Blog — MICRO

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Creating Composite Laminate to Use for Our Wallet

I’m always on the lookout for new material to use for my products. After all, it was a high-end ski jacket I saw in Japan which led me to Soft Shell. The more I learn about modern materials, I realize that many of the key breakthroughs these days are achieved by combining existing materials in unique ways, rather than creating something that never existed before. That was the approach taken with Composite Laminate.

Composite Laminate Thin Wallet

Tyvek itself is a type of sheet plastic which achieves its incredible strength to weight ratio by being constructed from interlocking strands arranged in random patterns. It starts off as white and the colors are achieved by printing on them. Over time, they sort of wear in like jeans so don’t stay looking new as long as Soft Shell wallets, which are dyed. But what if we could add an additional layer of flat plastic on top of the Tyvek to trap in the color while providing a more abrasion resistant surface?

The concept of adding another layer was the easy part. The first challenge was that some of the best processes for permanently connecting materials are heat activated. The only problem? Tyvek has a low melt point and pretty much hates getting hot. The equivalent of putting sand in a gas tank is to feed some Tyvek into a laser printer! To overcome this, I worked closely with an experienced local shop to experiment with different techniques until we found one which would join them.

The secret was to not only experiment with the temperatures, but also the speeds at which the material was run through the machine. It turns out that you can “break the rules” for melting Tyvek, but only for a fraction of a second… so we feed it through the machine at a fast enough rate so we get adhesion without letting the Tyvek turn into a rippled mess.

The second challenge was to select the right material. There’s a vast array of colors and finishes so even narrowing things down to just the clear ones still left many options. In the first test, we used a glossy one and the wallets came out looking like patent leather shoes! We ended up special ordering the most matte finish material available, which was just released by the supplier. Even though the Tyvek beneath it is a deep black, when covered by this material the light behaves in a really interesting way which causes it to appear like a deep matte gray. You can still see the swirls of the Tyvek material underneath which is pretty cool. I’m calling this color “carbon” to convey the ultra matte effect achieved by the combination of both color and material.

Composite Laminate Thin Wallet

How Thick is The New Laminate Wallet?

When completed into a wallet, it’s just barely thicker than a normal Tyvek model. Its capacity is also slightly less… holding up to about 6 cards depending on how many bills. It’s probably good for folks who are already pretty minimal and just looking for something which stays looking new longer and is still ultra-thin.

Since this is a new combination of materials, I’m introducing it as a Beta at first… only producing a certain number and selling them for the cost of the existing Tyvek wallets even though the cost to make them is significantly more. I hope you’ll give one a try and let me know how you like it!


Fifty shades of green: A qualitative and quantitative balance to design

As a business that now operates almost completely online, but makes physical products, I need to constantly make good decisions about which products to produce. I don’t do a perfect job of this by any means, but I thought you may find it interesting to understand a bit of the thinking that goes into it...

The ideal business model as far as an online business is to avoid having any inventory in order to reduce risk. This is possible by either selling digital products or drop-shipping (where someone buys a product on your website, but really you just take the order and instruct another business to ship the product from their inventory). If you make and sell your own products, you can reduce risk by either having really low cost (such as manufacturing in China) or doing small batch production runs so you aren’t stuck with things you don’t sell.

In many ways, my product combines the worst of these. In order to get the best quality, I need to print Tyvek in high quantity and have them sewn locally. But this opens up a lot of risk since if I make a color or layout people don’t want, I’m pretty much stuck with them. How do I avoid that? Analytics? Surveys? 

First is putting a lot of thought into the design

For example, even after deciding that I would make a green model, I did a series of mock-ups to see what various shades of green would look like. From this, I developed a few opinions but I also got feedback from several designers I know who have a fantastic color sense.
Green Color Study

Ideally I would have additionally done wider focus groups with customers but I didn’t have the bandwidth to do a project that would be statistically significant and decided I’d rather rely on a small sample of designers as experts than a fairly low number of end users. They could also use their knowledge of color theory to see how all of the colors in the line worked together:
Color Lineup

Next is watching sales

While folks ended up really liking the shade of green we picked, it was one of the worst sellers. When it came time to do additional print runs, I replenished stock of other colors but didn’t make any more green. It took about 3 years to sell them all! In contrast, Gray sold really well in my very first print run so it's continued to be in each print run since.

Listening to qualitative feedback

Once I did run out of green, I started to hear some requests trickle in every now and then from customers. Since I still do some customer service in my business, I could see this feedback directly. Some even said green is their absolute favorite color and they wouldn’t buy any different one!

Elizabeth Cutler and Julie Rice tell a story in this interesting podcast TGIM about how one of the customers at their spin gym politely complained that their towels smelled different than before. It turned out their cleaning service had switched detergent so they asked to have it switched back. After making this change based on only one person who took the time to mention it, over 50 clients came to them the next week to thank them for changing the detergent back for the towels! Only one mentioned the issue but over 50 more were aware of it!

When it was time to do the next print run, I included green. Even though the numbers told me it wasn't as popular as other colors, I knew some folks really liked it.

Last is putting my artist hat on

I’ve heard it explained that the difference between art and design is that while the designer tries to create something to achieve a desired result, an artist puts out an expression of themselves in order to see what the response of others is.

Owning this company myself puts me in a unique position where I can produce something I think is cool, even if I really have no idea if others will like it. Unlike other design jobs I’ve had, there’s no approval process, no internal politics, and if it doesn’t work, the financial consequences are on me. But that lets me push the “go” button on the design (or art) I think is best

This process is really what was behind the black cubic model and more recent White/White model. It turns out those have been some of my best sellers, perhaps because they’re somewhat unexpected from what a traditional wallet maker would produce.
Micro Cubic Pattern

Is there a new color you’d like to see? A pattern you think is cool? A material you’d love to see made into something? A completely different product you’d like to see my take on? Let me know in the comments below or directly with the Contact page.

RFID Retrofit

Folks have been very pleased with the RFID blocking versions of the wallets… the protection doesn’t add any bulk, making them the world’s thinnest RFID blocking wallet. The only thing people have not been happy about is when I run out of inventory!

From a logistical perspective, adding a feature like this requires potentially doubles the number of products in the line. When you add together all the color, size, and material combinations, there are now over 50 wallet options! So projecting how many to make of each specific one and keeping up with demand can be a challenge.

But there’s one little hack with can help out a lot… the RFID protection for the MICROs (Tyvek and Soft Shell) are added at the end of the manufacturing process. If I run out of regular models, a RFID one can be converted by taking that layer out. And a non-RFID blocking version can be converted using the RFID card sleeves. Here’s how...

  1. The card sleeves come in a 2-pack and we’ll insert one in each outer portion of the wallet, thereby protecting everything in-beween. Open up the MICRO (Tyvek or Soft Shell). In the middle section behind where the bills go, you'll see a thin plastic reinforcement piece on each side. 

  2. Slide one of the card sleeves in between the plastic piece and the outer layer of wallet material. This allows extra cards to be inserted into that inner pocket smoothly by sliding along the plastic reinforcement.

  3. Slide the other card sleeve in the other side the same way. If at any point you want to take them out, you can just do the reverse.
The RFID protection of the Originals is inserted in the same way, except they are sewn in so are permanent in that model.

You’ll notice that for some models, I don’t make RFID but this lets you, for example, order one of the orange Tyvek MICROs and turn it into RFID blocking. Or if I’m ever out of stock, just also pick up a set of card sleeves and you’re all set.

Let me know how that goes for you and if any questions come up...
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