Justin Charlton runs OldCalgary, a design shop that makes beautiful iPad and iPhone cases out of wool felt. We spoke about nostalgia, originality, and style philosophies.
Maxton Men: Can you tell me a little about your background, and how you got started?
Justin: Well, it goes way back. When I was a little kid, I used to draw a lot. I did that for many, many years. I won some awards, and I was going to study classical painting in Florence, Italy. That’s sort of where the crafts background came from.
And painting eventually brought you to crafting?
I like to make things. If I’m not making things I feel sad (laughs), I feel like I’m wasting time.
I spent a year working at Apple Retail, and when I was there I noticed a lack of good iPhone and iPad cases. I started experimenting with materials and came across this wool felt. It looks great but it’s also functional.
I just wanted to make them for myself. I didn’t think about selling them or marketing them. I sold some to friends and decided to start up an Etsy shop. I sold the first one within 10 minutes and was like “Whoa, maybe people really do like these things.” It kind of skyrocketed from there.
It seems like you really struck a chord with this wool felt material. How did you stumble upon this?
My mom makes little felt coasters, so I was exposed to it a while back. I wanted to see if there was a manlier way to use it though. I did lots of research online, and I found a place in Boston that imports the felt from Germany. It’s really expensive, though. It’s like gold.
Ha. I could see that.
Yeah, it comes in these huge eight-foot-wide rolls. The stuff is bigger than me. The UPS people are baffled by what I do (laughing). My poor mailman, I ship things out through Priority Mail, I had to get a bigger mailbox! He was here when my industrial sewing machine got delivered. It was delivered by a semi truck. It’s like 500 pounds.
How about your design philosophy? You seem to avoid excess and focus on simplicity.
Totally. I find that if you put pockets and little trinkets on things, it clutters the original design. It makes things bulky and cumbersome. I found that, through trial and error, the simpler I can make the product, the more it gives it a timeless feel.
I don’t have any labels or tags on my stuff. If I did, they would be on the inside. When I see people who stamp their name all over stuff, I think it kind of cheapens it.
OldCalgary. You used to live there you said. What made you decide on that name?
Just growing up there and spending time with my grandparents, they had all kinds of old stuff. They had all the antiques you could imagine. They weren’t considered “antiques” to them though, they were their actual stuff! I used to go through their garage and that stuff just brings back a nostalgic feeling, a warm, fuzzy feeling. I try to funnel that into my product designs.
Where do you get your design inspiration from?
Music has a huge influence on me. I used to be in a band, but I don’t do that anymore because it gets me into trouble. Photography. I used to be huge into that. All these things inspire me.
I actually hate going on the internet. I think it stifles people’s creativity. You see something there, and it’s harder to be original. I find myself unplugging my computer as often as possible.
Interesting. Not a lot of people would say that. Any new products in the works?
Leather. I’m working with some leather manufacturers. Leather wallets, maybe guitar straps or bags.
Cool. How would you sum up your customer philosophy?
Before every order, I look at it, and inspect it, and test it out with every device. If I don’t want to keep it for myself, I won’t ship it out. I want to create stuff that people can relate to, and feel an intimacy with.