Hello everyone, and welcome to another Singaporean feature article! This week, I’ll be featuring local strapmaker, The House of Straps. Yup – there are local leather crafting artisans that specialize in hand-made straps!
Each strap at The House of Straps is made to order, their aim being to “deliver a strap that is fitting to both the timepiece and the individual, offering a large selection of customizable hand made leather watch straps in a variety of styles at a modest price.” They had previously launched 2 Kickstarter campaigns, (here and here), both of which successfully attained funding.
I sat down with The House of Straps to find out more about the brand and their offerings.
Interview with The House of Straps
1)Tell us more about The House of Straps, and what you aim to achieve.
THOS: There are many individuals who own a single watch and wants to change their wrist look yet find it tough to bear the financial cost for another timepiece. Another way for them to refresh their wrist look or to match the occasion would be to switch out the strap for one that has a different texture, colour or style. The House Of Straps was started with the mission to offer customizable hand made leather watch straps in a variety of styles at a modest price.
We are the Designer, Manufacturer, Wholesaler and Retailer. Minimising overhead costs and cutting out the middle men allows us to keep our costs low and pass on the savings to our customers. Apart from serving both renowned and newly set up companies, we aim to be a one stop site for individuals looking to get a customized strap or to bulk order straps for their vast collection.
2) How did you get into leather crafting, specifically in customisable straps?
THOS: Every individual is different and every timepiece is precious. A single strap will not be able to satisfy everyone’s taste and match all preferences. The market currently has plenty of black and brown leather straps where the stitching or thread is neglected as a ‘tool’ to hold the leather together and the style is usually seen as trivial. Strap customization allows the wearer to express themselves and complement their outfit according to the occasion.
Currently in the market there are many strapmakers. However, roaming on watch forums led me to realize that the lack of information on the strapmakers’ website leads to a lengthy email communication process and the turnaround time can vary greatly as well. I felt that a more efficient way was needed to streamline the process to make it more straightforward to the consumer and allow strap customization with ease – this allows the consumer to confidently translate their thoughts and imagination into reality.
3) In your opinion, what’s the main difference between a handcrafted strap, and an off-the-rack one? What goes into the making of a handcrafted strap?
THOS: While an off the rack strap does its job, these are the possible thoughts that can go through your mind when you get one. You might prefer the strap to be a tad longer or shorter. The shade of brown isn’t what you wanted, you would preferred it to be a shade darker and match it with white thread instead of brown thread. Or perhaps, you want a colour that accents the watch dial instead.
With a hand made strap on the other hand, you are able to customize every element of the watch strap to your liking without having to settle for second best. This results in a strap that you can wear and be proud of knowing that the strap matches both you and your timepiece.
Furthermore, there are many definitions of handcrafted – they could be machine stitched with certain processes that requires the skill of the hand, or sewn by hand in a variety of ways.
Saddle-stitch is a form of hand stitching that is usually highlighted by the maker when used. It takes immense time as compared to running the leather under the machine and being one of the strongest form of stitching in the world, it is an essential touch to watch straps which goes through everyday wear and tear. At The House of Straps, all of our straps are saddle-stitched.
The making of a leather watch strap is a complex process that comprises of multiple steps using an array of tools. From the hide selection, to the cutting and thinning of leather, rounding of edges, marking of stitching holes and the stitching itself, it requires the meticulous attention of a skilled craftsman.
4) How does one tell between a high quality strap and a low quality one?
THOS: Tell tale signs include uneven stitching, poor finishing and cracking of leather.
Another point to note will be when comparing a machine stitched strap and a saddle stitched strap, the latter will definitely be more durable as it is held by 2 independent stitches. In the unfortunate event that one stitch breaks, the thread will not unravel itself and the watch strap would work still. However when a machine stitch breaks, the thread will unravel making it unfit for wear.
5) Your current range seems limited to cow/Horween leather and shell cordovan. Do you have any plans to bring in more exotic materials such as alligator, stingray, python, etc?
THOS: While current plans do not include exotics, I am looking to bring in a wider range of vegetable tanned leather to offer more options in terms of texture and colour as I do like its versatility and durability. Also, I will be starting a new Kickstarter Project to introduce a new style of watch strap! (More on that later below)
The House of Straps – Hands-on
THOS graciously offered me the chance to customise my own handcrafted leather straps. I ended up customising two straps – a black Horween leather strap, as well as a brown Shell Cordovan one.
