A wallet isn’t a particularly secure way to carry bills. It’s often not even a very functional way to organize your credit cards. But it does offer a convenient way to hide your money out of view, so you can enjoy whatever you’re doing without thinking about how much it’s going to cost.
Luxury, in today’s hyper-networked world, is less about being able to pay for expensive things than having the time to experience them. And that is the intent behind Octovo, a new seven-piece line of leather goods and accessories designed by Ammunition that includes a sleek wallet that doubles as an iPhone sleeve.
"Along with attention economy comes attention poverty," says Ammunition Partner Matt Rolandson. "Wouldn’t it be interesting to build a travel brand around paying attention to your senses and moving through the world?" Octovo accommodates all the technology you carry with you but also makes it just as effortless to stash those gadgets away.
The overcrowded iPad-iPhone-MacBook accessory market falls into three distinct product categories. There’s the high-volume, low-margin end, which is focused on functional protection (plastic molded cases); a mid-market segment that adds value through novel geometry and applied graphics or colors; and the high-end, which is usually about style (logos, nifty hidden pockets). The first and second categories are meant to appeal to native techies, the last is tilted toward fashionistas. Octovo is aimed at people who are both.
The 48HR carry-on bag, for example, includes a padded side pocket ideally sized for a 13-inch MacBook Air, making it easy to slip in and out on the way through a TSA checkpoint. The Layover iPad sleeve includes magnets that wake the device when you remove it, and a liner that cleans the screen when you put it back.
Ammunition originally looked to homegrown manufacturers to supply the leather for Octovo, but discovered that the companies whose products they liked received terrible grades for resource depletion and pollution. So they worked alongside a supplier in northern Italy and developed a bark-based retanning process—which is the way it used to be done anyhow—to achieve the desired texture and color without using chromium and other heavy metals. "It’s completely clean," Rolandson says. "Leather and water going in, leather and water going out."
It’s the kind of leather that will get better over time and appeal to men of a certain age and means. And this product line is distinctly for dudes (there are plans to address female customers in the near future). "We couldn’t find anything out there that played to our needs," says Ammunition founding partner Robert Brunner. The product packaging features antique photos of an explorer wearing an anorak and a motorcycle racer leaning into to his handlebars. The Octovo logo is a top view of two bolts, which is in line with the titanium hardware and "Swiss molded zinc zippers" on the 48HR bag, which has a suggested retail price of $1,200. The ideal customer might be Jony Ive, who Brunner hired into Apple.
Ammunition, which is perhaps best known for creating Beats By Dre headphones, often sources materials and engineers the supply chain for the products it designs. The electronics inside Beats headphones were adjusted specifically based on Dr. Dre’s sound profile, for example (although the song they used for tuning was "In Da Club" by 50 Cent because, "It had all the ranges that needed to be replicated," Brunner says). And Ammunition has also begun trading up-front fees in exchange for a cut of the upside on the products they design, as well as investing directly in a handful of small companies.
What’s unusual about Octovo is that it’s a separate company, and a product line that pivots Ammunition into the fashion world. The venture is funded by Ammunition along with a small group of individual investors. "We’ve learned something that VCs understand: If you build up a portfolio like this and one of them works out, it’s totally worth it," Rolandson says.
The most intriguing product in the Octovo line is the Cross Cut sleeve, which at first seems like nothing more than a stylish holder for an iPhone 5. Then you notice the slip-space just big enough for a couple of credit cards and maybe some bills. And that it’s compact enough to carry in a back pocket. That’s when you realize it’s a wallet in disguise.
In the not-so-distant past, traveling required a portfolio big enough to hold multiple boarding passes, frequent flyer cards, a passport. Most of those things now live on your phone, which is the hub of your travel experience. And in the not-too-distant future, your phone will not only handle boarding passes and loyalty cards but transactions and potentially identification as well. This wallet is made for that era, and at $189, maybe even more than this one.
The design of the sleeve is deceptive in that it hides a few key features. The angled cut of the leather sleeve, which includes a built-in screen cleaner, leaves a corner of the phone exposed so that it’s easy to pinch and remove, for instance. "It’s the natural ergonomic way to take out the phone," says Bob Scales, Octovo’s director of marketing.
Earlier prototypes that didn’t have the angled cut in the leather required that the sleeve be turned upside down for the phone to come out. One version had a punched-out round at the top, but that looked too much like competing designs. Mostly, the team spent a lot of time testing how it felt to insert and remove the phone—they realized that asking someone to put away their most cherished device should not be taken lightly.
"There’s a physical ritual involved in putting that thing away and deciding to take it out," Rolandson says.
The intent is for you to own the technology rather than the technology owning you. And that, in an Italian vegetable retanned leather nutshell, is what Octovo is all about.