Cub and Co primarily make leather camera straps. They started like most great ideas do: in someone’s basement. The company was founded by graphic designer and videographer Joel Chavez, who goes by the moniker "Street Cub". Recently, I met up with Joel, his colleagues, and the amazing crew at Knickerbocker — an American manufacturing company based in New York who collaborate alongside with Joel — and I caught a glimpse of what things look like behind the scenes.
Nowadays, it’s difficult not to take notice of the upward trend that exist in the authenticity of handmade products in our culture. When I think about buying a handmade from a person, whether you realize it or not, what you’re essentially denoting is support for that artist. You’re respecting the amount of time, effort and thought that went into creating that finished piece.
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Jorge Quinteros: Tell us the backstory of Cub & Co.
Joel Chavez (“Street Cub”): Cub & Co. started like many great ideas, in my basement. I’m a bit of a camera collector (although I put them all to good use) and none of the straps on the market were really doing it for me, I wanted something unique with my own aesthetic applied to it. When I stumbled across some leather at a flea market, that kind of got everything started. I taught myself the basics of leather craft using google and youtube, after months of perfecting my technique and fine tuning my design I finally put my first straps up for sale. It was a perfect combination of my passion for design and craft and I’m extremely grateful that my products have been so well received.
Jorge: How did you decide on the what the first strap you made was going to look like? Was leather always your first choice of material?
Joel: Yea leather was always my first choice. My dad’s a hunter and he used to make these wrist guards out of deer hide. I was always fascinated when I would see them age and the abuse they would take after years out on the trails. Leather is one of those materials that tells a story all on its own and when it comes to photography and capturing moments, it felt like the perfect medium.
As far as the design goes. My main goal was to develop a look that compliments any camera it was being used on, while also complimenting the users own style as well. It took a lot of prototyping and sampling of various types of leathers to come to the best combination of form and function, but I think we’re successful in creating something that allows us to stand apart from the crowd.
Jorge: Over the last decade, the idea of buying better made goods, has reached levels arguably never seen before, so I’m curious what it’s been like for you guys in the last year as far as competing with a products in such a saturated market?
Joel: Although competition is inevitable in any market segment, the fact that both manufacturers and customers alike are putting a premium on quality craftsmanship, I think is a good thing all around. We’re all sick of the disposable nature of the bulk of consumer goods that have been produced in the last 20 years. Its much more comforting to think of a purchase as an investment in a quality product, rather then feeling that your money is thrown away on something you’ll have to replace every season.
That being said, I feel what really separates us is our unique creative dynamic and our emphasis on staying true to our original vision of what we set out to do. Before I’m a brand owner or a creative director, I’m a person that is in love with photography, it influences so much of my everyday life, it’s my passion. To me photography isn’t just a hobby, it’s a lifestyle, and my goal is to create unique products for other likeminded people that share in that same lifestyle.
One of the standouts from the collection is the The Shooter Belt Strap Film Holster. It’s unique in that in not only holds two 35mm film canisters but it also attaches to almost any size belt. What’s the process like for developing new goods or innovating on something as classic as a camera strap?
If we aren’t innovating then we aren’t moving forward. I constantly ponder over what hasn’t been done yet or what unique take I can have on a classic idea. Oddly enough though, what provides me the most inspiration is when I set out on creating products that I myself as a photographer, would find valuable. That is usually my starting point, then I take that idea to penn and paper, and then finally begin to develop prototypes. Patience and focus is critical during these stages so you can thoroughly vet your idea and identify any oversights in your design. The feeling of successfully executing an idea is unmatched and that “high” alone is enough to push you further and further when the creative wells run dry.
Jorge: What would you say has been the companies biggest challenge that it’s overcome?
Joel: Honestly, I’d say the biggest challenge has been the initial learning curve. Having no prior experience with manufacturing or wholesaling can often feel like you’re working blind, having no frame of reference. But every mistake was a learning experience and we’ve come a long way from where we’ve started. Thanks to many kind friends in the industry who’ve showed us the ropes, we are much more confident in our business model and can focus more on expanding and growing our product line.
Jorge: What’s next for you guys? Is there anything you can share that we can expect in the near future?
Joel: We have so much planned for the future, I literally have a notebook full of ideas ready to go. But as with anything worth doing, we’re making sure we take our time and focus on the projects at hand. We are currently working on our first camera bag prototype! We’re super excited about it and expect it to be ready in June. We wanted to create our own take on the daily carry camera bag. Something small enough to be on you at all times but spacious enough to hold your essentials. The materials on this are insane and we can’t wait to share it with everyone.