Buying gifts for men? Not as easy as it seems – if you’re trying to avoid the tie or golf gear, it is. This is where Owen & Fred comes in. From a cheeky leather luggage tag that says “This bag isn’t yours” to an art print showing how whiskey is made, the company creates items that are equally fun, useful and just plain cool. “We’re trying to make giving a lot easier for men,” says founder and designer Mike Arnot. We chatted with Mike to find out how products are made that men (and women) love.
What made you decide to start your company?
I wanted to make and design products that a man would use from waking up to falling asleep and everything in between. I wanted these products to be made here in the USA, to be high quality and affordable. I think we are successful.
Do you have a favorite piece?
My favorite piece is ours Hexagonal brass business card holder. It’s beautifully shiny, but you have to take care of it as it will tarnish. I designed it and it’s sold in the Museum of Modern Art’s design store. Not bad.
What’s your best selling item?
Our best-selling item is ours “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 in need of inspiration.
What was the inspiration for the prints from Rolex, Mercedes, Space Shuttle etc?
I think a lot of people like to find out how things are done. Our art pays homage to some classics – the innards of the Rolex watch and the Mercedes-Benz engine or the line drawings of the 737 or the Space Shuttle. Our latest art shows how whiskey is made and was created by us in collaboration with former GQ Magazine Spirits Editor, Mark Byrne. My favorite from our series is engine pressure as it has been carefully translated from German and is an engine that, if treated well, can easily reach a million miles or more.
Their coasters are made of quite unconventional materials. Where did this idea come from?
We make coasters out of concrete and leather. Our concrete coasters are made from real concrete – a proprietary mixture made from water, concrete and a mold. We emboss them with paisley, a classic men’s tie pattern that we think is a pretty clever juxtaposition between something floral and something made of stone.
Are you on a mission to give concrete a refined reputation?
Concrete is a beautiful material. It can be smooth and feel like ceramic, but it always has a certain roughness. We and our customers like that too. With our valet tray made of concrete and leather, we combine a concrete tray with a premium piece of leather and send it in beautiful packaging. Part of the appeal is that a sturdy material is combined with something soft to create a premium product.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The best part of what I do is coming every day, coming up with new designs with some of the best manufacturers in the US, getting our customers excited about new products, and working with our great team. I especially like it when a prototype is delivered because you feel like a kid opening a birthday present. It is amazing to see your design come to life.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Product design, marketing, sales – the stuff we excel at. Running the business is always a challenge. The hardest part of the job is building systems that are scalable. From shipping to product design, it’s easy to use a one-time solution as standard. However, recognizing patterns and creating a system to address specific patterns is challenging.
What inspires you creatively?
I always find people who lead amazing lives and document it on Instagram. There’s always someone out there with more style and more jet set than you. I want to make products that they will love and photograph.
Mercedes-Benz V8 engine pressure
Concrete paisley coasters
Leather table pad
Mike Arnot, founder of Owen & Fred