The House of Straps currently carries 3 types of leather strap – Italian leather, Horween leather, and Shell Cordovan, in both 2 piece as well as single pass variants. After deciding on the type and color of your strap, you get to choose the lug width, buckle finishing, stitch style, thread colour and strap length (see above photo)! Customising the strap was rather straightforward, and checking it out is a breeze (though note: The House of Straps currently only accepts PayPal payment). To be honest, I have seen strapmakers offering more comprehensive customisation options on their webpages before (for example, odd sized lug width, embossing of initials, choice of material for buckle, differing thread colour between top and bottom strap etc), but at this price point ($45 USD after promo code for a handcrafted, customisable Horween leather watch strap!), what The House of Straps offers was already more than satisfactory for me!
Let’s talk about the Horween Chromexcel black leather strap first. For those unfamiliar with Horween leather, do read this except from the House of Straps’ website: “Founded in 1905, Horween Leather Company is one of the oldest tanneries in the United States, located in Chicago. Well known for their unparalleled level of quality, consistency and innovation, their leathers today are still hand made using old world techniques and equipment with modern day updates in the process. Chromexcel is a type of leather that is specific to Horween. It is characterized by a rich pull up effect which is the temporary lightening of colours when folded or flexed. A 89 steps process over 28 days, it is highly supervised as various naturally occurring materials such as hides, retannages from tree barks and more comes together, increasing complexity when achieving uniformity and consistency. After the initial chrome-based tannage, the hides undergoes vegetable retanning using Horween’s guarded recipe before being hot stuffed with a special blend of oils, waxes and greases which is responsible for the pull up effect. Lastly, the hides are hand-rubbed with coats of aniline finish for an even staining. This combination tanning imparts the leather the best of its qualities, making them soft, supple, durable, mouldable for comfort and the ability to develop a great patina over time.”
For my Horween leather strap, I chose to have it topped-stitched with red stitching. Personally, I just love the black and red colour combination! The exterior of the strap feels supple (none of that cardboard genuine leather nonsense you find on the straps of fashion watches), and feels comfortable on the wrist. The stitching looks great too.
The side of the straps is an area most strap brands, even big ones like Hirsch, neglect. One can usually tell whether effort has been put into the making of a strap by seeing and touching the side. Running my fingers through the side of the strap, the texture is even. It is evident that THOS has put in effort to smoothen the sides of the straps, a process that is usually lacking on off-the-rack straps. Furthermore, as can be seen from the curvature of the strap in the photo, the Horween leather strap is soft and supple out of the box – no break in period required!
Similar to the sides, the back of the strap is smoothed out nicely to ensure comfort on the wrist. From the back, one can see that the fibers of the leather are tight, indicative of the good quality of the leather used and a sign of durability. Furthermore, it is evident that the strap is hand-stitched. For machine-stitched straps, usually the stitching on the back would appear thinner as compared to the front. Here, one sees that the stitching on the back is of the same width as the front, a hallmark of a hand-stitched strap. The strap loop is hand-stitched together as well, which increases the durability of the strap loop. On lower quality straps the strap loops tend to be glued together instead of being stitched, which means they will come apart pretty easily. Glad to see that’s not the case here! Here, the Horween leather strap is unlined, resulting in a more raw look.
Moving on to the shell cordovan strap, priced at $72 USD (after promo code below). For the House of Straps, they use either Japanese Shinki Hikaku or Italian Rocado shell cordovan. For those unfamiliar with shell cordovan straps, do read this except from the House of Straps’ website: “Found on an isolated section of a horse posterior, Shell Cordovan comes from a fibrous flat muscle beneath the rump. The yield of 2 small irregularly shaped oval shells goes through a 6 months tanning process of about 100 different steps where it turns from raw to finished. Beginning with a vegetable tanning process, the hides are often left to soak for months. A special blend of greases and oils are then applied before it is being hand treated and hot stuffed with waxes and other conditioning agents. Pure aniline dyes are hand rubbed and the shells are hand glazed to achieve the polished smooth surface.”
For my brown shell cordovan strap, I chose to have it side-stitched with white stitching. I personally think shell cordovan works best with a vintage look, and I think the strap turned out looking decidedly rustic! One thing that took me by surprise was the thinness of the strap, due to it being unlined. It initially felt flimsy, and I had my doubts about the durability of the strap. However, I’ve been wearing it for over 2 weeks now, and not only has it held up well (no cracking of leather), but it actually feels rather comfortable on the wrist because of its thinness. However, the strap holes were punched too small for some reason, making it difficult for the buckle pin to fit. I have had to physically force the pin into the hole, all the while feeling apprehensive of tarnishing the beautiful shell cordovan strap.
