On the Bas & Lokes website, you can buy a watch strap for your Apple Watch that is handmade in tan leather, carefully hand-shaded and hand-aged. “I think with the move to super-fast manufacturing and 3D printers, there is a growing appreciation for things that are handmade,” says Jade Bas, the co-founder of the leather accessories startup. “My co-founder, Lokes, is a super gadget nerd and she wanted a strap for her Apple Watch. Now, she has a growing collection and she just slides on a different strap depending on what she’s wearing.”
In a world of fast-fashion, technology upgrades and mass production, the handmade, leather accessories startup – born from Bas’ love of vintage watches – is finding a way to mix the old and the new, and encourage customers to appreciate meticulous craftsmanship. And it was all inspired by a collection of “decades-old musty watch straps.”
“I’ve always had a love of vintage watches,” says Bas. “Eight years ago, my watch collection was growing out of control. But most of the watches I owned came with decades-old musty, watch straps. At the time, there weren’t many choices for high-quality straps to replace them. So, with the help of my father – who was quite a crafty person, like myself – we taught ourselves how to handcraft watch straps.”
It began as a personal project, but, after making the first 20, they realised the quality was good enough to be sold. “We listed a few on eBay one night and they sold immediately,” says Bas. “We made some more, listed those the next day, and they too sold right away. I knew then that I was on to something.”
Previously a portrait photographer, art director and photo editor at major international stock agencies, Bas is the eye behind the alluring images on the brand’s website and social media feeds. To balance her creativity, her co-founder Lokes, who joined the business as it took off, is the “thinker” who loves strategy and planning. They began with watch straps, which are still their hero products, but have since expanded into wallets, notebook sleeves and bracelets.
“There are tonnes of challenges [to crafting in leather],” says Bas. “Every new product takes months and months to design, test and then prepare for launch. Leather changes, it stretches, ages, fades and darkens depending on how it’s used. I design my products so they will be just as beautiful after five years as they are after five minutes.”
To encourage people to appreciate “slow craftsmanship”, they’ve also held pop-up meet-the-maker events, one in partnership with Kentucky bourbon brand Russell’s Reserve. During the three-day event they taught volunteers how to make a vintage-look wallet, hand sewing and personalising it themselves.
“One of the things I loved about teaching people how to make a wallet was that even though it was a simple design, they were absolutely amazed about the dozens of steps and skill involved in the creation of that one wallet,” says Bas. “The vast majority of people out there don’t realise how labour-intensive making a leather product can be.”
Despite the ability to tell the time on smartphones, laptops and any gadget people have to hand, the brand believes watches still hold a special place in people’s hearts. “A watch is so fascinating to me,” says Bas. “There’s dozens of exceptionally tiny parts, springs and cogs all working in unison together to, little by little, move the hands around the dial. A vintage watch, to me, experiences the emotions of its previous owner, whether it’s laugther, sorrow, tears of joy or sadness.”
These are all emotions she feels as a hand-on entrepreneur on a regular basis. “It’s a lot of hard work and it’s very long days,” she says. “I make watch straps galore, I design new products, I photograph them, I troubleshoot, I buy things, I break up fights between the workshop dog and random blue tongue lizards that enter our premises. But I absolutely love every item we sell; I just couldn’t put my heart and soul into it if I didn’t love it so much.”