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The making of a leather notebook wallet

Option Gray's founder Cody set out to find the perfect leather wallet. Nothing seemed to fit the bill, so he turned to Huntsville, Alabama's Makers South to create one from scratch. Five long months and three prototypes later, it was finally done. It hasn't left his pocket and we are stoked to offer a very small batch in the shop. Follow along as he takes you through his quest to perfect this critical part of his EDC.

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Along with your phone and keys, your wallet is a critical component of your Primary EDC, which are the things you carry in your pockets on a day-to-day basis. Chances are that if you forget your wallet, you’ll either turn back to grab it or be stuck with some IOU’s from friends or coworkers by the end of the day.

For the past few years, I carried a simple leather wallet from Saddleback Leather. I had forced myself to simplify what was in my wallet. But, I also carried a pocket notebook with a leather cover as part of my EDC. I found myself wishing I could combine the two. After trying a few notebook wallets, I found that most were too wide or too bulky. I wanted a notebook wallet hefty enough to handle day-to-day abuse, but thin enough to make it practical, especially in these hot Texas summers. 

So, I set out to make the perfect leather notebook wallet.

First, find a top-notch leather maker

Right after we first launched Option Gray in 2014, I stumbled across Makers South on Instagram. It wasn’t long before I ordered a few items and was impressed with the quality and craftsmanship of their work. (Their AAA flashlight sleeve still looks great, and fits my AAA copper flashlight perfectly.) When I looked for someone who would really get what I was looking for, Chrispian at Makers South was the first person that came to mind. He understands what EDC is really about.

Chrispian and his wife Erin are not just talented, but good people. They were more than patient with the process of tweaking and refining the wallet, and we’re stoked to have found them.

Second, get the concept

I am far from an artist, but I had to get out of my head what I was looking for. It took at least three tries, but I had a sketch I could send over to Chrispian to get it going.

After chatting through the concept, he was stoked to get started on the first prototype.

Third, carry the prototype

I was stoked to get the first prototype in and started using it the same day. I knew immediately that one of the biggest things to fix was to cut down on size. The measurements I had originally sent him were a little bigger than needed. The notebook had some wiggle room and any size and weight we could cut would make a difference for something that is carried all day, every day.

I suggested to Crispian to remove the pen slot, extra space on the spine, and look for a lighter weight/thinner leather to reduce the thickness. I also liked the orange thread but wondered if I might get tired of it. 

One of the biggest concerns was the leather. Although it was a great color and incredibly durable, it seemed too thick. I carried it for about 2 months to see how it would fair and just kept coming back to the leather needing a change. At around 6 oz. in weight, we had to go lighter.

We talked about what leather might be the best to go with and finally ended with a mid-weight Horween. If you aren’t familiar with it, Horween Leather Company has been in business since 1905. Still tanned by hand on the corner of Elston and Ashland in Chicago, Illinois, the final leather is 3.5/4.0 oz Nut Brown Dublin.

Fourth, try again

The next prototype was much closer to ideal. The mid-weight leather was much, much lighter and the beige thread added a great contrast with its deep brown color. The good news also was we could still trim down the size by another 1/8″ – still saving more weight and size. 

Although this one had the full-size pen slot taken out, it now seemed like the card sections were too large, as my credit cards, drivers license, were moving size to side. Leather will ultimately mold to what you put in it, and I could see the movement causing the card slots to get too loose with time. 

Fifth, nailed it

As soon as I got the updated version, I knew it was just right. The final 1/8″ was taken off and the addition of the tool sleeve added a bit more functional space. 

I knew you could carry a small back-up pen or a small pry bar (like the CountyComm Widgy Pry Bar). It also is a great space to keep a back-up $20 bill separate from the rest of your cash.

With the wallet in a great place, we got a small batch made up from Maker’s South. It was an awesome chance to work with a great American craftsman and continue our dedication to supporting small businesses. 

A wallet is a personal thing. What changes would you make to create your “perfect” leather notebook wallet? Let me know in the comments below.

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