Buying gifts for men? Not as easy as it seems–if you’re trying to avoid going the necktie-or-golf-gear route, that is. That’s where Owen & Fred comes in. From a cheeky leather luggage tag that reads “This Bag Is Not Yours” to an art print that shows how whiskey is made, the company creates items that are equal parts witty, useful, and just plain cool. “We try to make gift giving for men a lot easier,” says founder and designer Mike Arnot. We chatted with Mike to find out what goes into making products that men (and women) love.
What prompted you to start your business?
I wanted to make and design products that a guy would use from the time he woke up to the time he went to sleep, and everything in between. I wanted those products to be made here in the U.S., be high-quality, and be affordably priced. I think we’re succeeding.
Do you have a favorite piece?
My favorite piece is our Hex Brass Business Card Holder. It’s beautifully shiny, yet you need to take care of it as it will tarnish. I designed it, and it’s sold at the Museum of Modern Art design store. Not bad.
What’s your best-selling item?
Our best selling-item is our “Hey Handsome” Shaving Kit Bag. It’s a high quality travel shaving kit, with an inspirational message on the inside. A perfect and subtle reminder for any man that needs some inspiration.
What was the inspiration behind the Rolex, Mercedes, space shuttle, etc. prints?
I think a lot of people like to geek out on how things are made. Our art is an homage to some classics–the innards of the Rolex watch and Mercedes-Benz engine, or line drawings of the 737 or the space shuttle. Our newest art depicts how Whiskey is made, and was created by us with the former spirits editor of GQ Magazine, Mark Byrne. My favorite from our series is the engine print, because it was painstakingly translated from German, and is an engine that if well-treated, could easily hit a million miles or more.
Your coasters are made from pretty unconventional materials. Where did that idea come from?
We make coasters from concrete and leather. In the case of our concrete coasters, they are made with actual concrete–a proprietary mix that’s made with water, concrete and a mold. We deboss them with paisley, a classic men’s tie print, which we think is a quite clever juxtaposition between something flowery and something made of rock.
Are you on a mission to give concrete a more refined reputation?
Concrete is a beautiful material. It can be smooth and feel like ceramic, but it will always have some roughness to it. We like that, and so do our customers. In the case of our concrete and leather valet tray, we pair a concrete tray with a premium piece of leather, and ship it off in a nice package. Part of the appeal is that it matches a rugged material with something soft to create a premium product.
What’s the best part about your job?
The best part of my job is to come in every day, dream up new designs with some of the best manufacturers in the U.S., excite our customers about new products, and work with our great team. I especially love getting a prototype delivered because you feel like a kid opening a birthday present. It’s amazing to see your design come to life.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Product design, marketing, sales–that stuff we excel at. The business of running a business is always a challenge. The most challenging part of the work is to build systems that can scale. From shipping to product design, it’s easy to default to a one-off solution, but to recognize patterns and build a system to address certain patterns is challenging.
What inspires you creatively?
I always find people living amazing lives, who document it on Instagram. There’s always someone out there with more style and who is more jet set than you. I want to make products that they’ll love and photograph.