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Designing The Wallet

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DESIGNING THE WALLET

When you have the Grovemade Minimalist Wallet in your hand, you are holding the end result of a long journey. Everything we create begins with the passion of our team, then transforms step-by-step into something you can enjoy for a lifetime. Here’s the story.

The Grovemade Minimalist Wallet, part of the Every Day Carry (EDC) collection, was designed for simplicity and ease of use. It’s slim and lightweight, yet sturdy, with a matchbox-style opening, and a convenient thumbhole on the reverse, letting you flip through items in the blink of an eye. The form factor is barely larger than a credit card and gently rounded at the corners. The frame is made of anodized aluminum, reinforced by a hidden steel faceplate, and finished with a single, uninterrupted wrap of vegetable-tanned leather. It’s simple, elegant, and functional—but it wasn’t always so.

Like most of our products, the idea to create a minimalist wallet started simply because we wanted one for ourselves. We’ve never really been big on carrying a bunch of cash or snapshots, relics of a different generation. So why carry around the extra bulk?

Years ago, a few of us had made some primitive versions from leather scraps for personal use. We’d gotten used to the format, but hadn’t seriously considered refining them until we saw how the minimalist genre had really picked up on Kickstarter. The problem with what we found there was that they were all very similar, relying on elastic bands and straps. We thought we could find a better solution.

Like all Grovemade products, it took collaboration from every member of our team to make the wallet what it is. And that journey was as much about refining the process itself, as the product.

Sean Kelly’s first job at Grovemade was hand-sanding wooden iPhone cases in the early days of the company, and he was named Lead Designer in 2014 as part of a restructuring of the design department, which included diversifying our product offering.

SEAN KELLY: "The piece is really special because it was one of our first as a new design team. We all pushed each other to strive for the best; to make something that we hadn’t before. This was the first step in where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do."

When the wallet first made its way into prototyping—a leather and wood piece that utilized magnets as fasteners—it hit a major roadblock.

CO-FOUNDER KEN TOMITA: “I took one home for the weekend and Barrett [Hafner, Engineer] took one too. I was using it; all of a sudden I realize my credit cards don’t work. I come to work Monday and Barrett says his credit cards don’t work. And we realized the magnets were wiping the cards.”

We had to fix it, and fast. The wallet had already moved into the engineering phase, and the design team had begun work on the next piece of the EDC collection, the Grovemade Key Ring. But this proved to be a stroke of good luck rather than bad. What the team had learned from the new key ring would retroactively inform the wallet.

The third member of the design team, Kevin Do, joined the team in 2015 having previously worked at a high end furniture and home furnishings brand.

KEVIN DO: “We just really loved the chamfered surface of the key ring. We saw that we could use this same chamfer as a solution for the wallet.”

Drawing inspiration from the key ring, as well as from an iteration of iPhone case that never made it past prototyping, the team found a solution that stayed true to the original design of the minimalist wallet, and fit cohesively within the EDC line and the Grovemade product family.

SEAN KELLY: “We didn’t think of that as a dead end. And we don’t try to shoehorn in something that isn’t there. We just take a step back and figure out a new way; a better way. That’s the great thing about our process, there are no ‘dead ends.”

With the magnets removed and the design flaw eliminated, we had our first functional prototype. It was pleasant on the eyes, but would it do what we designed it for? Our intention was to create a wallet optimized for someone who lives a minimal life and regularly uses just one or two cards. The design allowed for lightning quick removal of the top card, but subsequent cards would take longer as they would need to be removed in order. We were concerned about access to the third card. Would it be too slow? As we debated whether the merits of quick access to the first card was worth sacrificing access to the less frequently used cards, our friend, designer Stefan Andren, walked in the door to meet us for lunch.

We brought the debate up to Stefan and he proposed a race. Ken would use a traditional wallet and pick out the third card and Stefan would use our wallet.

Ready. Set. Go...

The results weren't even close. As Ken fumbled with the traditional wallet, Stefan had already slammed his third card down on the table emphatically. The debate was over. The Grovemade Minimalist Wallet was approved for production!

That’s where engineer Galen Lee came in to help fine-tune the design. Galen worked with the production team to ensure the thumbhole on the back of the wallet was just the right size. He worked with metal vendors to identify materials that would offer the perfect balance of elegance and durability. And he worked with the machinists to ensure that holes in the steel faceplate were the perfect size and orientation to countersink the screw heads while maintaining a snug fit to the aluminum frame.

GALEN LEE: “It’s all about communicating the right information with people. And taking a design and knowing how to bring it to life.”

Once a product leaves engineering, and is being produced at scale, Brodie Gordon handles shipping and handling. Every order that rolls out our front door has been picked, packaged, and shipped by Brodie. He’s a hands-on guy with an eye for this type of work. He’s helped create packaging designs and graphics for our one-off products, designed jigs to be used in production, and pioneered wrapping and packaging solutions for each new form factor we introduce—including the minimalist wallet, which takes a slight variation of the method used to pack the wooden iPhone case.

BRODIE GORDON: “We’re always thinking of new ways of using processes to inform and improve other processes.”

And that’s really the key to our whole operation. As the finished Grovemade Minimalist Wallet ships out the door, the team turns their collective attention to the next item in line; pushing our materials, our process, our coworkers and ourselves to achieve more each day than the day before.

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