the domestic market. He and Song worked out a simple design together: A symmetrical billfold with four pockets on each side that could easily slide into the back pocket of a beaten-in pair of Levi's. Production began – on a different scale than Hinojosa was familiar with.
"I work alongside my workers to make sure each wallet is perfect," explains Hinojosa, who previously worked in promotions for Mexican fashion houses. "One of our biggest challenges is the quick turnaround due to our limited tools and the handcrafted nature of the wallets, but I won't let that show in my products."
Hinojosa's commitment to quality is most evident in the material itself. He sources the stuff from local leather suppliers, who sometimes struggle to keep colors and textures consistent, but he says he embraces variation as long as it doesn't affect durability and attractiveness. "These are problems we face because everything is handcrafted," he says, "but it is the handcrafted nature that makes my products unique." What that means for the customers is that they benefit from a "Made in Mexico" price point, despite the fact that the wallets' origin is, in this particular case, a sign of superior craftsmanship. Everyone wins.
Mutually beneficial partnerships are the whole idea behind Frank & Oak's new Opportunity for Change effort, which kicked off with the Hinojosa partnership and hopes to continue introducing a broad base of consumers to local businesses around the world . The program will give artisans a chance to find an audience and expand their workshops while providing the growing brand with the opportunity to offer a different kind of product. As Hinojosa puts it: "Time and precision yield a great outcome." [$50; frankandoak.com]