November 30, 2023

It began in early 2021 when Philip Chuah, a watch fanatic in Singapore, requested some native artisans about the price of a customized alligator strap for his Omega Speedmaster Racing mannequin.

They mentioned 400 Singapore {dollars} ($290). “I used to be solely incomes about 1,000 a month, in order that’s nearly half my pay on only a watch strap,” he mentioned. “And I believed, ‘I’ll simply make it myself.’ And one way or the other it obtained to the purpose the place it’s at present.”

Now Mr. Chuah operates Atelier Kai (Kai is a part of his Chinese language title). He primarily makes leather-based watch straps, in addition to some wallets, a crossbody clutch bag and some small leather-goods objects. And whereas he want to increase his line, he mentioned, “proper now I don’t actually have the time to experiment with different objects, with the straps orders that I’ve.”

This 12 months Robin Wong, a watch collector in Singapore who posts as @watchthebin on Instagram, has bought 5 straps from Mr. Chuah. “His straps are particular as a result of he has an unlimited vary of colours and leather-based to select from,” Mr. Wong wrote in an e mail. “I particularly like his daring colours on his unique leather-based, lots of that are unusual.”

Earlier than he began the enterprise, Mr. Chuah, now 28, had no expertise with leather-based work. “In Singapore’s training system, you don’t even have that many alternatives to specific your self creatively and work along with your arms,” he mentioned. “Typically it feels fairly surreal that I’m capable of make straps like this.”

Mr. Chuah earned a legislation diploma from the College of Leeds in England and, after returning to Singapore, was learning for the bar examination in 2021. A whole lot of the town was nonetheless working from dwelling within the pandemic when he started attempting to make straps, “so it allowed me to discover this ardour on the aspect,” he mentioned.

And though he was referred to as to the bar final 12 months, he determined to not work as a lawyer, at the very least not now. “I used to be not feeling the burning ardour to turn out to be a lawyer,” he mentioned.

He realized his strap-making abilities by watching YouTube movies, deciding that he didn’t wish to pay the 200 {dollars} that an eight-hour coaching course would value.

Nevertheless, he famous ruefully, he has purchased each software utilized by each individual in all of the movies: “Proper now, I’m most likely utilizing perhaps 10 p.c of all of the instruments that I’ve ever purchased. And if I add up the price of all of the instruments that I purchased, it’s far more than $200.”

Nonetheless, he has no regrets and sees the advantages of being self-taught. “Each time I failed, I’d ask myself, ‘How can I enhance?’” he mentioned. “Not going for that course compelled me to always wish to enhance, always wish to learn to make it higher.”

He gave some authorized colleagues the primary few straps that he produced, then began promoting them on the Singaporean on-line market Carousell and arrange an Instagram account, which attracted watch collectors, each native and worldwide. “It’s a really small circle, and phrase spreads quick inside area of interest teams like this,” he mentioned.

Mr. Chuah initially labored from dwelling — like many youthful folks in Singapore, he nonetheless lives along with his mother and father — however on Sept. 1 he started renting a studio within the Paya Lebar space of jap Singapore. When his clients are native, “I’ll often invite them over to my studio to take a look on the leathers first,” he mentioned, “as a result of colours won’t ever precisely translate over telephone screens versus in actual life.” It takes him 5 to 6 hours to make a strap, begin to end.

He buys leathers immediately from a tannery in Singapore or from a provider. “One thing that units me aside from others is my experimentation with supplies,” he mentioned. “Normal crafters use fundamental alligator and calf, however I like attempting out completely different supplies corresponding to beaver tail, particular impact lizards, stingray, sharkskin and tilapia fish.

“I’ve by no means seen somebody use this earlier than for straps,” he mentioned, referring to the tilapia as he displayed a black band with iridescent turquoise accents.

A venture he particularly loved engaged on was a customized wraparound case in python for a MB&F HM10 Bulldog. “I used a standard moist molding approach, that means you moist the leather-based and wrap it across the object and clamp it shut and you allow it to dry,” he mentioned. “And when the leather-based dries, it dries in that form.” It took him about two weeks to finish the piece.

Mr. Chuah’s straps vary from 150 {dollars} for calfskin to 280 {dollars} for alligator that’s an uncommon colour or has been specifically handled on the tannery. His web site warns patrons that the present lead time on orders is 12 weeks.

“I simply cowl my prices and I’m very happy with that,” he mentioned. “A lot of my shoppers usually are not hard-core watch collectors, they’re simply on a regular basis individuals who have only one or two good watches and simply wish to boost their watch.”

For now, Atelier Kai is a one-person operation. “I do all of the messaging, all of the all of the in-person appointments. I do all of the crafting, social media, posting, making ready objects for delivery,” he mentioned. “However I do wish to rent and scale sooner or later ultimately as a result of if a enterprise isn’t rising, then it’s simply going to stagnate, proper?”

He mentioned his mother and father had been very supportive. “I’d say fairly uncommon for Asian mother and father as a result of they need their children to have a steady revenue,” he mentioned. “My dad used to discuss with my leather-based crafting as a passion, however recently he refers to it as work.”

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