Similar to the Horween leather strap, the sides are smoothed out, and therefore comfortable to the touch and on the wrist. As you can see from the above picture, the side of the strap is actually wafer thin! As aforementioned, it took me some time to get used to the thinness of the strap, but over time I really appreciated the comfort that came with the shell cordovan strap.
As aforementioned, the back of the shell cordovan strap is unlined. There’s a whole debate regarding lined vs unlined shell cordovan. Proponents of unlined shell cordovan posits that the lined leather most likely would wear out faster than the cordovan itself, which is one of the toughest types of leather available. On the other hand, supporters of lined shell cordovan argues that with shell cordovan being wafer thin to begin with, a lined shell cordovan strap adds thickness to the strap, making it more appropriate in instances of full-stitching, perhaps on formal dress watches. In any case, unlined shell cordovan is what the House of Straps offers, as they believes that in addition to the aforementioned benefits, offering unlined shell cordovan also allows her to bring the price down. For me, I prefer the shell cordovan unlined from an aesthetic viewpoint – as aforementioned, I always felt that shell cordovan worked best in a vintage/rustic setting, and an unlined strap simply accentuates that raw vintage look and feel for me! As with the Horween leather strap, both the strap and strap loops are hand-stitched.
Recently, The House of Straps launched their fully stitched, lined Horween Chromexcel line (previously they only did unlined straps), and were gracious enough to send me a strap for review!
Similar to the unlined Horween Chromexcel strap featured earlier, the stitching here is also customisable. The lined strap they sent me is fully stitched, as opposed to the side-stitching seen on the unlined strap earlier (Although THOS does offer a side-stitched variant of the lined Horween strap, at $99 USD.) As compared to a side-stitched strap, a fully saddle-stitched strap (done by hand) is much more painstaking, and therefore is almost always higher in price – strapmakers can spend anywhere from 3-6 hours on a fully saddle-stitched strap! Here, I went with a black stitching for a more understated look, hoping to elevate the striking dial of the DWISS RC-1.
The reason for the significant price difference between the aforementioned unlined Horween strap and this is due to the THOS’ usage of the same Horween leather for the lining. THOS utilises a single leather strip that is folded over to form each strap, which gives the same leather texture on the underside against the wrist as the top and allows both sides to patina uniformly with use. Essentially, almost double the leather is used here as compared to the unlined variant, therefore resulting in the price difference. Personally, I find the lined variant to feel more premium on the wrist, as well as it being more supple. It definitely looks more premium, as the strap should patina evenly over time.
As with the aforementioned straps, the strap loops here remain hand-stitched, with the sides of the strap being smoothed and burnished by hand. Overall, I feel that if you have a more premium watch that you want to showcase, going with the lined variant will likely suit the watch better than the rawer (though cheaper) unlined variant above. In addition, the lined variant is thicker at 3-4mm, making it more compatible with thicker watches such as my DWISS RC-1, or perhaps Panerai/Gruppo Gamma/Dive watches.
Ultimately, The House of Straps offers decent customisable handcrafted straps at an affordable price point. At their price point (as little as $49 SGD for a Italian leather strap), THOS straps are much better options than the “genuine leather” off-the-rack straps commonly found at this price range. To put things in perspective, Daniel Wellington sells their leather strap for $69 SGD – and those are really sub-par in quality. The quality of the THOS’ leather is definitely much better, not to mention the craftsmanship! I personally believe that The House of Straps is a great option for millennials who love to customise things (I’m a prime example!), or people who perhaps don’t want to spend that much on a strap.
Conclusion: so The House of Straps “shiok” anot?
For the price, definitely so. For as little as $36 USD/ $49 SGD for a customised Italian leather strap (after promo code below), I think that THOS’s straps are great value for money. If you’re looking to “zhng” your microbrand watches (like I did with the BOLDR Voyager), I think the House of Straps makes for a very compelling value proposition. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that it would be incredibly difficult to find better customisable straps under $50 SGD!
For those interested in getting a customised, handcrafted strap from The House of Straps, the promo code “WAHSOSHIOK” will entitle you 10% off! In addition, till the end of January 2019, THOS is offering readers a whopping $20 USD off their full-stitched, lined Horween Leather straps. After the discount, the straps can be had for just $99.90 USD/ ~$135 SGD, which I think is a great deal. Simply use the code “WAHSOSHIOK20” to enjoy the $20 USD discount!
View The House of Straps’ complete collection here.
P.S Do check out the new “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wahsoshiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!
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Nigel Gomes, @the_lone_cadre
The House of Straps