Now you may be thinking that carbon fiber is for bikes and Kevlar is for bullet-proof vests. But it turns out these materials are also used for sail cloths, and when a sailing family started a business called Ragged Edge Gear, they made them for wallets too.
The origins of Ragged Edge Gear goes back to the early 1990s when Suze Bailey started making bags out of plain white sail cloth her son Zak, an avid sailor, brought home. On a visit home from college in the early 2000s, Suze’s daughter Meredith Bailey, who goes by Mud, borrowed some cloth to replace a wallet that had fallen apart after only a few months. The wallet Mud sewed lasted so many years she got bored with it before it wore out.
That durability of that wallet impressed the women, so they decided to try making and selling sail cloth wallets. They started with a classic tri-fold and bi-fold design, and grew from there. Now Ragged Edge Gear offers 40 different styles in various colors.
“We found people are very particular about their wallets,” Mud said. “Whatever wallet they had before is the one they still want, just made better.”
About six years ago the company changed its materials, still using cloth from the sailing world, but turning instead to carbon fiber and Kevlar.
That was a turning point for the company. At the time, it was the only business that made a carbon fiber wallets, Mud said.
At first, the company’s customers mainly came from those in the sailing community. But over time the durable, water resistant and fast-drying material has developed mass appeal. It worked well for those who performed manual labor, resisting the sweat and grime inherent in the job. “Geeks and nerds” like the wallets too because of the novel material, Mud said.
And there are many who are just excited that the wallets are hand made in the United States. All wallets are sewn by Suze, Mud and Mud’s boyfriend, Hank West, in a tiny workshop in Virginia. They sew orders on machines that perform fatter edging and a specialized triple stitch.
“The longevity of our product is in the way we edge them,” Mud said.
This wasn’t the career path Mud thought she’d follow. She thought she’d get a job as a director of a sailing program, or maybe pursue ceramic art. But in 2008 she and her mom both found themselves unemployed. With no business experience they started to push their sail cloth wallets, occasionally getting profiled by gear websites. Their belief in their product kept them going even in the leanest times.
“We’re boot strappers all the way,” Mud said.
Just as they were about to run out of money and move on to something else they landed a big catalog order and gained the momentum they needed.
While wallets remain the company’ main focus, they also offer a series of bags and tablet cases. They are planning on launching a Kickstarter campaign to design a new women’s line of wallets. They also want to offer a semi-custom wallet. The wallets are cut in batches, but the company wants to let people choose colors for stitching and edging.
What won’t change is the hands-on approach of Ragged Edge Gear. It’s been a struggle to figure out where the business fits in the world of manufacturing, Mud said. They’ve grown enough they wouldn’t call their product a craft, but with three people on sewing machines, they don’t follow a factory model either – and they don’t want to.
The three people at the company’s helm want to create their own niche honoring small workshop-level production. They want to find the sweet spot between a manufacturer and an artisan, right on the edge of both.